Jason Kenney spars at PC leadership debate with rival candidates

Jason Kenney plans to ask the party to review how it allocated time to candidates after his opponent Stephen Khan went on the attack during Sunday’s leadership debate in Edmonton.

'Duct-taping two broken parties together' won't work, Byron Nelson tells crowd

Candidates Jason Kenney and Stephen Khan frequently sparred during Sunday's PC leadership debate in Edmonton. (CBC)

Jason Kenney plans to ask the Progressive Conservative party to review how it allocated time to candidates after his opponent Stephen Khan went on the attack during Sunday's leadership debate in Edmonton.

"I would rebut it and then he would rebut it. Sometimes two rebuttals. It seemed rather odd to me," Kenney told reporters after the debate.

"We want to review this to ensure that if there are direct attacks made at a candidate they have a right to respond. But it doesn't go back and forth like a ping-pong match."

The debate in front of 650 people at a south Edmonton banquet hall at times featured chippy sparring between Kenney, Khan, Richard Starke and Byron Nelson.

Khan described Kenney's efforts to win the leadership as a "hostile takeover" of the PCs. Kenney said Khan's attacks were motivated by desperation.

In one exchange, Khan claimed that as a federal Conservative MP,  Kenney supported Wildrose candidates in the last two provincial elections.

"I take exception to you suddenly finding this new faith in the Progressive Conservative party," Khan said. "You haven't been a Progressive Conservative until just this summer when you decided to, honestly, try to destroy our party."

Kenney said he has never endorsed a Wildrose candidate, donated money to the party or attended one of its events.

"I'm sorry to see you lash out like this," Kenney told Khan.

"He's fighting for his party," Kenney then told the audience. "I'm fighting for Alberta."

Edmonton a 'blue city'

Kenney wants to unite all right-wing voters in a single party in hopes of defeating the NDP in the 2019 provincial election.

Starke, Nelson and Khan want to revitalize the PC party so it can be an option for centrist Alberta voters who migrated to the NDP in 2015.

The division between the two camps was evident when the candidates were asked how they would rebuild the PCs in Edmonton, where all constituencies are currently held by the NDP.

Byron Nelson said Kenney's timeline to unite the right before the next election is unworkable and unrealistic. (CBC)

Kenney said the results of the October 2015 federal election where Edmontonians elected all but three Conservative MPs shows the potential.

"Edmonton is a blue city," Kenney said. "I just want to take that majority of Edmontonians who voted for the unhyphenated Conservative Party of Canada … and translating that same sensible, broad conservative coalition to the provincial level at the next election."  

But Starke said federal and provincial voting patterns are not the same, as shown by the 2015 provincial results.

"Mr. Kenney, if you look at the numbers, in virtually every single Edmonton seat, you can map out the PC and the Wildrose vote in the last election and you wouldn't even come close to the NDP total.

"So don't tell me in Edmonton we just put the parties together and away we go and we win those seats."

With the election two years away, Nelson said, Kenney's timeline for uniting the right is unworkable and unrealistic.

He reminded the crowd that the Wildrose also failed to win Edmonton seats in 2015.

Richard Starke is the only leadership candidate who currently has a seat in the Alberta legislature. (CBC)

"Simply duct-taping two broken parties together isn't going to elect 'small-C' conservative MLAs in the city," he said.

But Kenney was unshaken from his stance.

"Unfortunately I think some of the people on this stage probably would have been opposed to the federal merger back in 2003," he said. "History proved those naysayers wrong."

Delegates will select a new party leader at a convention in Calgary on March 18.