Jason Kenney admits he’s been in a bit of an “awkward” position.
“There’s no doubt there have been some people in senior positions in the party who would rather my campaign didn’t exist,” the former federal cabinet minister running for leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives said in an interview Sunday on The West Block.
Kenney had based his campaign primarily on bringing the two right-leaning provincial parties together, which has created strife in both. Still, if he wins the leadership in March, he has said he’ll seek a mandate from members to merge his party with the Wildrose.
To him, the matter is straightforward.
“Things have changed pretty dramatically since the election of the NDP,” he said. “Wildrose and PC parties are actually not separated on any policy issues any longer,” he said. “They’re voting together identically in Alberta’s legislature 90 per cent of the time. The other 10 per cent are not major issues.”
Kenney has said vote splitting among small-c conservatives in the 2015 election led to the NDP’s win, and only a merger can prevent it from happening again in 2019.
“Alberta is in real trouble right now. We’re in a deep recession right now, that’s made worse by ideological policies by this NDP government,” he said Sunday.
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean says he believes like-minded conservatives should unite, but that he’s taking a wait-and-see approach to any overtures from the PCs. His finance critic, Derek Fildebrant, meanwhile, has been openly pushing for a merger.
The other PC candidates, meanwhile, aren’t looking to unite the parties.
“[They] want to maintain the division … And they’re prepared to risk a second NDP term that I’m not prepared to risk,” he said.
Earlier this month, the gloves came off at the leadership debate, with three candidates telling Kenney his plan to unite with the right-leaning Wildrose is cynical and a short-sighted folly.
The Wildrose party began more than a decade ago as a splinter group of provincial Tories disaffected with a party they felt had become fiscally wasteful, was governed from the top down and didn’t respect private land rights.
While Kenney said he believes all conservatives share core values of limited government and free enterprise, the other candidates say the social conservatism of the Wildrose makes it a poor fit for their big-tent party.
After a 44-year-long dynasty, the PC party was relegated to third party status when Rachel Notley’s NDP won the May 2015 provincial election. The late Jim Prentice stepped down after losing the election, and Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver became interim leader.
With files from Global News’ Karen Bartko