By Mabell, Dave on March 20, 2017.
Former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney dominated the vote in his bid to take over the provincial Tories on Saturday.
But Lethbridge political scientist Faron Ellis says what’s expected to follow – steps to merge the long-serving Progressive Conservatives with further-right Wildrose – may prove much more challenging.
And a recent province-wide poll shows Wildrose leader Brian Jean remains Albertans’ first choice as a “unite the right” leader with 26 per cent support versus 17 per cent for Kenney. About 28 per cent said they wanted “someone else,” the Mainstreet Research poll reported, while 29 per cent were undecided.
PC party delegates from Lethbridge and across the province selected Kenney as their next leader Saturday in Calgary. His opponents – Calgary lawyer and businessman Byron Nelson and Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke, a veterinarian – were easily outdistanced in the vote.
Ellis, a political science instructor at Lethbridge College, says Kenney will need a strong mandate to proceed with his plans to dismantle the Progressive Conservatives, Alberta’s ruling party for more than four decades.
His next step was to meet with the PC party’s executive Sunday. Some members are opposed to any merger, Ellis says.
“They’ll want to preserve the old party,” but they’ll soon be replaced.
“There could be a number of them,” he suggests. Some “will likely resign of their own accord.”
Then, Ellis predicts, Kenney will begin making overtures to Jean and his Wildrose colleagues.
“He wants to negotiate terms of the merger.”
There again, Ellis says some members of the Wildrose executive could voice their opposition. They may feel their party is strong enough to defeat the governing New Democrats in 2019 without merging with their weaker rivals. The debate could be heated.
“But as the squabbling goes on, whichever party seems the most obstinate will be the loser in this confrontation.”
Voters aren’t interested in the political battles of the past, Ellis explains.
“They don’t care about the grudges of 20 years ago.”
Still, the road to political matrimonial bliss could be bumpy. Ellis says Elections Alberta, a non-partisan public agency, has rules covering the dissolution of political parties, and what happens to their money. Either party could challenge those rules in court.
Once lawyers get involved, things could get complicated. Months could slip by.
Kenney, a former immigration minister in Stephen Harper’s government, has to reach some kind of agreement with the Wildrose leadership between now and this summer, Ellis says. The executive’s recommendation would have to be approved by the party’s grassroots members.
“Realistically, the parties would probably have to vote sometime next fall.”
The PC’s members would also have to be asked to vote for their party’s demise.
Then, if all goes Kenney’s way, the new party would have to create a new organization, name its executive and file papers for legal recognition.
“They’d have a year to get the legal entity together.”
That would allow the new party to start nominating candidates for the 2019 election, Ellis says.
“There’s no time to take a break on this,” he maintains.
While it’s a long process, Ellis predicts a new “unite the right” party will be ready to take on the New Democrats before the next election.
“This thing should be unstoppable,” he believes. “There is so much momentum.”
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