By Richard Forbes.
Featured Image via David Bloom, Postmedia.
Dearly Beloved, we are gathered together here in the presence of God and this company to join Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose party in the holy bonds of matrimony. (We’ll ignore the naughty implication of a same-sex marriage.)
It was never a certainty even when the deal was first stuck in May to hold party referendums considering the merger of Alberta’s beleaguered PCs with its prairie populist consociates, the Wildrose party.
Ultimately, last night’s results had Wildrose voters supporting unification by a whopping 95.6% support and the PCs, 95.2% – clearing a path for a merger. Regarded as the ultimate panacea to Notley’s NDP come next election, the proposed merger is akin to the one that saw the federal PCs merge with the then Canadian Alliance in 2003 under the familiar mantra of ‘Unite the Right’ – that merger would see the creation of a national Conservative party and shortly thereafter, the Harper government.
No stranger to the Harper Conservatives, former Tory MP Jason Kenney first sparked rumours of a merger when he renewed his PC membership last year: telling a Conservative convention in Vancouver, “let’s make Alberta again the free-enterprise capital of Canada by working together to defeat the socialists in 2019.”
But he faced steep political odds in pursuing the leadership of the Alberta PCs; transparent in his intentions to cannibalize the party for a strategic end, Kenney, a social conservative who has spoken out against abortion, LGBTQ rights and introduced the niqab ban in citizenship ceremonies as immigration minister, always seemed a more natural fit for the Wildroses than the (at times) centrist PCs.
The new PC Leader found himself in hot water early his mandate when he suggested schools should report to parents if their children have joined Gay Straight Alliances – a proposal that was not only regarded by some as a forced outing of gay students, but also one that flew in the face of Kenney’s own insistence that he as the PC party leader would focus on economic issues over social topics.
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, meanwhile, happily cast his ballot in favour of a party merger last week in Red Deer with a toothy grin and a thumbs up.
The Wildroses had their chance to vote in Red Deer last Saturday or online or by phone, while voting for the PCs began later this week.
Jean had a lot to smile about. In the event of a merger, Jean (unlike Kenney) has made it clear that the leadership of a united party (to be decided in October) is in his sights. Derek Fildebrandt, Wildrose firebrand, however, reportedly told Calgary Herald’s Don Braid that regardless of who seeks the party’s leadership, he wouldn’t be supporting Brian Jean (who suspended him temporarily in 2016 over an offensive remark). Such opposition could foster a divide in the new party’s hard right.
Although the Wildrose vote was mired by technical problems, with some members receiving no PIN to vote and others, multiple PINs, the decision over merging parties has attracted a lot of interest: Toronto Star reports some 50,000 PC members and 40,000 Wildrose members have signed up in the hopes of voting.
If anyone can show just cause why this couple cannot lawfully be joined together in matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.
Detraction to the merger deal on the Wildrose side always possessed the greater potential to kill the chances of unification given its constitution required a relatively tough 75% standard to be met in the party vote, whereas the PC vote only needed to meet a far less intimidating 50+1% threshold. In the Wildrose camp, a select few have resisted the merger, calling it an unprincipled kowtowing – indulging the entitlement of, what they consider, an urbane and elitist party. Likewise, in the PC camp, the merger’s detractors regard unification as an unacceptable shift for their party to the hard right.
What these critics have in common is they see their parties as sacrificing their principles for political success in the search for a unified Conservative front.
The moment that the results were revealed, Jean was quick to launch into a speech on its implications: rallying the troops over Alberta’s Carbon Tax which he claims he’ll “rip up” upon seizing the premiership. It’s a pledge as ineffectual as it is misguided, of course. The province’s premier is not in a position to roll back the pricing of pollution anymore than they can roll back gay rights (but they’ll try to do that too with ‘conscience rights’ for churches and schools.) That is, not when the federal government is committed to enforcing a carbon pricing backstop in non-compliant jurisdictions.
Touting the kind of prairie populism that once made Preston Manning a household name, Alberta’s Conservatives – between Kenney, Jean and others – have been laying the ideological groundwork these past few months for a united Conservative party in their partisan outrage towards Ottawa over equalization payments, carbon pricing, and Western alienation; stoking old regional divisions, Kenney and Jean have helped to revive the false view that equalization and carbon taxation, rather than serving the interests of Albertans and Canadians equally, channels Albertan money up the Saint Lawrence River for Liberal interests. A furor which even had Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – on the heels of his Canada Day gaffe – opting to reschedule and visit the Calgary Stampede after all.
Repeat after me, I, [name] , take thee to be my political bedfellow . . . to have and to hold…from this day forward . . . for better or worse . . . for richer, for poorer.. in electoral victory and in ruin . . . till death do us part . . . and thereto I plight my troth.
At this very moment, a neighboring province, British Columbia is under a state of emergency: battling this year’s devastating wildfire season; wildfires, like other extreme weather disasters, are expected to rise in occurrence with the patterns of climate change. Alberta’s Conservatives like to present carbon pricing as posing a unique threat to their province’s prosperity, but the severe costs of unmitigated climate change will be felt universally across the country – in Alberta especially as a western province. Neither forest fires nor droughts or floods care if you’re rich or not, they affect us all. The problems that climate change pose to us in crop yields, air quality and glacial retreat are of pan-Canadian concern without precedent in its comprehensive threat to our quality of life.
Alberta’s Conservatives want to merge for the sake of winning a simple election, but frankly, I just want them to grow up. A century from now, nobody, save for historical nerds (like me), are going to appreciate who wins Alberta’s thirtieth provincial election but we’re all going to care about the choices we make here and now to protect our planet and protect Canadian unity. There’s maturity to be had in recognizing the value for Albertans in climate leadership and internalizing the costs of pollution; a confident and mature Alberta, need not prattle on about equalization and perceived slights, rather, it can play a mature and equal role as an economic and political power within Canada. That maturity begins with accepting the constitutional principle of equalization: the principle that in Canada, when some of us succeed, we all succeed; that unequal access to healthcare, limited by individual provincial capacity, is contrary to the expectations of Canadians.
There’s many Albertans who believe just this, but yesterday’s merger appears set to promote the opposite view at the expense of both Alberta and Canada as a whole.
I now pronounce you, the United Conservative Party.
Richard Forbes studied Political Science and Philosophy at the University of Waterloo. Winner of the Peter Woolstencroft Prize in Canadian Politics (2015).
When asked what ‘one does exactly’ with said degree, he laughs and politely declines to answer. A perfect night for him involves a cup of Lady Grey, writing and a re-run of Yes Minister.