Alberta's Wildrose and PCs approve merger of two parties

Members of both parties voted more than 95 per cent in favour of creating a new United Conservative Party

Alberta Wildrose leader Brian Jean and Alberta PC leader Jason Kenney announce a unity deal between the two in Edmonton on Thursday, May 18, 2017. (Jason Franson/CP)

Alberta Wildrose leader Brian Jean and Alberta PC leader Jason Kenney announce a unity deal between the two in Edmonton on Thursday, May 18, 2017. (Jason Franson/CP)

Alberta’s two main conservative parties have voted to unite.

Progressive Conservative members voted 95 per cent in favour of a deal to merge with the Opposition Wildrose.

The Wildrose approved the merger by 95.4 per cent earlier in the day.

The result creates a new United Conservative Party and ends a decade of bitter feuding between the two parties.

“What a day for Albertans! What a day for conservatives and what a day for Wildrose members!” Wildrose Leader Brian Jean told more than 300 cheering supporters who jammed a room at a hotel in Red Deer on Saturday.

“Today is not the end of Wildrose,” Jean continued.

“(It’s) a new beginning, where we’re one step closer to putting power back in the hands of the ordinary working people of Alberta.”

The two parties will now begin wrapping up operations and join under the UCP banner.

A founding convention will be held and the plan is to have constituency associations and candidates in place in time for the next election in spring 2019.

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The two caucuses — eight in the PCs and 22 in the Wildrose — will meet Monday in Edmonton to pick an interim leader.

The result also fires the starting pistol on the race to be permanent leader of the new entity.

The new boss will be picked Oct. 28, and there are already three candidates in the race: Jean, Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney, and Calgary lawyer and PC organizer Doug Schweitzer.

Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt is also considering a run. Fildebrandt said he will wait until the rules of the race are set before announcing whether he will run.

Regardless, he said he won’t support Jean, but declined to say why.

“I’m not going to get into it right now,” Fildebrandt told reporters. “Today is a day about unification.

“We’ll have plenty of time to beat the crap out of each other in the coming weeks and months.”

There has been a history of bad blood between Jean and Fildebrandt.

Jean suspended Fildebrandt briefly from caucus over a year ago for endorsing inappropriate comments on social media.

The unification results fulfil a plan launched a year ago by Kenney in his ultimately successful bid to become leader of the PCs on a platform of merging with the Wildrose.

The Wildrose movement took root more than a decade ago, composed in part by disaffected Tories who felt the PCs had abandoned their commitment to fiscal conservatism and grassroots consultation.

Kenney says vote splitting leveraged Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP to majority government in the 2015 election, and only a united conservative party can prevent a repeat in 2019.

Kenney and Jean say the NDP policies — including a carbon tax and heavy debt spending for operations and infrastructure — are exacerbating a troubled economy buffeted by low oil prices and are threatening to swamp future Albertans in unsustainable red ink.

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