Newly elected Alberta Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney says he and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean have taken the first steps toward uniting the two Alberta conservative parties, agreeing to co-operate in the legislature and to set up a "discussion committee" to come up with a plan to unite by the end of April.
"We intend to give that discussion team a mandate to report back to the two parties by the end of April." Kenney told reporters in Edmonton after the two leaders met. "Both Brian and I expressed confidence that we thought that unity team could get to an agreement within about six weeks."
The leaders met for 35 minutes in the Wildrose office at Edmonton's Federal Building near the legislature.
The makeup of the committee will be announced by Friday. Kenney said Jean agreed that the PC and Wildrose caucuses will co-operate in the legislature.
"Today was a very positive and constructive meeting," Jean said in a news release. "We reaffirmed our belief in consulting our grassroots members and ensuring they have the final say. The members are in charge."
But the two men still have a fundamental disagreement over what that new party should look like.
Jean wants the unified party to be formed under the Wildrose legal framework. Kenney wants to dissolve the Wildrose and PC parties to form a brand new party.
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Prior to the meeting, Kenney said he wanted the talks to have no conditions or rules beyond letting members from both parties approve a merger agreement.
"Well that is a rule in itself, isn't it?" Jean replied when asked about Kenney's conditions for talks. "I am walking into this meeting with an open mind and I'm hoping that we'll have a good constructive meeting and be able to discuss all of those things that are extremely important to our members, our executive and our members."
Kenney said afterwards that the only precondition the two men agreed on was to have the grassroots of both parties approve an agreement.
"We're not going to encumber the discussion team with a whole lot of preconditions," Kenney said.
Jean and Kenney have different timelines for how long the process should take.
Jean says he wants to see a leadership race for a united conservative party before Oct. 15. He said the governing NDP could call a vote as early as next year.
Kenney has laid out a longer timeline with a leadership race occurring after the united party holds a founding convention in November.
An agreement reached by both parties would have to be approved by the grassroots. The Wildrose requires approval by 75 per cent of members.
Kenney and Jean seek helm of new party
Both men have said they will run for the leadership of the new party.
Wildrose MLAs Drew Barnes and Angela PItt say they are open to pursuing an agreement with the PCs.
"The sense and direction I've been given is to do whatever we can to pursue a unity agreement for the betterment of Alberta and the conservative movement here in this province," Pitt said.
Barnes said Wildrose owes it to Albertans to see if some kind of agreement can be reached.
"As long as fiscal conservatism is the main goal here ... I would welcome everyone," he said.
Premier Rachel Notley congratulated Kenney on his new role, but then quickly accused him of wanting "to undo all the progress" her government has made in a variety of areas, including education, pipelines and rules for campaign donations.
"I would suggest that pretty quickly he'll have to come clean on what his actual plans are," said Notley.