Merger on table for rightist parties in Canada's oil-rich Alberta

Sat Mar 18, 2017 7:55pm EDT
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By Ethan Lou

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A candidate with plans to merge Alberta's splintered right-leaning factions has won the leadership of the province's Progressive Conservatives (PC), the party said on Saturday, heralding a political shift in Canada's oil heartland.

The merger plan by former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney has a high chance of going through as the other right-leaning faction, the Wildrose party, has agreed to it.

But Kenney may not get to shepherd the merged conservative party, as Brian Jean, the head of the currently bigger Wildrose, has said he would vie for the new leadership. Terms of the merger are also unclear and subject to talks.

Nonetheless, a tie-up would bolster the pro-business right against the incumbent left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP), which has drawn the ire of conservatives by imposing a carbon tax on the emissions-heavy energy sector and by what critics see as heavy government spending despite budget deficits.

"Today we are sending a message to the NDP ... You will be facing a strong, united opposition." Kenney said after his victory in the province's largest city of Calgary.

"To our friends and fellow travelers in the Wildrose party ... let us reunite the family."

The next election has to take place on or before May 31, 2019. A victory by the merged conservative party would restore the status quo for the mostly right-voting province and could bring drastic changes, as both the PC and Wildrose have opposed most of the NDP's policies.

The NDP rose to power in 2015 after nearly half a century of PC rule in Alberta, aided by a divided right and voter anger over low oil prices, entitled politicians and government budget woes.   Continued...

Conservative Member of Parliament Jason Kenney speaks following Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie