The solid numbers shocked even veteran pollsters. Ninety-five per cent of both Wildrose voters and Progressive Conservative voters decided to unite their parties on Saturday.
“Tens of thousands of Albertans have decided to put the future ahead of the past, to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us,” Alberta PC leader Jason Kenney said.
Many had expected a stronger “no” result from members who were angry about the idea of a merger and the possibility that NDP or centrist supporters could have bought memberships in order to scuttle the merger vote.
“Last night really put to rest the idea that we are going to have an ultra right-wing party form,” Calgary pollster Janet Brown said. “I think they just couldn’t mobilize over the weekend. But there will still be talk about the emergence of a centrist party. The fact of the matter is those centrists didn’t show up when they had the PC leadership vote that elected Jason Kenney. Those centrists didn’t show up to support the continued existence of the Progressive Conservative party,” Brown said.
Brown says, from the perspective of the average Albertan, the two parties don’t differ very much. They are both committed to the idea of eliminating the carbon tax and cutting other taxes. The main thing they have in common is crushing the NDP.
“Enjoy your temporary positions,” said Wildrose leader Brian Jean in Red Deer on Saturday.
“It means that we’re clearly ready to take back our province and restore it into the hard-working hands of the men and women that built this province.”
The strong vote result spells trouble for the current NDP government that took power from the PCs who went down in dramatic fashion after four decades in power.
But the NDP says voters would be getting the worst of both worlds with the a United Conservative Party.
“What I feel like the vote is about is about saying to Wildrose members: ‘Are you ready to re-embrace PC entitlement?’ And to the PC members: ‘Are you ready to embrace Wildrose cuts?’ which we know would be deep and have lasting impacts,” Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman said.
Now, the new United Conservative Party must develop policy and pick a new leader in October.
So far, there are three people in the running: Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, Brian Jean and Jason Kenney. Recent polls have the two party leaders nearly neck and neck, with Jean having a slight lead.
“Don’t forget that Jason Kenney came out of the federal conservatives,” Brown said. “He came out of the Reform movement. So these are people who have both been members of very far right wing parties.
“Albertans look at these two candidates and they actually see Brian Jean as a little more middle of the road and they see Jason Kenney as sort of the more hard-line right winger.”
WATCH BELOW: Political commentator Janet Brown joins Global Calgary to discuss the results of the merger vote between the Alberta Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties.
The hope for unity supporters now is that the two parties can come together as seamlessly as the Reform and federal PC parties did in 2003.
Kenney had a message for people who voted “no” to the merger on Saturday.
“We respect your conscientious view. We understand there are reasonable grounds to be concerned about the path of unity. We need a big tent coalition. This has never been a narrow ideological enterprise.”
A joint caucus meeting of Wildrose and PC MLAs will happen in Edmonton on Monday, where they will elect an interim leader.