Party merger sparks unrest Splinter groups forming in province

Lethbridge Herald
5 Aug 2017
Bill Graveland

The merger of Alberta’s two conservative parties is prompting some disaffected members to form splinter parties of their own despite warnings from experts that the move is unlikely to affect the next provincial election.

Members of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta and the Wildrose Party voted 95 per cent in favour of creating the United Conservative Party last month.

A race for the leadership is underway and includes former PC leader Jason Kenney, former Wildrose leader Brian Jean and conservative strategist Doug Schweitzer.

But there are rumblings from those who don’t favour the move. A number of disgruntled PCs have been talking about creating a new centrist party while those on the other side of the spectrum have already received approval from Elections Alberta on the name Alberta Advantage Party.

Edmonton lawyer Marilyn Burns was one of the founders of the Wildrose and is hoping to take the same role in the Alberta Advantage Party.

“We’ve picked up the ball that Brian Jean dropped and this is turning into a huge snowball really fast,” she said. “People are really kicking my butt to move fast on this.”

To reach official party status, Burns said it has to have one of three things — 44 registered candidates for the next election, three MLAs who cross the floor to join the party, or 7,868 signatures from Albertans reflecting a percentage of eligible voters.

She said there are a lot of people angry about the merger.

“There is such an overwhelming anger towards Brian right now because of this betrayal that you can touch it. It’s palpable,” she said. “These people who have this intense emotion are sticking with the UCP for the sole purpose of voting against Brian in October in the leadership vote.”

Jean was unavailable for comment.

Lori Williams, a political scientist from Mount Royal University, said the creation of such splinter parties was inevitable. The Alberta Advantage Party will likely resemble the early days of the Wildrose Party before “they moved into real contention for government,” she said.

A centrist party might be a “contender for power” but it’s not going to happen in time for the next election, Williams said.

“History suggests that new parties have to sort of show their abilities in opposition and then after one election cycle people are ready to entrust them with power.”

On Monday, Kenney told reporters in Calgary the number isn’t significant.

“We’ve seen a few dozen PCs leave to join one of the two Liberal parties and we’ve seen perhaps a few dozen Wildrose leave to perhaps start their own alternative party,” Kenney said.

“Those are folks who are not comfortable in a big tent. They’re not comfortable with a diversity of opinions. They want an echo chamber. They want to live in a partisan pup tent.”

Schweitzer said he has found most people he’s met while campaigning are excited about what the United Conservative Party can become. He said leadership candidates should reassure voters about the future.

“People wonder if there’s going to be a place in the new party,” he said. “We need to do a really good job of defining what it means and what it stands for.”

The leader of the UCP will be elected Oct. 28.