Danielle Smith: Conservative merger no guarantee of victory in Alberta
The first thing some will say about the announcement of an agreement in-principle to create the United Conservative Party is, “Boy conservatives do a crappy job of choosing acronyms.”
The UCP (You-See-Pee) party has already prompted columns, tweets and ridiculing memes: My favourite – “The Future is Yellow!” Why, oh why, does no one think of these things? It hearkens back to the days of the Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance Party, or CCRAP, in what turned out to be the initial, and only partially successful, attempt to unite conservatives at the federal level. We can only hope the path forward for the new provincial party will be a smoother one. More on that in a minute.
The mechanics of bringing the parties together won’t be the stumbling block I had anticipated. It seems very straightforward and fast, which is a good thing. The members of both parties will have a chance to vote on the merger by July 22. If members agree, a new party will form and the legacy parties will wrap up. In keeping with the law that money cannot transfer to the new party, they will spend the money in their existing accounts and wrap up their respective liabilities.
There will be an equal number of representatives from each party chosen for an interim board and the leadership election committee. An interim leader will be chosen who cannot run in the leadership race. The first leader will be chosen using the Wildrose rules of one-member-one-vote (though the voting structure might change in the future). That race will wrap up on October 28, 2017, which means the focus for the new leader can switch to election readiness fresh out of the gate in the new year.
They have even, cleverly, worked out a backup plan if there is an early election (unlikely in this time frame) or members reject the proposal (more possible). It would involve working together to ensure the PC’s and Wildrose together get the majority of seats in the next legislature and then they’d continue their unity efforts post-election.
After that it is clear sailing to a majority government right? Maybe not.
It’s worth reviewing some of the federal history to understand what could go wrong.
The federal party, CCRAP, became the Canadian Alliance and won only 66 seats and 25.5 per cent of the election of 2000. The Progressive Conservatives stayed separate until Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay brokered a deal to bring them together in 2003. Even after that, the progressive wing sat it out.
In the subsequent election in 2004 the Conservatives won 99 seats and only 29.6 per cent of the vote. It took until 2011 to win a majority and support peaked out for the party at 39.6 per cent before being reduced to official opposition again in 2015.
WATCH BELOW: Rachel Notley reacts to potential merger of Wildrose and PC parties
So what’s the point? Two plus two doesn’t necessarily equal four in political calculations. The federal Conservative Party was never able to attract enough centrist voters to maintain a majority government for more than one election cycle. The UCP may face the same problem if no one other than Jason Kenney and Brian Jean enter the race.
It’s fair to say that neither leader has been able to attract enough support on their own to secure a victory over Rachel Notley’s NDP. The New Democrats continue to dominate in Edmonton, Wildrose dominates rural Alberta and Calgary is almost evenly divided between all three parties.
If Kenney was going to light the province on fire, he would have surged to the lead in public opinion polls during the PC leadership contest. He didn’t. If Jean was going to do the same, he wouldn’t be sitting at third place in support in Calgary.
LISTEN: Rob Breakenridge interviews Jason Kenney on the proposed merger
It’s clear that voters long for another choice. I keep getting asked if I think Rona Ambrose will enter into the contest. My answer: I wish. I suspect the vast majority of conservative minded voters do too.
There is a wariness of both Kenney and Jean mostly because of their perceived stances on controversial social issues. If the new party becomes embroiled in controversies over abortion, LGBTQ rights, assisted dying, pot legalization and the like, it will do nothing to broaden its base.
For UCP to be successful, it needs to offer an equally welcome home for those who have progressive views on these hot button issues. That’s going to require some fresh faces to enter the race.
Danielle Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
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