Right-wing opposition parties plan to merge in Canada's oil-rich Alberta

Thu May 18, 2017 5:30pm EDT
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By Nia Williams

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - The Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties in Canada's oil-rich province of Alberta signed a tentative agreement on Thursday to merge, creating a unified right-wing opposition to the ruling New Democratic Party.

The United Conservative Party could provide a serious challenge in the next provincial election, due in 2019, to Premier Rachel Notley's left-leaning NDP, which was helped by divisions on the right when it swept to power in 2015.

Alberta is home to Canada's vast oil sands and is the largest exporter of crude to the United States. But it has been struggling with a three-year slump in global oil prices and a C$10.3 billion ($7.57 billion) deficit.

The energy industry is likely to welcome unification of the right, with the new party eager to develop policies aimed at cutting costs for the oil and gas sector.

Jason Kenney and Brian Jean, leaders of the PC and Wildrose parties, have both pledged to scrap unpopular environmental regulations, including carbon taxes and the phase-out of coal-fired power plants.

"The first act of a United Conservative government will be the carbon tax repeal act, the first job will be restarting Alberta's economy, restoring investor confidence, getting jobs back to our province," Kenney told a news conference in the provincial capital, Edmonton, where he and Jean signed an agreement to start the merger process.

Both parties will ask members to vote on the proposed merger in coming weeks. Once approved, the new party will hold a contest to elect a new leader, in which both Kenney and Jean have said they will take part.

Some voters in the traditionally right-wing western province say NDP policies like higher corporate taxes and a cap on oil sands emissions have exacerbated the downturn by making Alberta less attractive to potential investors.   Continued...

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley takes part in the First Ministers’ meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie