Alberta’s Opposition Wildrose members overwhelmingly approve merger with PCs

Alberta’s Opposition Wildrose has overwhelmingly approved a plan to merge with the province’s Progressive Conservative party.

Party members voted 95 per cent in favour of the deal, which would see the creation of a new United Conservative Party.

The deal needed 75 per cent support to be approved.

“What a day for Alberta! What a day for conservatives and what a day for Wildrose members!” Wildrose Leader Brian Jean exclaimed in his speech following the huge endorsement for unity.

The results of the Progressive Conservative vote will be announced later Saturday evening.

The PCs require a simple majority to approve the deal.

PC Leader Jason Kenney and Jean have been criss-crossing the province in recent weeks to drum up support for a merger.

If both sides approve the deal, it will spell the end of the Progressive Conservative brand that governed Alberta for almost 44 years. That run ended when Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP won a majority in the 2015 election.

A merger has been kicked around in various forms for a decade, but caught fire a year ago when Kenney launched his successful bid for the Tory leadership.

More than 50,000 Tories and about 40,000 in the Wildrose had signed up to vote.

Jean stressed in his speech on Saturday that the new party would not lose sight of its values.

“Today is not the end of Wildrose, but a new beginning, where we are one step closer to putting power back into the hands of the ordinary working people of Alberta,” Jean said.

“We are together going to restore conservative principles to our great province.”

There had been pockets of resistance amid concerns the new party would move far to the right on social issues and open a spot for other parties to grab centrist voters.

Former PC president Katherine O’Neill left the party after Kenney’s leadership win in March and now runs Alberta Together, a political action committee looking to attract progressive conservative voters, perhaps through the Alberta Party.

If the PCs approve the deal, it will launch a leadership race that already has three participants. Jean and Kenney have said they’ll run, and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer is already campaigning. Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt has said he is also considering it.

As per the unity agreement, joint committees would be struck to get the machinery of a new party in place with constituency associations and candidates. The goal is to be ready for the next election set for the spring of 2019.

Uncertainty remains over what happens if one side fails to ratify.

Kenney has talked about a possible Plan B including some form of co-operation, such as the two sides not running against each other in certain constituencies.

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