Wildrose and PC merger: Is it a nice day for a right wedding?
This article was previously published for the Calgary Journal.
The Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties have a long road ahead of them as they proceed with merger plans, a journey that includes making compromises, according to a Mount Royal University professor.
“How badly do they want power?” asks Lori Williams, who teaches policy studies. “How badly do they want to control the next government? Badly enough to compromise on other issues that are important to them? We will see.”
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean and Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney signed a historic agreement on May 18 launching a merger which is expected to lead to the creation of the United Conservative Party.
When the agreement was signed, both leaders seemed optimistic that unifying both conservative parties was in the best interests of Albertans who don’t approve of the NDP government led by Premier Rachel Notley.
“This is a historic day for Alberta,” Kenney said in a press release. “We are putting our province ahead of our parties in order to get Alberta back on track. With this agreement, we end a decade of division by uniting common sense Albertans.
In the same press release Jean said, “Today’s announcement is about establishing a strong movement that secures Alberta’s future for generations to come.”
But, just like any marriage, there is a lot of work ahead of them.
"Are their principles more important to them? Or is winning more important to them? The answer to that question will be one of the things that will determine their vote in the upcoming [decisions] of the merger.” -Lori Williams
Currently, the Wildrose and PC party leaders have signed an agreement in principle, which highlights different aspects and goals for the new party.
Members of both parties will vote on the merger on July 22, but each party has a different percentage of votes required to push the merger along — 75 per cent of Wildrose members and 50 per cent of PC members.
Qualities of a successful political-marriage
Williams, a veteran analyst of Alberta politics, says that leadership, vision and compromise will be the main components of making this merger work.
If the merger is approved by members of both parties, Jean and Kenney will step down as leaders of their parties and are expected to throw their hats into a new leadership race. Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer announced June 1 that he too would be running for the leadership of the United Conservative Party.
“[Members of the parties] will be willing to go along with it if that merge has a leader that they trust – someone who inspires them to work together,” says Williams.
But before the leadership vote set for Oct. 28, Williams suggests Jean and Kenney need to step up as leaders to convince their parties that the merger is a good idea. Then, if the merger is approved, that is when party members need to worry about the leader of the new party.
“Whether it is Brian Jean or Jason Kenney, first they are going to have to persuade party members that they will be balanced and moderate. The best of both worlds.”
The new party will need to find a balance between the Wildrose’s social-conservative platform and the Progressive Conservative’s social-progressive platform. The parties differ on topics such as gay-straight alliances, LGBTQ rights, abortion and same-sex marriage.
Some members of the existing parties may find it difficult to soften their beliefs to find balance in the new party.
“I often hear from people that don’t want to compromise,” says Williams. “They don’t understand that [compromise] is what democratic politics require.”
Williams adds the success of the merger may come down to whether members are more passionate about winning the next provincial election or about their values. “If winning the next election, beating the NDP, is important to them ... then they’re more likely to support the merger. But, if something like progressivism is more important to them, then they won’t.”
Conservative parties under one banner
If the members approve, there are a lot of different ways the merger can play out. According to Deputy Chief Electoral Officer Drew Westwater, a lot of decisions will come down to the parties themselves.
When asked if the merged parties will have to create a new party, Westwater said, “that is what they stated their intention is, yes.”
“This is a historic day for Alberta,” Jason Kenney said in a press release. Photo courtesy of Wildrose Party
“So, they’re creating a new party and if we approve the name of the party that they wish to register under ... that is perfectly allowed under legislation.”
De-registering the existing political parties is another choice that will be up to the parties and their members.
“That is a choice [for] existing registered parties, the Wildrose Party, the PC Party, that are in [Alberta Election’s] list of registered parties currently. Their board of directors can determine if they wish to maintain their registration or not. They can apply to be de-registered or not. That is up to them.”
Support from members and Albertans
If the parties merge, then comes the question about what kind of support the United Conservative Party can find among Albertans in the next election.
Similar to party members, Albertans need to be persuaded that the merger will be in their best interests.
“I get phone calls and emails from people in rural Alberta and they hate Rachel Notley and that is enough incentive for them to vote for the merger and get rid of Rachel Notley,” says Williams.
“To the many Albertans who are struggling today, this agreement sends a clear message: that help is on the way.” -Jason Kenney
On the progressive end of the PC Party are “all kinds of folks who are saying that the NDP is closer to their vision than the Wildrose party, so they’re not going to move. Or they’re looking for an alternative in the centre.”
But, Williams believes that people can be persuaded in a number of ways.
“Obviously there are some Albertans that are highly ideological, but there are some that are very flexible. If you look at the numbers in 2012 and the numbers in 2015, clearly a significant number of Albertans swarmed from voting Wildrose in 2012 to NDP in 2015. Clearly not about ideology — it’s about democracy, it’s about representation.”
Many things will have to be examined and determined by the current parties moving forward, including financial decisions.
According to Alberta Elections, Wildrose raised $281,606.85 in the last quarter and the PCs raised $216,844.21. The quarter began Jan. 1 and ended March 31.
Westwater made it clear that “the existing monies with the existing registered parties cannot be transferred to the new party. Existing parties can choose to do with their money that they are legally allowed to within the Act.”
The Alberta elections guide, A Guide to the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, states, “should a party be de-registered, the constituency association(s) of that party are also de-registered and all funds of the de-registered party and its de-registered constituency association(s), which are not required to pay outstanding debts, shall be paid over to Elections Alberta to be held in trust for one year.”
When the agreement was signed, both leaders seemed optimistic that unifying both conservative parties was in the best interests of Albertans who don’t approve of the NDP government led by Premier Rachel Notley. Photo courtesy of Wildrose Party
If they decide to de-register their parties, the Wildrose and PCs’ current funds will be held by Elections Alberta for one year. If neither parties re-register their party in that year window, then the money “shall be deposited into the General Revenue Fund for the Government of Alberta.”
The United Conservative Party name is currently reserved and expires on Nov. 20. If the parties require more time, they can apply for a maximum three-month extension.
In the months to come Jean, Kenney and their party members have a lot of decisions to make. The spotlight will be on both parties on how well the leaders can inspire members and get there united conservative show on the road.
“It depends on what is important to them. Are their principles more important to them? Or is winning more important to them? The answer to that question will be one of the things that will determine their vote in the upcoming [decisions] of the merger,” says Williams.