CALGARY — Conservative MP Jason Kenney says he wants to lead the Alberta Progressive Conservatives and unite voters on the right to stop the “accidental NDP government” in the next election.
The former federal cabinet minister says it’s imperative that the Alberta Tories and Opposition Wildrose put past differences aside if they are to take back power from Rachel Notley’s New Democrats.
Kenney spared no words in his attack on the NDP government that he says is “systematically destroying the Alberta advantage.”
“There is only one way to eliminate that risk, only one way to ensure that we defeat the NDP in 2019 and get Alberta back on the right track. And that is to unite Albertans around a common cause,” Kenney told supporters at his announcement in Calgary Wednesday.
“The Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose parties must put Alberta first. We must focus on the future, not the past, on what unites us not what divides us.
“We must come together to form a single, free-enterprise party and we must do so before the next election.”
Kenney’s announcement that he will seek the Alberta Tory party’s top job is not unexpected. There had been speculation for months that he would return to his home province to try to broker a reconciliation between the more moderate PCs and the hard-line Wildrose.
The Tories were reduced to third party in the legislature in the May 2015 election when the NDP won a majority government and the Wildrose retained official Opposition status. The party has been without a permanent leader since. Jim Prentice, who led the party to its first defeat in 40-plus years, resigned on election night.
Kenney promised that any talks between the two provincial parties would be done openly, not in backrooms, and flung open the door to the Wildrose.
“Wildrose supporters are not our enemies or our adversaries. They’re our friends … they are family. We are all family together.”
The PCs have said they aren’t keen to merge, while the Wildrose has said it would be happy to link up, but only under its banner and with leader Brian Jean calling the shots.
Kenney, however, suggested that if the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance could merge federally in 2003, it will be a “walk in the park” to unite the right in Alberta.
But a leader who tried to do just that in 2014 when she led a mass floor crossing from the Wildrose to the PCs isn’t so sure Kenney is up to the task or that he can appeal to urban voters.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle for him … because of some of the positions that he has taken on conservative social issues in the past,” said Smith, who is now a radio host.
“There has to be a fundamental recognition that Calgary and Edmonton are far more progressive on social issues than the rural areas.”
Two former MLAs who followed Smith to the PCs — Rob Anderson and Bruce McAllister — are keen to see Alberta’s right unite and believe Kenney is the right person to do it.
Anderson, who crossed from the Tories to the Wildrose and back again, said the ground is more fertile for a merger now than it was in 2014.
“When you stare socialism in the face for a year, it kind of wakes you up,” said Anderson.