Alberta Wildrose leader Brian Jean and Alberta PC leader Jason Kenney shake hands after announcing a unity deal between the two in Edmonton on Thursday. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Alberta PCs, Wildrose to form new entity called United Conservative Party

EDMONTON — Alberta’s two conservative parties are merging to form the United Conservative Party.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean and Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney announced the details of their unity deal Thursday.

The deal still has to be approved by 75 per cent of Wildrose members and just over 50 per cent of PC members. If it goes ahead, the new party will set up a leadership committee with an eye to electing a new leader by Oct. 28.

“The members will always be in the driver’s seat,” Jean said. “If approved by the membership, it would set us on a path to regain control of our province for now and for future generations.”

Kenney said the proposed deal represents the reunification of a family which has been divided for too long and ensures the defeat of the current NDP government.

“Hope is on the horizon,” he said. “We are not seeking to impose an agreement but rather propose a way forward.”

He spoke directly to PC members, some of whom have left the party in recent weeks, saying that they fear it’s becoming less progressive and adopting a more socially conservative position.

Kenney himself fuelled those fears in late March when he said he favoured schools telling parents if their children joined a gay-straight alliance. Critics said telling parents could effectively “out” a child before he or she is ready and put them at risk of harm or ostracism.

“If this agreement is ratified, it’s not the end of a proud legacy, but … a fresh start and a new beginning,” Kenney said.

Premier Rachel Notley said her party is focused on steering the province through the current downturn rather than making huge cuts to government programs, including health care and education, “to fund tax breaks for the top one per cent.”

“That is not a path to recovery,” she said.

“I’m happy to have that debate with one right-wing party or 10 right-wing parties. It doesn’t really matter. I’m confident that our choice to stand with Albertans is the right one.”

Representatives from the Wildrose and PCs had been meeting for the last two months to hammer out an agreement.

Kenney won the PC party leadership in March on a platform to merge, and both Kenney and Jean have said they’ll run for the leadership of a consolidated party.

If the deal is passed, the new party will move quickly to establish an executive and constituency boards in time for the next election.

By law, that election must be held sometime in the spring of 2019. Premier Rachel Notley has the option to call a vote earlier if she believes circumstances warrant, but has stressed she plans to follow the law.

Any merger could end more than a decade of drama and acrimony.

The Wildrose emerged about a decade ago, founded by conservatives who felt alienated from then-premier Ed Stelmach’s PC government.

The fortunes of both parties have since waxed and waned, usually at the other’s expense.

PC members Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth bolted to the Wildrose benches under Stelmach in early 2010, hastening his demise as PC leader a year later. In late 2014, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith led a floor-crossing of most of her caucus — including Anderson — to the government benches when Jim Prentice was PC premier.

The move backfired. The Wildrose rallied under Jean to win 21 seats in the 2015 election and retain its status as official Opposition.

The PCs finished third with 10 seats. None of the Wildrose floor- crossers made it back to the house.

Prentice quit politics and the election loss led the party to a reappraisal of its mission and ultimately to the March election of Kenney.

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