Jason Kenney's Alberta ambitions 'much more than a trial balloon,' says Tom Flanagan
Former adviser to Stephen Harper says uniting province's right-wing parties 'really worth fighting for'
Jason Kenney's cagey responses to questions about his ambitions to leave federal politics for a run at the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative party are "much more than a trial balloon," according to Tom Flanagan.
The political scientist and former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has spoken with Kenney about the idea, told CBC News Wednesday morning that Kenney is seriously considering making the jump.
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"He's put a lot of time into thinking about this and consulting to see how this would work," Flanagan said.
"He's said he hasn't quite made up his mind yet, but it's much more than speculative fancy."
After CBC reported Tuesday that sources say the Conservative MP is poised to announce this summer that he will leave federal politics, Kenney was noncommittal when asked directly in Calgary.
"When I make a decision and have something to announce I'll announce it," he said.
"I've been encouraged by a lot of members of our federal Conservative Party to pursue the national leadership, but also a lot of folks back here at home in Alberta to help bring together free enterprise Albertans so we can get this province back on track. I've said I'll make a decision on this in the near future."
'This would make politics fun again'
The news has fuelled expectation he intends to run a campaign to unite the right in his home province of Alberta, something Flanagan said Kenney told him about at a recent dinner party.
"He mentioned that he was thinking about it and asked me what I thought," Flanagan said.
"Basically the idea was he thought Alberta was in trouble and he was worried the NDP could be re-elected if we have two more or less conservative parties in the next election and that, you know, he thought that if he could do something about it, he should."
Flanagan, for his part, said the "ambitious plan" would be an exciting development in Alberta's political scene, which has seen lots of talk about merging the Wildrose and PC parties but little actual movement on that front.
"I told him, 'You know, Jason, this would make politics fun again. This is something really worth fighting for.'"
PC leadership convention in early 2017
Interim PC leader Ric McIver said the party's leadership vote will probably take place within the first three months of next year.
"And, of course, anybody who is a member of our party in good standing is eligible to compete for the leadership so I'm hoping to see a number of good contestants," he said.
McIver noted the party's official direction from its latest annual general meeting is to "carry on and fight to win the next election" as Progressive Conservatives, but said he's also heard "a variety of opinions" from party members.
"There's a lot of our members that say don't have anything to do with the Wildrose and let's just win the next election," he said. "And other ones still say try to unite centre-right conservatives in order to have a stronger chance of winning the next election."
McIver said it's "no secret" that he and Kenney are friends and he holds the Calgary Southeast MP "in high regard" but he wouldn't speak to Kenney's leadership potential.
"As the interim leader of the party, I can only say that all members who hold a membership in good standing are welcome to run," McIver said.
"And what we need is a fair contest with the members of the party ultimately making a decision."
Wildrose welcomes 'sincere motives' to unite the right
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean declined to personally comment on the speculation surrounding Kenney and a right-wing merger, but the party issued a statement Wednesday.
"We welcome anyone willing to get involved with Brian Jean's efforts to consolidate conservatives," the party said.
"Those with sincere motives to unify conservatives will be welcomed with open arms in Wildrose and would have a significant role to play in a future Wildrose conservative government."
The party statement added that "anyone willing to move the moribund Progressive Conservative party toward unity in Alberta's conservative movement will contribute significantly to the work Brian Jean started last November when he first encouraged cooperation."
With files from Jennifer Lee