EDMONTON — Alberta’s new United Conservative Party will have its first official leader on Saturday and all three contenders say job one after vote results are announced will be to join forces.
“Win, lose, or draw I’ll be happy,” candidate Jason Kenney said earlier this week. “We’ve achieved my primary objective, which was to unite conservatives.
“If I’m … elected leader I will reach out immediately to Brian Jean and Doug Schweitzer and encourage them to be involved in key roles in our party.”
The three leadership contenders — Kenney, Schweitzer and Jean — are all hoping that the results of preferential ballots cast online over three days will go in their favour.
About 62,000 people are registered to vote.
Schweitzer, a longtime Conservative organizer, said he’s in for the long haul.
“Win or lose this is the party of the future,” he said in an interview.
“This is the party Albertans are looking for to be the alternative of the NDP and hopefully form a government in … 2019.”
Kenney’s Progressive Conservatives and Jean’s Wildrose party voted to merge in July.
Saturday is the culmination of a plan launched well over a year ago by Kenney, a former federal cabinet minister, to unite Alberta’s two conservative parties and avoid vote-splitting he says led to Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP winning in the 2015 election.
Jean said he embraced the plan to bring conservatives together and won’t back out now.
“I really took a risk two years ago coming out and saying, ‘I’ve got my dancing shoes on. Let’s put egos aside and let’s talk to the PCs’,” he said.
“I’m not going to abandon the United Conservative Party for any reason.”
The two parties have already begun merging constituency associations. Next up is a founding convention to establish party principles.
It has been a leadership campaign marked by some friction.
Jean and Schweitzer outlined detailed plans to reduce Alberta’s debtload while keeping the rebounding economy from stalling. Kenney avoided specifics on economics. He said he supports a free-enterprise compass heading but would let rank-and-file members set policy at the founding convention.
On social issues, Kenney has been criticized for suggesting he would allow parents to be told if their child joined a gay-straight alliance at school. Critics said that could out a child before he or she is ready and put them at risk of harm.
Schweitzer has pushed Kenney and the party to embrace a more progressive stance on social issues. He has said it’s critical to capture younger voters and remove an effective wedge issue for the NDP.
Kenney has said Schweitzer’s promise to roll back minimum wage, regardless of its policy merits, is a profoundly naive political move guaranteed to cost conservatives dearly at the polling booth.
Kenney has criticized Jean for poor management of caucus funding, which forced staffers to be laid off. Jean dismissed that complaint and said Kenney supporters were spreading misinformation on his policy positions.
Then, shortly after online voting started on Thursday, the Jean and Schweitzer camps voiced concerns over the electronic voting security.
The leadership election committee reviewed the process Friday and said no security breaches were found.
Kenney said the criticisms voiced by the candidates against each other are far from insurmountable.
“There’s been a little bit of friction in this campaign but nothing we can’t overcome quickly over a beer,” he said.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press