Calgary·Video

Brian Jean blinked first in Kenney confrontation but still has eyes 'wide open': Political Panel

Wildrose leader Brian Jean may have blinked first in an ongoing showdown of sorts with Progressive Conservative leadership hopeful Jason Kenney, say members of the CBC Calgary News at 6 Political Panel.

'He knows which direction the parade is headed and he's trying to get out in front of it,' says pollster

Calgary Political Panel on Brian Jean merger announcement

5 years ago
9:26
Wildrose leader Brian Jean may have blinked first in an ongoing showdown of sorts with Progressive Conservative leadership hopeful Jason Kenney, say members of the CBC Calgary News at 6 Political Panel. 9:26

Wildrose leader Brian Jean may have blinked first in an ongoing showdown of sorts with Progressive Conservative leadership hopeful Jason Kenney, say members of the CBC Calgary News at 6 Political Panel.

"Brian Jean in this eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with Jason Kenney has actually blinked in one sense," said Edmonton Journal political affairs columnist Graham Thomson.

"He actually seems to be agreeing now to this idea of getting a new, right-wing party because Brian Jean has been saying for some time he doesn't want any formal amalgamation. He wanted maybe to work informally with the PCs to help defeat the NDP. Now he's talking about running in a leadership race for a brand new party."

Thomson said Jean's change could be the result of polls showing him being more popular than Kenney, who is the perceived front-runner in the race for a new PC leader, ahead of Richard Starke and Byron Nelson. Stephen Khan announced late Thursday he is withdrawing from the race.

"There's polls showing when it comes to popularity, Brian Jean is more popular, better known than Jason Kenney. So in a sense, this is Brian Jean getting out ahead of Kenney by saying he is willing to run in a leadership race," said Thomson. "He's blinking, but at the same time his eyes are wide open."

Jean announced Thursday he is prepared to step down as leader of the Wildrose Party should its membership vote in favour of a merger with the Progressive Conservatives. Jean said he would then run for the leadership of a new, united party.

Having led the Wildrose since March 2015, Jean made the announcement in a group email sent to party members and in a video posted Thursday on the party's website.

"Let me be clear on this point, I plan to be Alberta's next premier," he said. "If our members approve a unity agreement with the PC party, I am prepared to stand down as leader of the Wildrose and to seek the leadership of our single, principled, conservative party in a race to be conducted this summer."

Fundraising important

Having strong poll numbers is one thing but raising adequate amounts of money is another, says political pollster Janet Brown. Kenney has led the way in terms of fundraising during the leadership race thus far, but Brown points out the Wildrose has a large war chest of its own.

"One of the big things up for grabs in this idea of a merger is what happens to the Wildrose war chest," she said. "I think what's happened here is Brian Jean has kind of kept his powder dry for a while. He's been just saying 'look, I'm just being leader of the opposition, I'm just trying to do what's right.' I think Brian Jean was trying to get a sense of things. Now I think he knows which direction the parade is headed and he's trying to get out in front of it."

The governing NDP have "good reason to be worried about a unite-the-right movement," said Globe and Mail reporter Kelly Cryderman.

"It's a political cliche but it all goes back to the economy," she said. "The NDP, especially [Premier] Rachel Notley, has had some wins lately. She's had Trans Mountain approved, she's had [U.S. President] Donald Trump re-opening the Keystone possibility, and she's responded well. Depending on where the economy goes, she could face a very formidable challenge even earlier than the [next provincial election]. So the earlier they unite, the more worried she's going to be."

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