EDMONTON – Alberta MP Jason Kenney says he will still pursue a unity agenda even if he wins the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership race but fails to get support from party members to merge with the right-centre Wildrose party.
Kenney’s comments came in an email Thursday from his campaign team after it was asked to respond to a leaked internal email from one of his organizers.
Rather than respond to the email, Kenney’s campaign team sent a transcript of remarks it said Kenney made at a meeting in Edmonton on Wednesday night.
According to the transcript, Kenney was asked what he would do if PC rank and file refuse to give him a mandate to broker a merger deal with the Wildrose.
“If those negotiations do not succeed, or if the members in their wisdom refuse to ratify an agreement for a new party, I would gracefully respect their judgment or the outcome,” Kenney responded, according to the transcript.
“I would also respect my mandate as the leader of the Progressive Conservative party to carry on, to build a platform for unity in the future.
“I have a background and proven record that a lot of my Wildrose friends will respect. And in the event of a failed merger, I think they might be willing to give the PC party a second look if they have somebody that they trust in a leadership position.”
Kenney’s team declined to make him available for comment.
The comments came after a leaked internal email sent Wednesday from one of Kenney’s organizers, former Edmonton MLA David Dorward, stated that Kenney is wedded to the PCs whether or not he wins the leadership race, which begins Oct. 1.
Dorward’s email to current and former PC MLAs stated: “Jason is committed to the PC party. If the members reject unification, so be it, he will lead (the party) into the 2019 election.”
Dorward’s email also said that if Kenney loses the party leadership vote – set for March 18 – he will still run for a seat in the legislature under the PC banner.
Kenney’s team declined to comment on whether Kenney will run as a PC MLA if he loses the leadership vote.
Dorward, a former Edmonton PC legislature member, also declined comment when contacted Thursday. “I don’t speak for the campaign so you should contact them,” he wrote in an email.
In his email to PC MLAs, Dorward said the statements were in response to questions posed by former PC MLA Thomas Lukaszuk.
In an interview, Lukaszuk said he posed the questions to get clarification on Kenney’s goals and aims.
He noted that Jim Prentice, another one-time federal politician, came back in 2014 to renew the party, but quit politics altogether on the night the PCs fell to Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP in the 2015 election.
“To me, it’s very presumptive and entitled for one to assume that he is going to win the leadership of the PC party, and then also get the support to merge the two parties,” said Lukaszuk.
“If it doesn’t happen, I want to know if he (Kenney) is committed to the province of Alberta.
“We know, for example, the moment Prentice lost he walked off the stage and we never saw him again.”
Lukaszuk ran against Prentice for the party leadership in 2014. He wouldn’t say if he will launch a leadership bid this time around, but said he is weighing options on “re-engaging” in politics.
Lukaszuk lost his Edmonton seat in the last election.
Kenney announced in early July that he will seek to become the next leader on a mandate to dissolve the party in a merger with the fellow centre-right Wildrose. Under his plan, the two parties would become a new entity aimed at uniting conservatives and defeating Notley’s NDP.
Kenney has outlined a timetable for the merger, but has stressed the idea must ultimately be taken to party rank and file for a vote.
Members voted overwhelmingly at the party’s annual general meeting last spring to focus on self-renewal and not seek a merger.
The issue has divided the PCs. Some don’t see the two parties as a natural fit given that, among other concerns, the PCs are more centrist on social issues than the Wildrose.
Kenney’s plan has also raised questions on whether such a merger platform contravenes leadership contest rules, which forbid candidates from doing harm to the party or its brand.
Party president Katherine O’Neill has declined to comment on that. She has said it’s hypothetical given that the race has not begun. It officially starts Oct. 1.
Former PC MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans has also announced she will run for the leadership.
Kenney has promised to resign his federal seat next week to focus on the leadership race.
The Wildrose party has said it’s important for conservatives to unite, but has taken a wait-and-see approach.