Wildrose divided: Fildebrandt breaks with leader, calls for merger with PCs
'There's also been a tension between Fildebrandt and Jean'
Breaking ranks with his own leader, Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt is calling for a merger between his party and the Alberta PCs.
"The NDP are too dangerous, they are too ideological, and too destructive to the future of this province to take chances," Fildebrandt told a Whitecourt radio station Wednesday evening.
"I'm willing to put everything I've accomplished in politics on the line for this."
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Fildebrandt, the MLA for Strathmore-Brooks, said he has heard from his own constituents, from "conservatives of different flavours," and from Wildrose members across Alberta.
"Frankly, I've heard enough," he said. "I think that people are pretty clear. They want a single conservative option to face against the NDP in the next election.
"In 2019, we're going to have a chance to elect a new government in this province, and if I have anything to do with it, that new government is going to be a business-friendly government. We're going to cut taxes, we're going to cut regulations, we're going to cut red tape. We're going to make Alberta open for business again."
Lynden McBeth, news director at Whitecourt station XM105, said Fildebrandt brought up the merger idea in response to a question from the audience. He was speaking to the Whitecourt Chamber of Commerce.
Thursday afternoon, the Wildrose issued a statement from Fildebrandt.
"I stand by my comments in Whitecourt, but what I said is consistent with what Brian Jean and I have been saying for over a year now; that is that we want to see all conservatives united going into the next election to defeat and replace the NDP," Fildebrandt said in the statement.
PC leadership candidate Jason Kenney is campaigning on a platform of uniting the Wildrose and PC to fight the NDP.
Kenney issued a statement saying he's starting to see "calls for unity 'trickling up' from grassroots Albertans.
"Given that we're approaching the anniversary of the disastrous backroom floor crossing from 2014, I'm happy to see Derek responding positively to the overwhelming demand for unity from his constituents."
On Dec. 17, 2014, then-Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and eight other Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to join the PCs. Pundits believe the incident led to the downfall of the Conservatives' hold in power in Alberta months later.
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean would not comment Thursday on Fildebrandt's remarks, a spokesperson said.
In October, at the Wildrose annual general meeting in Red Deer, Jean rejected the idea of a merger with the PCs.
"That party still remains confused about its values, its principles and what it stands for. And, right now, their party is rife with uncertainty, division and instability," Jean said, adding it was not time for Wildrose to be distracted by a possible merger and putting the province's future at risk by not being ready for the next election.
"We've already been very successful consolidating conservative-minded Albertans."
Interim PC leader Ric McIver said he was surprised to hear Fildebrandt's comments.
"I have always said, and I continue to say, [a merger] is something that not one person should decide but rather our membership," McIver said.
"We are actually in a leadership contest right now, where at least one of the contestants actually has a merger as the centrepiece of his platform, so I guess we'll get an opinion from our members on Mar. 18."
Premier Rachel Notley said she's concentrating on governing Alberta, and not on the "machinations" of the Wildrose and PC parties. But she said knows "the adage that one plus one does not equal two in these kinds of things."
Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said Fildebrandt and PC MLA Mike Ellis have hosted a couple of pub nights to try to bring the two groups together. The pair hosted a pub night in early October.
"Now it looks like the unification will be around Jason Kenney," Bratt said. "So it seems to be an endorsement of Kenney as opposed to Brian Jean."
Bratt pointed out that Fildebrandt and Jean have clashed in the past.
"There's also been a tension between Fildebrandt and Jean, and observers have thought that Fildebrandt actually wanted Jean's job.
"I don't think he wants Jason Kenney's job. I think he would be perfectly happy to work under Jason Kenney. And so that's the news element."