Neiman: History repeated in merger of PC and Wildrose parties

Ever since Alberta became a province in 1905, every time a sitting government lost an election, its party ceased to exist as a political force. Banished into the dustbin of history.

In a roundabout way, we’re about to see that happen again this year.

Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, who spent most of last year openly mocking the possibility of a merger between his party and the defeated Progressive Conservatives, declared last week he will do just that: lead a merged PC and Wildrose movement.

What that new movement would call itself is an interesting question. It can’t become Progressive Conservative, because that would be too humiliating for a Wildrose Party with more sitting MLAs, more paid members and more money. It can’t be Wildrose because, well, it can’t. And the Alberta Reform name is already taken. So is the Alberta Party name, if I recall rightly.

Whatever name on this next rose, by this fall, if either PC leadership front runner Jason Kenney or Wildrose leader Brian Jean has his way, the PC brand in Alberta will cease to exist. History will be repeated.

Jean didn’t call a news conference about this, so he didn’t have to field questions about his change of mind regarding any formal merger of the right. He made the call on a seven-minute video posted on the Wildrose website.

From last spring and summer until this winter, Jean must have been hearing from his own membership who convinced him Wildrose could not win an election on its own, nor could a renewed PC party win without the rural support of the Wildrose rank and file.

Both sides have a lot to give up in the process. The Progressive Conservative old guard that ruled Alberta for so long has the most to lose. Their long dynasty was marked by a centre-right brand of Toryism, that for all its mockery of liberalism, contained a lot of its pragmatic culture.

Alberta’s teachers, doctors and civil servants became the highest-paid of their kind in the land.

This from a party that preached careful financial stewardship from the right side of its mouth.

Alberta’s energy bounty was spent with an energy that would make a socialist blush. Scarcely anything of the hundreds of billions in energy royalties Alberta collected were saved for a rainy day — through many repeats of the cycle of oil price booms and busts.

But the voices of a more gentle centre-right will be lost in a merger. Little matter, that. Any centrist of influence on party policy was buried when Sandra Jensen and Donna Kennedy-Glans were viciously hounded out of the leadership race in a meeting in Red Deer last November.

A month previous, in another meeting in Red Deer, Jean disparaged the PC party as being “confused about its values, its principles and what it stands for.” He added that the party “is rife with uncertainty.”

Well, no more.

With the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. and the prospect of a federal Conservative leader in Kevin O’Leary, or Kellie Leitch, any uncertainty is over. The right has become quite certain about its principles and values.

Brian Jean, being as ambitious as any other politician out there, wants to lead what emerges from this sort of marriage of the hard right.

He’s welcome to it.

What, then, will become of the more centrist thinkers in Alberta who believe in a free enterprise, egalitarian and compassionate government, but who are by no means ready to hold their noses and join the NDP?

They, my friends, have been swept into history.

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