RED DEER, Alta. – Alberta’s Wildrose party has voted overwhelmingly to end a decade of bitter feuding with Progressive Conservatives and join forces to defeat the governing NDP.
“What a day for Albertans! What a day for conservatives and what a day for Wildrose members!” Wildrose Leader Brian Jean told more than 300 cheering supporters who jammed a room at a hotel in Red Deer on Saturday.
In a day of online, phone and in-person voting, party members voted 95.4 per cent in favour of folding up the party and joining the Progressive Conservatives to form the new United Conservative party.
That figure was well over the required 75 per cent minimum.
The Progressive Conservative members were to announce the results of their vote later Saturday, but they only needed 50 per cent plus one to form the UCP.
“Today is not the end of Wildrose,” Jean told the crowd.
“(It’s) a new beginning, where we’re one step closer to putting power back in the hands of the ordinary working people of Alberta.”
More than 42,617 Wildrosers took out memberships to vote on the proposed unity deal that was brokered by the two parties in May.
Of that figure 24,598 cast ballots, for a turnout of 57.7 per cent.
Of the voters, 23,466 voted yes and 1,132 voted no.
If the PCs agree to unity, the two parties will begin wrapping up operations and join under the UCP banner. A founding convention will be held and the plan is to have constituency associations and candidates in place in time for the next election in spring 2019.
The two caucuses — eight in the PCs and 22 in the Wildrose — will meet Monday in Edmonton to pick an interim leader.
A successful PC vote will also fire the starting pistol on the race to be permanent leader of the new entity.
The new boss will be picked Oct. 28, and there are already three candidates in the race: Jean, Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney, and Calgary lawyer and PC organizer Doug Schweitzer.
Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt is also considering a run.
Fildebrandt said he will wait until the rules of the race are set before announcing whether he will run.
Regardless, he said he won’t support Jean, but declined to say why.
“I’m not going to get into it right now,” Fildebrandt told reporters.
“Today is a day about unification.
“We’ll have plenty of time to beat the crap out of each other in the coming weeks and months.”
There has been a history of bad blood between Jean and Fildebrandt.
Jean suspended Fildebrandt briefly from caucus over a year ago for endorsing inappropriate comments on social media.
If both votes are successful, they fulfil a plan launched a year ago by Kenney in his ultimately successful bid to become leader of the PCs on a platform of merging with the Wildrose.
The Wildrose movement took root over a decade ago, composed in part by disaffected Tories who felt the PCs had abandoned their commitment to fiscal conservatism and grassroots consultation.
Kenney says vote splitting leveraged Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP to majority government in the 2015 election, and only a united conservative party can prevent a repeat in 2019.
Kenney and Jean say the NDP policies — including a carbon tax and heavy debt spending for operations and infrastructure — are exacerbating a troubled economy buffeted by low oil and are threatening to swamp future Albertans in unsustainable red ink.
Kenney and Jean, both former Conservative MPs, have been criss-crossing the province in recent weeks to explain details of the tentative unity agreement and to drum up support for a merger.
There had been pockets of resistance on both sides amid concerns the new party would move far to the right on social issues and open a spot for other parties to grab centrist voters.
If both sides approve the deal, it will also spell the end of the Progressive Conservative party that governed Alberta for almost 44 years — a dynasty that was defeated by Notley’s NDP.