More than a decade after the federal Progressive Conservatives merged with the Canadian Alliance Party to form the modern-day Conservative Party of Canada, two longtime Tories involved with that campaign say the conditions are ripe for a similar right-wing merger at the provincial level in Alberta.
Last weekend's election of Jason Kenney to the provincial PC leadership marked the next step in the former federal MP's campaign to merge that party with Brian Jean's Wildrose.
Political scientist Tom Flanagan and Reform Party founder Preston Manning say Kenney and Jean may well be successful.
"I think it's a big step in the right direction," Manning told the Homestretch on Monday. "[The Manning Centre] are in favour, like many Albertans, of the two parties getting together to create a united, principled, competent alternative."
Kenney and Jean will also be able to learn from the past, Flanagan told the Calgary Eyeopener.
"Here, the split between parties hasn't gone on as long, there isn't as much bitterness as there was federally to overcome," he said. "It's always easier to do something as second time, so you've got a couple of examples to follow and learn from."
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Legal and social issues
Flanagan said the legal issues around the merger will likely be the biggest challenge to overcome.
The parties can theoretically merge without forfeiting assets, according to a group of politically conservative lawyers.
"The other issues — there are many of them — are matters of detail on which people can compromise," said Flanagan, now a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Calgary.
One of those compromises could be determining the new party's stance on various social issues. — the PCs tend to lean towards the centre on such topics, while the Wildrose are considered more socially conservative. Kenney is known as a staunch social conservative.
But it's the current state of the province that will serve as the grounds for uniting Albertans, Manning said.
"This province is facing the worst fiscal situation it has ever faced since the Depression," he said. "It's going to be a horrendous job to restore the finances and the investor confidence in Alberta — I think that ground will be the biggest ground where there will be agreement."
Concerns will 'take care of themselves'
As for the other potential divides, the new party membership could have a say during annual conventions, said Manning.
"You'll be entitled if you're a member to put your position forward, there will be a vote and we'll abide by the vote until the next meeting," he said.
"If [Kenney and Jean] just keep asking themselves what's in the best interests of Alberta, those other concerns will take care of themselves," Manning said.
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