PHOTOS: Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who says he will resign as Alberta Opposition leader to pursue the leadership of the United Conservative Party, creation of which endorsed by members of the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservative in a merger vote yesterday. Below: PC Leader Jason Kenney, who hasn’t yet said when he’ll announce his leadership run for the united party, which is assumed, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, strictly for electoral comparative purposes, and the late British Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson.
By now it can’t have escaped the attention of anyone who follows Alberta politics that members of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties have voted to merge their parties into a single political entity by percentages worthy of a North Korean election.
The Yes vote percentage for both parties was, coincidentally, 95 per cent – that is to say, for those of you who like to know these things to the precise percentage point, 94.9 per cent for the PCs now led by Jason Kenney and 95.4 per cent for the Wildrosers now led by Brian Jean.
While the favourable result was not unexpected, it seems likely a merger endorsement with numbers that stratospheric should be enough to settle down any remaining conspiratorially minded skeptics in Wildrose ranks about the outcome of the vote in spite of Friday’s party PIN problems.
The numbers of PCs and Wildrosers who voted to create the “United Conservative Party” – the Alberta right’s answer to the Vulcan mind meld – were curiously similar too.
A total of 24,598 Wildrosers voted, and 23,466 said yes to the merger, while 27,060 PCs voted and 25,692 said yes. The Wildrosers said that was about 60 per cent of the voters eligible, the CBC reported from the party’s special meeting yesterday in Red Deer. The Conservatives don’t seem to have said, but with a claimed membership of around 50,000, the turnout would be about 55 per cent. Given the importance of the vote, the turnout is probably a worthy topic of some future interpretation.
In the mean time, it almost seemed as if the same people were voting in both parties – which, come to think of it, may have been the case!
The prevailing narrative in conservative circles, and therefore in the Alberta media, will now be that as a result of yesterday’s unite-the-right vote, the NDP government of premier Rachel Notley is done for. This may indeed be the case in 2019 or whenever the next Alberta election takes place, but as blogger and political analyst Dave Cournoyer wrote yesterday, it may not turn out to be as simple as the right would like to believe.
“Since the morning after the NDP’s victory in the 2015 election, many Conservatives have talked about merging the Wildrose and PCs parties as if it were a silver bullet to winning the next election,” Mr. Cournoyer wrote on his Daveberta.ca blog before the vote tally yesterday evening. “While the NDP have not been the most popular government in Alberta history, Conservatives underestimate Rachel Notley at their own peril. Notley is a smart and savvy political leader and, as 2015 proved, she is an incredibly talented campaigner.”
By way of comparison, since I mentioned it in the lead, the last North Korean parliamentary “election” on March 9, 2014, saw 100 per cent of all voters support Outstanding Leader Kim Jong-un’s Fatherland Alliance, according to official North Korean sources. This is a percentage of the vote United Conservative Party supporters now sound as if they think may be a reasonable aspiration for them in 2019. The North Koreans also say voter turnout was 99.97 per cent.
Die-hard Alberta conservatives with a legitimate victory to celebrate today may resist seeing it this way, but everyone on both sides should take a deep breath and remember that if, as British Labour prime minister Harold Wilson famously observed in the 1970s, a week is a long time in politics, two years is an eternity.
Cournoyer again: “Conservatives in Alberta have a track record of shooting themselves in the foot at the most inopportune times.” This is a phenomenon known locally as “bozo eruptions,” from which no political party is immune, of course.
A scary fund-raising opportunity like this was obviously too good to pass up, and Premier Notley’s New Democrats got right to work last night defining the UCP as “an even more right wing, more regressive political group” than the PCs or Wildrosers.
In a fund-raising email to members and supporters, the NDP called the UCP “far from the mainstream values we know Albertans cherish.”
“Jason Kenney has vowed to out kids to their parents if they attend meetings of Gay-Straight Alliances,” the email says. Derek Fildebrandt, the Wildrose finance critic and like Mr. Jean and Mr. Kenney a likely candidate to lead the new party, “has promised over $7 billion in cuts to education, health care and other programs.”
It is fair to say that one significant result of the merger vote is that after an illustrious history of more than four decades in government, progressive conservatism is dead in Alberta, at least as a distinct political entity, presumably for all time.
For his part, the CBC report said, Mr. Jean announced after the vote he would be resigning to run for the leadership of the UCP “as soon as papers were filed for the new party.”
Given Elections Alberta’s rules for parties, that may be slightly more complicated than most coverage of last night’s announcements suggested. The UCP does not yet exist as a legal entity, for example, although the parties can be expected to approach Legislature Speaker Bob Wanner soon to ask to sit as a single Opposition party.
That means the first order of business for the new party will be picking an interim leader to lead the united legislative caucus until the leadership vote scheduled for Oct. 28.
The UCP Caucus will need to find someone for that job who can prevent bozo eruptions among caucus members, has no leadership ambitions or favourites and therefore won’t offend the candidates, is capable of speaking in complete sentences, and won’t scare the kiddies when he or she does so.
Given those tough requirements, I’d suggest someone like Nathan Cooper of the Wildrose Party or Richard Starke of the PCs, assuming, of course, that Dr. Starke has no interest in reliving his experience running against Mr. Kenney.