CALGARY – Former prime minister Stephen Harper gave an impassioned speech Saturday night supporting his long time friend and political colleague Jason Kenney in his quest to unite-the-right in Alberta.
“He has demonstrated time and again that he is a principled, thoughtful and highly capable conservative,” Harper said to hundreds of supporters at the annual Stampede barbecue held in his southwest Calgary riding.
“And friends I would ask all Alberta members of the Conservative Party of Canada to join me and to work to elect as the next leader of the PC Party of Alberta the Honourable Jason Kenney.”
Kenney announced last week his plan to leave federal politics, seek the vacant Progressive Conservative leadership in Alberta, and facilitate a merger with the rival right-wing Wildrose Party.
Alberta’s PC’s were ousted from office last year by the NDP after more than four decades in power.
WATCH: ‘I’m really concerned about the direction of Alberta’: Jason Kenney to seek leadership of PC party
Harper was able to unite the right federally in 2003, merging the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives into the Conservative Party and subsequently toppling the governing Liberals.
“That conservative unity has remained elusive here in Alberta and with terrible consequences,” he said.
“Workers losing their jobs, businesses closing their doors, taxes skyrocketing, families without prospects. That must change my friends.”
Interim leader Rona Ambrose joined Harper in endorsing Kenney.
“I have been, for over a year now, unabashedly supportive of the unite-the-right movement here in Alberta and I will continue to do that,” said Ambrose.
“I’m incredibly proud and happy that Jason has stepped forward to help lead this movement and I’m behind him 100 per cent. I hope that all Conservatives in Alberta get together and do what they need to do to create a united path to victory.”
Kenney’s plan to unite Alberta’s right involves having the PCs hold a leadership vote in March. If Kenney wins he would negotiate a “framework agreement” with the Wildrose on a new united party.
If grassroots members of both parties approve, a new party would be founded in the summer, followed by a leadership race that would wrap up in early 2018.
“I think what we heard tonight was an explicit endorsement of exactly the plan that I’ve laid out and I can tell you from my private conversations with Stephen Harper — that’s exactly what he believes and he’s encouraged me strongly to go in this direction, as has Rona Ambrose and all of her colleagues in Alberta,” Kenney told reporters.
The fact the speech from Harper was likely his last while in public office, means a lot to Kenney.
“It’s actually a bit moving for me because he is also a friend and I’ve been with him in the trenches for a very long time. I was in the trenches 20 years ago in trying to unite conservatives at the national level,” Kenney said.
“So to hear those words from him in what is probably his last political speech as an MP, is actually for me very touching.”
Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives will elect a new leader in March of next year.