Former MP and federal Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney is the new leader of Alberta's Progressive Conservative Party.
"Today we have chosen the future. Today we have chosen hope. Today we have chosen unity. Today, It's springtime in Alberta," Kenney said to loud cheers from the crowd of 2,000 at the Telus Convention Centre in downtown Calgary.
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Kenney won the leadership on the first ballot over opponents Richard Starke, a PC MLA, and Byron Nelson, a Calgary lawyer.
He captured 75.5 per cent of the vote, or 1,113 of the 1,476 ballots cast on Saturday. Starke won 323 and Nelson came third with 40.
Kenney ran on a platform to unite Alberta conservatives by dissolving the PCs and creating a single right-wing party combined with Wildrose. Starke and Nelson wanted the party to continue under the PC banner.
In his acceptance speech, Kenney assured party members who didn't vote for his unity agenda, that he wanted to hear what they wanted to see in the new party.
"Please ensure that today we begin uniting the Progressive Conservative party so that we can reunite the broader Alberta conservative movement," he said. "We need all of you."
Kenney vowed the new party's first act after winning the 2019 election would be to repeal the carbon tax. He said he would also embark on what he called a "summer of repeal."
"We're going to shut down the air conditioners in the legislature to focus people's attention and reduce our carbon footprint and we are going to work hard to repeal each element of the disastrous NDP legislative and regulatory record."
Meeting with Wildrose leader
Starke said he will support Kenney as party leader. He said he plans to tell Kenney his ideas for the new party.
"I will certainly be bringing forward the ideas that I experienced during the course of the campaign and that is, we must have a society that is inclusive and welcoming to all, one that has socially progressive values as well as balancing those with fiscal conservatism," he said.
Although Kenney is now the party leader, uniting Alberta conservatives will be a complicated task.
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, leader of Alberta's official opposition, invited Kenney to meet with him in Edmonton on Monday to share what Wildrose members have been saying about the prospect of a united party.
The PC party also has to change its constitution before any proposal can be put to members for a vote, said party president Katherine O'Neill.
O'Neill couldn't give a timeline for how fast this could happen but said her preference was for it to happen soon.
"As the president, I will recommend to our new leader that we move as quickly as possible," she said. "Because we have to be election-ready and if we're stalled in this part and we're not nominating candidates, we're going to be behind the eight-ball."
In January, Jean said he would be willing to step aside as Wildrose leader to seek the leadership of a new united conservative party to run against the NDP in 2019.
Jean said he and his caucus told members they want to preserve the Wildrose legal framework into a single conservative party governed by the grassroots.
Kenney's win capped a leadership race that officially launched Oct. 1. However, Kenney hit the road and started campaigning as soon as he announced his bid last July.