By Nikki Jamieson
By this time next year, Alberta may have just one conservative political party.
On Thursday, May 18, Wildrose leader Brian Jean and PC leader Jason Kenney signed an agreement in principal that establishes the process for the two parties to combine into one under the banner of the United Conservative Party.
Little Bow MLA Dave Schneider said it was the 19th agreement that the unity committee drafted for the two parties since its inception seven weeks ago. The Wildrose had seen it the Tuesday before where they had made a few small changes for the PCs to consider, with the finished agreement signed two days later.
“The foundations of this agreement stay true to the promises that Brian Jean made to the Wildrose grassroots members, which was to pursue unity in a way that maintains our principles and our grassroots way of doing things,” said Schneider. “This agreement in principle honours the legacy and the fundamental nature of Wildrose. This is an agreement that presents founding principles for a new united party of conservatives. I believe that the document is a great starting point.”
While the name may come as a surprise to some, Schneider says it was chosen because the Chief Electoral Officer would not allow the new party to have a name that would cause it to be confused with either the Wildrose or PC brands. The membership of the founding convention will have the opportunity to change the name, the words ‘United’ and ‘Conservative’ had proven popular, and so the United Conservative Party will be the “working name of the new party”.
Although the agreement was signed, it doesn’t mean that it is a done deal yet. The Wildrose will hold a special annual general meeting on July 22, where members will be asked to ratify the agreement in principal, for which 75 per cent will need to vote in favour. By contrast, the PCs will require only a simple majority to ratify, at their AGM on the same day.
“Because the Wildrose Party is a society, 75 per cent of the members present at the special AGM must vote in favour to accept the principles within the document,” said Schneider. “Of course there is worry that the 75 per cent mark may be hard to reach, but as Brian Jean has travelled this province speaking about unification, a strong majority of those he has spoken to have requested a unified party with conservatives from the PC party.”
Since the process first began, NDP leader and Premier Rachel Notley has pledged to hold a 2019 election, leading some conservatives to let out sighs of relief that an early election won’t be called while both parties undergo a difficult transition period.
Once both parties ratify the agreement in principal, a leadership race will begin, with plans to have a new leader in place by Oct. 28. A founding convention would be held in early 2018, where members would adopt the founding policies of the party along with the party’s first constitution.
“Unity has to be about more than simply defeating the NDP in the next election, and the principles included in the agreement ensure that we are committed to the grassroots approach that allows Albertans to have the greatest degree of control over the political process,” said Schneider. “It will be a lot of work, but both parties believe that we can be ready for that election.”
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