Jason Kenney's plan to unite Alberta's right could win the day, even if he loses
Political scientist Duane Bratt says PC race is boiling down to Kenney versus everyone else
A political scientist says Jason Kenney's vision of conservatism in Alberta could end up winning the day, even if he loses his quest for the Progressive Conservative party's leadership.
Kenney's name is the most well-known of the four people in the leadership race so far. He's also the only candidate promising to lead the PCs into merger talks with the Wildrose party.
The other three contenders are committed to rebuilding the PC brand as a socially progressive, fiscally conservative alternative to the governing NDP.
4 candidates and counting
More candidates are expected to join the race over the next month.
Delegates selected by PC members this winter in each riding will vote for a new PC leader next March at a convention in Calgary.
Duane Bratt, a professor at Mount Royal University, said there actually are two paths to victory for Kenney in this race.
He could be selected leader and then open merger talks with the Wildrose, resulting in a single conservative choice for voters in 2019.
On the other hand, Bratt said Kenney could lose the leadership race, yet that may not necessarily translate into a defeat of Kenney's project.
"I expect he would leave the party, go to Wildrose and bring people with him, saying these people are not interested in working together to defeat the socialists and so you're going to see a much smaller PC party," said Bratt.
Kenney welcomes other pro-unity voices
A smaller PC party — potentially led by someone with little province-wide profile — could mean the Wildrose gains strength as an alternative to the NDP. Kenney rejects that notion.
"If my plan for unity doesn't work, if it's not accepted by either the Wildrose party or PC grassroots members, I would try to make the PC party the vehicle for unity," said Kenney. "But I don't get focussed on those negative scenarios."
Kenney also said at the launch of the leadership contest in Lethbridge on Saturday that he's okay if no other candidate in the race is interested in pursuing a merger of the PC and Wildrose brands.
"I would welcome another pro-unity candidate into the race. I think it would be great to have a choice of somebody who wants to ensure the defeat of the NDP in the next election but I will be carrying this message forward," said the former Conservative MP.
Bratt said Kenney is likely pleased he's not competing with anyone else in this race for the so-called unite-the-right vote.
Kenney versus the world?
"I think he wants it 'him versus the world' on this issue. I think that is better for him. I think that is better for the ideas he is putting forward," said Bratt.
It stakes out distinct turf for Kenney as he travels the province seeking to win as many delegates as he can in each riding.
However, it also narrows the options for delegates at next March's leadership convention.
Bratt said he expects delegates supporting other candidates will likely rally around the top anti-unity candidate, which could snowball against Kenney's chances as the voting reaches later rounds.
'A bunch of bruised egos'
There's an assumption that many long-time PC party members aren't keen to fold the tent and join Wildrose members in a new party.
Art Sanford is a member of the PC board in Lethbridge West. A member for more than 25 years, he said all conservatives need to do what's necessary to defeat the NDP. And that's why he's backing Kenney's vision.
"We got a bunch of bruised egos out there that need to smarten up and quit looking backwards. Look ahead and see where we're going," said Sanford.
That ties into Kenney's message that conservative-minded Albertans need to decide who they want to beat more — other conservatives or the NDP.
Many PCs respond that Albertans want a progressive, centre-right alternative to the NDP and not a socially conservative party like Wildrose.