A “family reunion” of more than 400 right-wing Albertans — both Progressive Conservative Party and Wildrose Party supporters — was held Saturday in Red Deer.
The majority of participants at the Alberta Can’t Wait meeting endorsed the idea of forming a new, unified right-of-centre party by 2019.
Joined by concerns about continued vote-splitting in the next election, “people who have not been seated in the same room together for years… have come together with a common purpose,” said Grande Prairie-Mackenzie MP Chris Warkentin.
He added, “this is absolutely fantastic… This kind of enthusiasm hasn’t been seen in provincial politics for decades…”
While Warkentin attended the Alberta Can’t Wait conference, along with his federal Conservative Party colleague Red Deer-Mountain View MP Earl Dreeshen, event organizer Prem Singh was disappointed that no provincial Tory or Wildrose leaders or MLAs had come to the meeting.
No reasons were given, but the MLAs were reportedly told not to go, she said.
Singh believes it’s just a matter of time before they come around. “At some point, they’re going to have to listen to us, because what happens when the grassroots movement is bigger than their party?
“We know what we want,” added the Calgary energy consultant and Alberta Can’t Wait co-founder — “and that’s to bring back the Alberta Advantage.”
Preston Manning also did not attend the conference as expected, because he was delayed in returning from Australia. But a series of speakers at the event, held at Red Deer College, restated the values held by most right-wing supporters, including fiscal responsibility and government accountability, and discussed “the principles of a taxpayer-friendly government.”
Four options for the future were also laid out: uniting the right under the PCs, under the Wildrose, retaining the status quo of two right-wing parties, or forming a new entity.
At the end of focus-group discussions, an overwhelming majority of attendees voted in a straw poll in favour of pursuing the formation of a new party, unaffiliated with the PCs or Wild Rose parties.
Alberta Can’t Wait was also given a mandate to drum up more public support for this new right-of-centre party from the public, as well as members of the Wildrose and Tory Parties.
Calgary businessman Scott Wagner was impressed by the tone of proceedings, saying. “It’s the first gathering I’ve been to where there was no sniping.”
“We don’t want to be negative,” said Singh, who called the meeting a “family reunion… It’s time for us to talk to people — relatives — we never used to talk to, because Alberta is more important than any political party.”
Ryan Becker, a Tory from La Crete, was glad to see so many “engaged” people, who had never been politically active before.
“Everybody has the same objective: We have to do something,” agreed Len Kushner, of Calgary.
Rancher Bill Baleman, who last voted for Wild Rose, was encouraged to see people focusing on common interests. They realize “time is working against us,” he said, with only three years to go before the next election.
Sharon Olsen, of Camrose, believes joining two political parties will be “a hard road to go down.” But she praised the co-operative spirit that emerged.
“I think this opened a good conversation,” added Judy Johnson, of Calgary.