May 18, 2017 11:20 am
Updated: May 19, 2017 8:37 am

Alberta PCs, Wildrose unveil plans to merge, create United Conservative Party

WATCH ABOVE: Brian Jean, Jason Kenney announce plans to unite parties into the United Conservative Party.

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The plan to unite the right and merge Alberta’s Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties is happening.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean and Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney unveiled plans Thursday afternoon to unify the political parties into the United Conservative Party.

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READ MORE: What an Alberta PC-Wildrose merger could mean for Rachel Notley’s NDP

In a joint media conference, Jean and Kenney announced a tentative agreement has been reached.

The deal still has to be approved by 75 per cent of Wildrose members and just over 50 per cent of PC members. If it goes ahead, the new party will set up a leadership committee with an eye to electing a new leader by Oct. 28.

“The foundations of this agreement stay true to the promise I made to the Wildrose grassroots members – to pursue unity in a way that maintains our principles, and our grassroots way of doing things,” Jean said. It’s been the mission of our party to inspire Albertans and restore common sense conservative ideas to government.”

Watch below: The plan to merge the Wildrose and Alberta PCs into one group called the “United Conservative Party” has a lot of people weighing in. Sarah Kraus has reaction.

Kenney said the move puts Alberta ahead of his and Jean’s respective parties in order to get the province “back on track.”

READ MORE: Danielle Smith: Conservative merger no guarantee of victory in Alberta 

“With this agreement, we end a decade of division by uniting common sense Albertans. This ensures the defeat of this disastrous NDP government, and the election of a free-enterprise government that will renew the Alberta Advantage. To the many Albertans who are struggling today, this agreement sends a clear message: that help is on the way.”

READ MORE: Wildrose and PC MLAs speak to Albertans about progress on plan to unite the right

Kenney spoke directly to PC members, some of whom have left the party in recent weeks, saying that they fear it’s becoming less progressive and adopting a more socially conservative position.

Kenney himself fuelled those fears in late March when he said he favoured schools telling parents if their children joined a gay-straight alliance. Critics said telling parents could effectively “out” a child before he or she is ready and put them at risk of harm or ostracism.

“If this agreement is ratified, it’s not the end of a proud legacy, but … a fresh start and a new beginning,” Kenney said.

Watch below: After months of negotiations, the Alberta’s unite the right movement took a big stet forward. Fletcher Kent has more on the United Conservative Party and what it means for Alberta.

A group of representatives from both parties has been meeting for the last two months to hammer out a deal.

Kenney won the PC party leadership in March on a platform to merge, and both Kenney and Jean have said they’ll run for the leadership of a consolidated party.

If the deal is passed, the new party will move quickly to establish an executive and constituency boards in time for the next election.

Watch below: The tentative deal to merge the PCs and Wildrose has had everyone talking today. Sarah Kraus has more on how people are reacting to the development.

By law, that election must be held sometime in the spring of 2019. Premier Rachel Notley has the option to call a vote earlier if she believes circumstances warrant, but has stressed she plans to follow the law.

Watch below: Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose weighs in on Alberta’s united right 

Any merger could end more than a decade of drama and acrimony.

The Wildrose emerged about a decade ago, founded by conservatives who felt alienated from then-premier Ed Stelmach’s PC government.

The fortunes of both parties have since waxed and waned, usually at the other’s expense.

PC members Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth bolted to the Wildrose benches under Stelmach in early 2010, hastening his demise as PC leader a year later. In late 2014, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith led a floor-crossing of most of her caucus – including Anderson – to the government benches when Jim Prentice was PC premier.

READ MORE: Wildrose leader, 8 others join Alberta’s PC party

The move backfired. The Wildrose rallied under Jean to win 21 seats in the 2015 election and retain its status as official Opposition.

The PCs finished third with 10 seats. None of the Wildrose floor-crossers made it back to the house.

Prentice quit politics and the election loss led the party to a reappraisal of its mission and ultimately to the March election of Kenney.

WATCH: NewsTalk 770 host and former Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith speaks to Global News regarding a potential PC/Wildrose merger.

“Remember, when they initially set out their timeline they were wanting to have something done by the end of April, so we’re a couple of weeks late,” former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said on her Calgary radio show Thursday morning.

“I understand that there were a couple of things that were standing in the way initially,” Smith explained.

“One was that the word ‘progressive’ was something that the Progressive Conservatives were really keen on maintaining in the statement of principles – but ‘progressive’ has come to mean a bunch of different things to a bunch of different people.”

WATCH: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley reacts to a potential merger of the PC party and Wildrose party.

Premier Rachel Notley reacted to the news Thursday morning, saying the two conservative parties do agree on one thing.

“They agree on making massive cuts to government services and programs to education to health care to nurses to teachers in order to fund tax breaks to the top one per cent,” Notley said at a news conference.

“That is not a path to recovery. And I’m happy to have that debate with one right-wing party or 10 right-wing parties, it doesn’t really matter. I’m confidence that our choice to stand with Albertans is the right one.”

Notley said her government went in to the 2015 provincial election understanding that the Alberta economy was about to go into a significant recession.

“We made a choice to invest in Albertans and to have their backs. That is a very different choice than either of the other two parties wanted to make or would make.”

“They’re a group that are moving increasingly to more and more extreme positions to the point that they may fall right off the map and I guess if they do, they’ll have company,” Notley said.

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark called the move a “hostile takeover” rather than a merger.

“The stream of PC supporters who have been leaving will quickly become a flood as they come to understand it is no longer the party of Peter Lougheed, but a return to what Peter Lougheed fought against,” Clark said in a statement.

“Albertans reject polarized politics. Albertans know it is possible to look out for our neighbours and balance a budget. We know it’s possible to have efficient, effective public services and balance a budget. We know it’s possible to unapologetically defend minority rights and balance a budget,” Clark added.

READ MORE: Parties cannot merge in Alberta as unite the right talk continues: Elections Alberta

Jean recently said he was optimistic about the unity talks but the direction of the party will be decided by the grassroots at the end of the day. Smith addressed that.

Watch below: Lori Williams, Associate Professor of Policy Studies at Mount Royal University, joined Global News to discuss the plans to unite Alberta’s right-wing parties.

Watch below: The Wildrose and PCs are moving quickly to build a new conservative party. It isn’t the first attempt to unite the right, so what will be different this time around to bring voters back to the ballot box. Bindu Suri reports on how Calgary is reacting to the news.

“Another [stumbling block] was around the respect for grassroots members. Whether or not they would be, for instance, perusing more of a delegate-style convention to choose a leader — which is how Jason Kenney was chosen — or more of a one member, one-vote style, which is how Brian Jean was voted in.”

READ MORE: New Alberta PC leader Jason Kenney fails to improve party’s standing: poll

There is a sense of urgency for conservatives looking to unite the right as Notley must drop the writ for the next election in the spring of 2019.

“I know that they are all quite keen to try to get that [leadership] race wrapped up before the end of this year, because let’s face it, the NDP could call an election early if they chose to,” Smith said.

READ MORE: Wildrose Leader Brian Jean disagrees with PC Leader Jason Kenney on school clubs for gay students

— With files from Caley Ramsay, Melissa Gilligan, Global News, and Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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