Alberta’s Freedom Conservative Party has announced its intention to unify the province’s right-leaning independence parties, which include the Alberta Independence Party, the Alberta Advantage Party and the Wexit Alberta group.
The FCP released a five-point unity plan on Friday outlining negotiations and ratification between the parties, a founding convention and a leadership race. The party said the goal is to run 87 candidates in the 2023 provincial election.
“In our platform, we have equality or independence, and instead of splintering the disenfranchised right into three or four other parties that are more or less addressing the same issues, we’ve opened up the door for the other parties to join us in unity,” FCP president Bill Jones said.
The FCP ran 24 candidates in this year’s provincial election, garnering 9,945 votes, which translated to roughly 0.5 per cent of the popular vote and no seats in the legislature.
Initial discussions have begun among the parties to find common ground between them, but nothing formal has been achieved.
According to Jones, a unified party would appeal to three types of Alberta voters: disenfranchised conservatives that don’t support or are losing support for the UCP, ex-Reform Party supporters and Wexit group members.
FCP officials said the goal of the merger isn’t to further promote separation but to use it as a tool in negotiations with the federal government for more autonomy within the Confederation.
“We want equality in Canada but we feel that unless independence is on the table as a real alternative, we don’t see any reason for Canada to negotiate seriously,” Jones said.
“We want to put real consequences on the table in dialogue with Canada to get equal treatment for Alberta.”
Alberta Independence Party
The AIP was the first registered political party in the province with independence at the top of the election platform. It vowed to hold a referendum on separation within 120 days of forming government.
According to party officials, they are aware of the FCP’s proposal but admitted that no formal discussions have taken place yet.
“We’re always interested in anything that will expand and unify the movement for independence,” AIP communications official C.W. Alexander said.
“So with respect to what the FCP might be speaking of or otherwise, we’re open to finding the best means in which to be able to make Alberta ultimately prosper.”
Alexander said the AIP just finished drafting its bylaws and constitutions, and is fresh off an election with 63 candidates, earning 13,531 votes or 0.7 per cent of the popular vote. They, too, did not win any seats in the legislature.
Alexander said the 2023 provincial election is a long way away, and the process would need to be done correctly if the parties agreed to merge.
The AIP plans to move forward with its educational strategy while keeping an eye on the UCP action’s toward western alienation, Alexander said.
Meanwhile, the Wexit Alberta group confirmed it has had formal discussions with the FCP, accepting nine of the 10 proposals on the table.
The non-negotiable factor, according to Wexit Canada leader Peter Downing, is the new unified party must be under the Wexit Alberta name.
“We have national, international attention. We have so much brand value built into that name,” Downing said. “We’d cut a deal with them tomorrow — there’d be a merger tomorrow if they accept the name.”
Wexit Alberta launched on June 9, and Downing believes there are between 4,500 and 5,500 paying members.
Although it’s not a registered political party in Alberta, the group is working to collect 9,000 signatures to officially register as a party, Downing said.
According to Downing, the group’s ultimate goal is to run candidates both provincially and federally.
“Our brand was launched explicitly for the unification of right-leaning independence parties, non-UCP or non-Tory or non-establishment conservative parties,” Downing said.
“We are looking at a fair balance of organization but we will not give up our No. 1 asset, which is our name.”
Alberta Advantage Party
According to Marilyn Burns, the leader of the AAP, the FCP has not reached out about its interest in merging the parties.
While all three groups agree that the UCP’s fair deal plan — which includes creating an Alberta pension plan, an income tax collection agency and a provincial police force — has good ideas, they said it is not being executed quickly enough.
“We like the action that’s going on,” Jones said. “We just don’t think it’s enough and it’s not fast enough.”
Frustration, anger and passion
It’s too soon to tell whether or not the proposed unified party will have an impact on Alberta’s political stage, according to Lori Williams, a Mount Royal University associate professor of policy studies.
Williams said there are a variety of factors that could play into the potential success or failure of the proposed party, including the FCP’s track record in the provincial election, whether Albertans believe the party’s proposals are more appealing than what exists now and the result of the provincial government’s advocacy for more autonomy for Alberta.
“We know there’s been an increase in emotional charge around the Alberta-Ottawa relationship, and that anger, that frustration and passion around that may go up or it may be absorbed in what’s going on now,” Williams said.
“But the danger of tapping into that emotional passion and intensity, the danger of capitalizing on it politically is that you then have to respond to it in a way that will be satisfying to the folks who are angry, and anger is a pretty difficult thing to placate.”
The UCP did not respond to Global News’ request for comment.