Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper has waded into the battle brewing inside the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, throwing his support behind Jason Kenney's leadership bid.
Mr. Harper made the endorsement at his annual Calgary Stampede barbecue. Rona Ambrose, the federal Conservative Party's interim leader, also used the event to back Mr. Kenney. Mr. Kenney wants to take over Alberta's PCs, unite it with the more right-leaning Wildrose Party, and then form a third party to challenge the ruling provincial New Democrats in the next election.
"I would ask that all Alberta members of the Conservative Party of Canada to join me and work to elect as the next leader of the PC Party of Alberta, the Honourable Jason Kenney," Mr. Harper said in a speech to thousands of supporters at the BBQ Saturday evening. Mr. Harper represents Calgary Heritage.
Mr. Kenney's proposal is facing resistance from the progressive wing of Alberta's PCs. Both Mr. Harper and Ms. Ambrose used their time at the mic to stump for Mr. Kenney's candidacy, prompting cheers and applause. However, at least one table of provincial PC Members of the Legislature refrained from clapping and standing when their federal counterparts delivered applause lines tied to Mr. Kenney's plan.
Richard Starke, the MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster, and interim PC leader Ric McIver were among the MLAs who did not applaud the pitch.
Federal Conservative MPs, PC MLAs, and Wildrose MLAs in attendance were introduced one-by-one at the event. Mr. Kenney and Brian Jean, the leader of the Wildrose, were especially warmly welcomed. Ms. Ambrose also made a point of thanking and supporting Mr. McIver, even though she endorses Mr. Kenney's plan.
"I am 100 per cent behind the united right movement in Alberta," Ms. Ambrose told the crowd gathered in a party tent. "This is much bigger than us. This is much bigger than every leader in this room. We have to do it for the thousands of families that are out of work in this province, and their kids."
Mr. McIver, speaking to reporters before the speeches, said that while he respects Mr. Harper, the future of Alberta PC party is up to its members. The PCs will pick a new leader in March and Mr. Kenney is the only person who has declared his intention to run. Mr. McIver said that as interim leader, he is staying neutral - for now.
"The principles, I think, are what we need to remember here. We need to think about what's good for Alberta, and we need to accept the fact that within the Progressive Conservative party, what makes us strong is that our members get to make the big decisions - not any individual."
Mr. McIver added that he may still jump into the contest. The race officially starts in October. Mr. Kenney, who represents Calgary Midnapore, has pledged to give up his seat in the House of Commons that month. He is, however, campaigning and raising cash now.
The politician contends that Alberta's conservatives can unite in the same way the now-defunct federal Reform Party of Canada, Canadian Alliance, and Progressive Conservative Party eventually morphed into the Conservative Party of Canada.
"I'm delighted to receive the strong, I think, endorsement of the former Prime Minister," Mr. Kenney told reporters. "And to receive the endorsement of the current leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, my good friend Rona Ambrose."
Wildrose's official position is that it is in favour of uniting Alberta's conservatives, although it has been silent on whether it believes Mr. Kenney's plan - unveiled July 6 - is the best path. The next provincial election is scheduled for 2019.
Ms. Ambrose, who represents Sturgeon River-Parkland, brought humour to her unite-the-right speech.
"Not so long ago, Ric [McIver] actually came and stayed with [my partner] J.P. and I at Stornoway and we had a great visit. I actually invited Brian Jean to come and stay with us at the exact same time," she said.
"I told them that they could have the room with the bunk beds.
"No pressure," Ms. Ambrose said as the crowd laughed.
"But there you have it, folks. Interesting. The entire Alberta conservative family under one big tent. Right here," she said. "Now that wasn't so hard, was it?"