Newly-elected leader of the Alberta PC party Jason Kenney answers questions at a news conference in a Calgary hotel, Sunday, March 19, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

Proposed unity deal coming soon: Kenney

Both sides have narrowed the gap on key points

EDMONTON — Alberta Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney says his team and the Wildrose party have made progress on a unity plan and an announcement is coming soon.

Kenney said representatives from both sides have narrowed the gap on key points.

“We should have news for you in the not-too-distant future,” Kenney said Friday.

Friday was the deadline set six weeks ago for negotiating teams from each party to bring back a report. The delay is not a concern given how much has to be done, Kenney said.

“This was never a hard deadline. We made it clear that it could go beyond that,” he said.

“We were setting that as an aspirational goal for the unity discussion group.”

Kenney declined to elaborate on sticking points in the closed-door discussions.

“I’m not going to negotiate in public, but when you’re bringing together two political parties, there are dozens of different issues you have to deal with — legal issues, governance issues, (and) obviously a statement of principles,” he said.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean declined an interview request Friday. He posted a video statement saying he was optimistic about the unity talks but the direction of the party will ultimately be decided by the grassroots.

“Unifying conservatives cannot be based on a principle of gaining power for power’s sake,” Jean said. “It must be more than that.”

A unity agreement would be the next step toward getting both parties working as one, with an organizational structure and a full slate of candidates in time for the next general election.

By law, Premier Rachel Notley must call the vote in the spring of 2019, however premiers always have the option of going early if they feel circumstances warrant.

Former premier Jim Prentice called the election a year early in 2015 and his PCs were trounced by Notley’s NDP, losing power after more than four decades.

Both the Wildrose and the PCs have expressed concern Notley may call an early vote to take advantage of both parties being in flux.

On Thursday, Notley reiterated she will not.

“I’m kind of a law-friendly person. I like law. Law is fun. And where stuff is there, you should follow it,” said Notley.

“So it’s my intent to follow both the spirit as well as the letter of the (election) law.”

Both Jean and Kenney have said they will run to be leader of any new merged party.

If a deal is struck, the rank and file members in both parties would have to ratify it. Jean has said three quarters or more of Wildrose members would have to approve it.

Kenney said the PC rules mandate a simple majority, but said, “I certainly hope we can do better than 50 per cent and I frankly expect that we will.”

Kenney, a former cabinet minister under Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, won the PC party leadership on March 18 on a mandate to merge.

The victory has left some critics worried Kenney will move the PCs further right on social issues and rights of minorities. Kenney has said he wants a big-tent party of Conservatives.

In recent weeks, seven board members have left, some citing concern with the direction of the party under Kenney.

One former board member, Lorna Wolodko, posted news of her resignation on social media.

“The big tent is getting a tad claustrophobic,” she wrote on Twitter Thursday. “A little sad and a lot relieved.”

Kenney said the departures need to be kept in context.

“There’s 50 board positions on the PC board. It’s like the cast of Ben-Hur,” he said. “I know a few of the people who have resigned recently planned to do so anyway for personal reasons.

“I think a couple have chosen to do so because they don’t agree with the direction that members have taken, and I respect that.”

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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