Wildrose leader rejects PC merger in speech to party faithful

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean is rejecting a union with the Progressive Conservatives, saying Alberta's former governing party is “confused about its values” and rife with “instability.”

Brian Jean addressed the party's annual general meeting Friday in Red Deer

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean speaks to party members after delivering a speech to the party's AGM in Red Deer Friday evening. (CBC )

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean is rejecting a union with the Progressive Conservatives, a party he described in a speech Friday as "confused about its values" and rife with "instability."

Speaking to the Wildrose annual general meeting in Red Deer Friday, Jean addressed the elephant in the room — how to respond to PC leadership candidate Jason Kenney's vow to unite all right-wing Albertans under a single conservative party.

Last year, Jean called on Wildrose members to invite everyone into their tent. He seemed open to merger talks with the PCs even as late as last summer. But much has changed since then.

Last May, the majority of delegates at the PC AGM rejected a merger with the Wildrose, so Jean is no longer interested.

"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," he said.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean speaking Friday to hundreds of Wildrose members at the party's annual general meeting in Red Deer. (CBC )

"In the months ahead, let's not put the future of our province at risk waiting for the PC party to figure out what they do or don't believe in. Because friends, we are just two years away from an election. Two years away from defeating the NDP."

While they liked Jean's speech, a couple of party members worried about his message on a merger.

"I think you're naive to think one single right party can beat the NDP next election with the vote-splitting of the Wildrose and PCs," said Jason Wilson.

"I think the only solution would be to unite."

Keean Bexte said he was concerned with Jean's apparent rejection of a merger just because the PCs have some internal issues. He says all conservatives need to unite to defeat the NDP. 

"We need to do everything we can to stop that, and that starts with getting conservatives under one party and whether that's the Wildrose Party or a new party, we'll see."

Bleak picture of Alberta under NDP

Jean spent a good part of his speech painting a bleak picture of Alberta under the NDP government elected in 2015.

He criticized the governing party for creating economic policies that hurt Alberta families. But he also described a province he believes is falling into social disorder.

"We see crime skyrocketing and poverty increasing," Jean told party members at the Red Deer Sheraton.

"We see a growing number of young people being trafficked into a sex trade against their will. We see dangerous drugs like fentanyl and other opioids killing Albertans and ripping families apart.

"And we continue to see the rights of criminals put above the rights of victims."

Jean said Wildrose MLAs and party members will help return Alberta to being "a place of unparalleled greatness.

"To once again be a shining beacon of hope to the world; home to that boundless spirit of optimism and opportunity that has defined our province for generations," he said.

Carbon tax fight

This weekend Wildrose members are expected to debate a policy calling for the Alberta government to repeal the carbon tax.

Jean has long been vocal in his opposition to the provincial levy which kicks in Jan. 1, 2017. In his speech he vowed to fight the federal government's own carbon-tax proposal, which he described as more aggressive and a "sledgehammer" against the provinces.

"Let's mark this weekend as the first step taken to ripping up the carbon tax and sending a message to Ottawa that Albertans won't back down when Wildrose forms government."

A number of candidates for the federal Conservative party showed up at this weekend's AGM. Kellie Leitch, Andrew Scheer and Maxime Bernier were seen making the rounds meeting party members.