Meet the “United” Conservative Party

Say what you will about the Wildrose, they were always grassroots party…that is until Jason Kenney blew them out of the water.

Last week Jason Kenney and Brian Jean unveiled the terms under which the Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives will roll up into the United Conservative Party (UCP).  The Agreement in Principle on the Establishment of the United Conservative Party will be presented to conservatives for ratification on July 22.  If it’s ratified, a new leader will be chosen on Oct 28. The process is billed as a merger of equals, but it’s not.


Jean had all the leverage going into this negotiation.

The Wildrose had 22 sitting MLAs, the PCs just 8.  A recent poll asking respondents who they’d prefer as leader of the UCP put Jean’s support at 37% and Kenney’s at 22%.  Kenney needed the Wildrose more than Jean needed the PCs.

In a normal world, this would give Jean all the leverage he needed, but this isn’t a normal world, this is politics and Kenney changed the narrative.

It was no longer about which political party was likely to win the most seats and defeat Notley’s NDP in the next election.  It was about which politician was prepared to put aside his ego to “save” Alberta from the “socialists”.

In the new narrative seat count and popular support didn’t matter, Jean’s leverage vaporized and he had to demonstrate he was just as selfless as Kenney (the politician with no seat, and no party or MLAs until recently).

Top-down vs grassroots

They say the devil is in the details, of which the Agreement is shamefully short.

The Wildrose wanted “more specifics” but were persuaded to settle for what Kenney dubbed “a more modest approach” that reflects “the key emblematic issues” for both parties.  (Merge the parties and vote for a leader, no need to worry your pretty little heads about policy and constitutional details, those can be worked out later).


Jason Kenney or Brian Jean: Who will lead the UCP?

Kenney suggests there were trade-offs.  He says the PCs accepted “property rights and language around more democratic accountability” in return for the Wildrose accepting “the formulation of progressive social policies and a diverse coalition”.

He makes this sound like a big deal but it’s not.

In the first place, Kenney’s “progressive social policies” are the same as Jean’s.   Secondly, the Wildrose lost more than it gained by agreeing to Kenney’s “language around more democratic accountability”.

Democratic accountability

The Wildrose Constitution sets out 12 guiding principles.  The most significant for a grassroots party are the principles supporting democratic accountability.  Article 4.4 of the Constitution expressly sets out the party’s belief in free elections, fixed election dates, free votes in the Legislature, the right of citizens to recall their MLAs, and the right of citizens to initiate binding referendums

The UCP Agreement describes democratic accountability as: “Parliamentary institutions and the democratic process enshrined in our Constitutional Monarchy, together with greater engagement by citizens in democratic decision making, and greater accountability of government to citizens.”

Setting aside the gibberish around parliamentary institutions and Constitutional Monarchies, this is little more than the PC’s Constitutional principle requiring “respectful, responsible and responsive governance”.  It falls far short of the NDP Constitutional requirement that MLAs must hold public meetings with their constituents before the House convenes and after it adjourns to gather their concerns and report back on how they were addressed in the Legislature.

Jean says the Wildrose right of recall is embedded in the Agreement.  Presumably he is referring to a reference to “grassroots democracy, including measures to empower Albertans to hold government accountable during and between elections” which appears as one of the guiding principles.

Kenny disagrees.  And most lawyers would side with Kenney.  The principles of statutory interpretation dictate that unless a right (recall, free vote, whatever) is expressly set out in an agreement it doesn’t exist.  This is a critical point, we’ll come back to it later.   

It’s not surprising that the man who wants to lead the UCP is going to clamp down on the grassroots (who are prone to spectacular bozo eruptions).  Kenney prefers the top-down leadership model that carried his boss, Stephen Harper, to power.

The real leadership question is whether Brian Jean will let Jason Kenney get away with it.

The 5% difference

Conservatives supporting the merger say the Wildrose and PCs agree on 95% of the issues.  This is true when they’re discussing conservative ideology and their belief that Rachel Notley’s NDP government must go.

This is not true when they’re discussing how the people can hold a government to account.  

This 5% difference is as wide and deep as the Peningagjá chasm.   Jason Kenney and the PCs believe in a top-down leader-driven government.  Brian Jean and the Wildrose believe in a bottoms-up grassroots-driven government.

The conservatives will likely ratify the Agreement in July.  The big question is whether they’ll support a Jason Kenney authoritarian right or a Brian Jean grassroots right.

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30 Responses to Meet the “United” Conservative Party

  1. Ed Henderson says:

    Quote…””He says the PCs accepted “property rights and language around more democratic accountability” in return for the Wildrose accepting “the formulation of progressive social policies and a diverse coalition”.””

    God help us. Save us from those who talk like the above nut bar.

    • Ed, I agree. I wonder whether it’s all part of Kenney’s strategy–say something that sounds lofty and inspiring to detract from the fact that his platform is the same-old same-old (cut taxes and support free enterprise). That’s not a vision, that’s an agenda designed to suit your base.
      And speaking of language, for the life of me I can’t figure out why the Agreement include a reference to “parliamentary institutions and democratic processes enshrined in our Constitutional Monarchy”. Is he saying Question Period is sacrosanct and the lieutenant governor of Alberta will still have a job if he forms government?

  2. Bill Malcolm says:

    Well, all these machinations aside, Jason appears to get on well with Alberta food. Mr Kenney is well on the way to becoming Mike Duffy II. Perhaps he wishes to rule Alberta as the Porcine Prince.

    • jerrymacgp says:

      Sir: While I am diametrically opposed to everything Mr Kenney stands for, and would like nothing better than to see him shuffled out by the combined PC & Wildrose membership, I feel I must call out your comment as the kind of ad hominem body shaming we so decry when it is directed at female politicians of all political stripes. This sort of attack is unacceptable and contributes nothing but vitriol to our political discourse. Go after him for what he stands for, not for his suit size.

      • I get where Bill is coming from but I think Jerry is right. As much as we are fed up to here with the conservatives–sometimes it feels like a never-ending game of “whack-a-mole”–we really do have to fight the urge to attack them on non-substantive issues.

  3. Terry Korman says:

    Given that two rights make a U-turn, have we learned nothing from the past number of decades of lost opportunity and diminished hope?

    • Terry, apparently not. I’m shocked at how many people still think Ralph Klein was the best premier we’ve ever had. Sure, Ralph was “authentic” but let’s not forget that he “authentically” had to apologize for hurling drunken insults at a homeless man who’d been on the streets since he was 15. There’s this weird sense of “if I pulled myself up by the bootstraps, he can too.” It blinds these conservatives to the fact that some people don’t have bootstraps and others lost them a long time ago.

  4. J.E. Molnar says:

    According to a former Wildrose executive (David Yager) the party’s own internal research reveals they have been branded by mainstream voters as “a bunch of small-town, right-wing, knuckle-dragging wackos.” Kenney’s attempt to make the united new party more palatable to mainstream voters is commendable, but when you unpack the details it becomes clear that there is nothing new here.

    “Respectful, responsible and responsive governance” is code for extreme policies, marked by massive cuts to public services and substantial tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations. Kenney has publicly avowed to rescind updated labour laws and reverse a host of NDP social legislation that provided enhancements and protection for Alberta’s marginalized and disenfranchised. This potential merger changes nothing — it’s all just a return to Klein-style “Back-to-the-Future” conservatism and “On-Your-Own” economics.”

    • J.E. you nailed it. Kenney brings a veneer of respectability to the Wildrose but his position on social issues is just as regressive. People delude themselves into thinking he won’t be able to implement his socially conservative ideology, but they’re wrong. He can change the Education Act requiring teachers to “out” kids who join Gay-Straight Alliances and he can manipulate the healthcare budget to defund abortions. He’s a clever man, I shudder at the thought of him controlling health, education, and social services in Alberta.

  5. jerrymacgp says:

    You know, I am so tired of hearing these extreme right-wingers calling the current NDP government “socialist”. They are nothing of the sort. While the NDP’s committed, long-term membership base includes a goodly number of true socialists (myself included), there is nothing socialist about how the current government is behaving. Instead, they are governing as a moderate, centrist government with no particular ideology other than some symbolic actions in the area of climate change, and some improvements in consumer protections like the home builder licensing and payday loan legislation. Were they truly governing as socialists, we would see a number of actions to increase government intervention in the economy, like nationalizing electric utilities.

    • Jerry I agree with you, the NDP is closer to Lougheed’s PC government but even now isn’t as interventionist in the private sector as Lougheed was.
      I also note that conservatives who berate the NDP for wasting our tax dollars by giving handouts to some [fill in the blank unworthy group] have no problem with federal or provincial governments bailing out the private sector.
      Take Bombardier. Canada and Quebec have given it around $9 billion in grants, subsidies, guaranteed loans and tax breaks. Canadians were pretty sanguine about this but when Bombardier executives gave themselves a 50% pay increase, after laying off 7000 employees, they finally lost it. Amazing, eh?

    • Carlos Beca says:

      You got that right Jerry – the NDP is less left than Peter Lougheed was. That is why I made a comment a couple of days ago that the NDP just like the other parties is not a social democratic party at all. They all are left when in opposition but they quickly turn centrist once in power. Socialist?? Only extreme right wing can call this party socialist.

      • Carlos: the extreme right wing party is calling the NDP socialists every chance they get. Their supporters are lapping it up. There’s a lot of inflammatory rhetoric being thrown around and very little thoughtful analysis, particularly on the part of the WR/PC.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Susan I agree but to me that is just how bad these people are. If they really think the NDP is socialist they are obviously idiots or totally uneducated. If they say it to inflame the situation then they are not any different than any party in existence in Canada. They all lie to get power.

        The NDP is not the party I thought they were but certainly a step up at least with relation to a no scandal life. People already forgot the scandals in Health Care with the cookie monster and the condo and the planes ….etc. I have not. I much prefer life in the slow lane.

        Despite the political and economic crisis around the world we continue to play exactly the same game because the players are the same and do not understand any better.

        I cannot hide at all how these people disgust me. Their selfishness, egocentrism and being a total fake job is so darn obvious but still attract half this province. This is the problem. Total aloofness towards the democratic process. I know people that do not even know the name of our premier.

  6. Roy Wright says:

    I am finding the conservative movement in Alberta, under whatever banner you may to label them with, to be a group who seem angry, bitter and can only talk about destroying the socialists, or ripping things up or other negative approaches. Supporters seem to hold the same venom. I have yet to see anything even approaching our “sunny ways” or even a pathway to get there. Previously, the most recent PC government had drifted far to the right of Peter Lougheed and his approach to government of the 1970’s and 1980’s. The bluster and rhetoric of this latest group who want to seize power offer nothing, but imply lots. I really hope we don’t start seeing “Make Alberta Great Again” ‘dozer caps. We all know how that turned out south of the border.

    • Well hello Mr Soapbox. Your point about the recent PC government drifting right is well taken (got to get those WRers back into the fold somehow). Combine that with the conservatives insufferable sense that they are Alberta’s natural ruling party and it’s not surprising they’re bitter and twisted. Kenney and Jean play to this sentiment very well, they start with the misguided notion that progressive taxation is the NDP’s way to steal your money and end with “they’re socialists who’ll indoctrinate your children if you don’t elect us to save you”. Yes, it does hark back to Trump and his ‘dozer cap, doesn’t it.

  7. Duncan McCallum says:

    I think Brian Jean purposely went forward with this version of the agreement knowing that the grass roots members will not support it and thus defeat the agreement. That would enable him to say the members have spoken and he bends to the will of the members. What I don’t think he considered is that it ultimately ends up being a motion of non-confidence in the leader as he “owns” this agreement jointly with Kenny and if it fails so does he as leader. Once this fails I suspect he will face an internal backlash for bringing it forward and likely will be out as leader of the WRP.

    • That’s a very interesting point Duncan. I think Jean was pressured into signing the Agreement. There were rumours floating around the Legislature that 9 WR MLAs were prepared to cross over to the PCs if Jean didn’t sign (if this is true he should have called their bluff, it would shown that those MLAs were prepared to sacrifice the party for power).
      You’re absolutely right about the backlash if the merger fails. Jean owns it as much as Kenney does. This reminds me of something a reporter at the Calgary Herald said about the scandal that engulfed Redford when the Sky Palace story broke. The reporter said the source of the story was a member of the PC caucus, not the Opposition. When the reporter asked the source why he was squealing on Redford, the source said the PCs wanted Redford gone before the next election. The PCs failed to understand that the Sky Palace scandal would taint the entire PC party, not just Redford.
      Here Jean is advocating for a merger that will gut the grassroots, it will be a gong show if the merger goes ahead and a blow to Jean personally if it does not.
      Interesting times ahead!

      • Duncan McCallum says:

        I’m not at all sure I subscribe to the rumour that 9 WRP MLA’s would have crossed the floor because it just isn’t likely as they would have all faced certain defeat in the next election if history proves at all accurate. Yet rumours abound in politics and these past few weeks are no different. One such rumour is that Brian Jean’s own membership is up for review after a complaint was filed by a WRP member, also a lawyer, who cited Jean’s and others actions to form a new political entity called the Alberta Conservative Party or the Conservative Party of Alberta. Both names are apparently officially registered under the Societies Act although not yet as a political party. That is clearly in contravention of the WRP constitution – by-laws. With the recent spate of disciplinary actions taken against some of their own, including the ongoing revocation of Joe Anglin’s membership, this kind of push back is not entirely surprising. Brian Jean’s future along with MLA’s Nixon and Cooper may yet hold surpries for him and us !

      • Duncan, I’d forgotten about Jean et al registering those two party names. As you said, rumours abound in politics and we should expect to hear a whole lot more of them before the UCP is done and dusted.

  8. jerrymacgp says:

    A comment about recall and “democratic accountability”: it is un-Canadian. Canadians don’t elect our governments, we elect our representatives, seat-by-seat; they, in turn, elect our government by a sort of negative option: the party leader able to command the support of a majority of the assembly gets to form a government. Recall would limit the willingness of our elected representatives to take locally unpopular positions for the greater good of the country (remember, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few …”), and potentially paralyze our government. That’s fine for our American cousins, whose system of government seems to have been deliberately designed to be paralyzed (that is, after all, really what “checks & balances” and “separation of powers” are all about), but Canada chose a different path.

    I do think we need to turn back the clock on some of our allegedly democratic reforms of recent years, such as “one member, one vote” party leadership elections. Under the old system of delegated conventions, or the system used in the U.K. where the Parliamentary caucus selects party leaders, both Ministers or shadow cabinet critics, and backbenchers, retained significant power and could act as constraints on the leader’s power. Now we have party leaders with no caucus support (remember Queen Alison) and so effectively no constraints on their power.

    • Jerry: Agreed. I’m reading Turning Parliament Inside Out, a collaborative effort by many MPs (Michael Chong, Elizabeth May, Kennedy Steward, Scott Simms and others). Elizabeth May’s section on the Westminster Parliamentary system demonstrates just how far we’ve drifted away from that model–especially with respect to the increasing power of political parties, their leaders, the PM and the PMO. We need to fix this before we get ourselves into really serious trouble.

    • carlosbeca says:

      Hi Jerry
      I have been exposed to this system since 1981 and I do not remember any democratic reforms. If any were made, the objective was always concentration and not democratic.
      We have a choice to push for real democratic reform or let it go for another 30 years and we may very well find ourselves with a strong nostalgia for democracy. Right now the PMO runs this country. Parliament is just a place where people insult other people and were nothing is resolved. When was the last time you heard about Health Care, or democratic Reform, or the role of our military, or the role of CSIS, or the abuses of the RCMP, or the murdered indigenous women, or why are we sending our water purification unit around the world when our native people do not have any, or big crops evading taxes and moving their money to tax heavens, or……. – in fact do you remember any serious issue in Canada? I do not and I wonder why are we spending all this money having elections, the House of Commons and the Senate for no results. Just really think about it and see how absurd this whole system is. Just like everything else in our country the PM is just a tolerant, kind version of Erdogan in Turkey.

  9. Carlos Beca says:

    It is easy to understand why they agree on 95% of their ideologies – Cut Taxes and cut the carbon tax. I have not seen or heard any of them talking about anything else. The major issue is that Jason Kenney wants to be king and Brian Jean owns the thrown 22-8. The result of this series is what counts in their estimation. They are not concerned about Alberta or Albertans. They are concerned in opening the economy even more to their predatory masters. Do not forget that they have a religious obligation to the free market and survival of the fittest. That is their Christian version of being a martyr and going to heaven. That is why they so hatefully talk about the NDP and catastrophe and that horrible socialism. These people do believe in political inquisition. If you do not believe me, just check closer.

    • Carlos, I’ll be glued to the UCP leadership race like an on-looker waiting for a train wreck. I’m thinking of starting a pool with the prize going to the person who correctly bets on whether it will be Kenney’s team or Jean’s team that has the first bozo eruption. If they don’t clamp down on their teams in order to present a more palatable picture to Albertans they’ll be going from one bozo eruption to another.

  10. david says:

    Thanks Susan – interesting differences in their leadership style that you have identified;
    my experience is that the difference may be more of rhetoric than reality…
    Neither candidate will serve the long term interests of a more diverse, sustainable economy, environmental protection and essential social supports.
    More than ever Alberta needs a moderate centrist option that includes a stable, responsible market-based economy.

    • David, I’m sure you’re right when you say the difference between the two leadership candidates is more rhetorical than real. Both of them will have to work hard to convince the “grassroots” that they’re the ones in charge of policy, but I don’t think that will last for long. I can’t tell you how many parties I’ve heard say they are going to do politics differently, only to revert back to the same old top-down command-and-control structure once they’re elected. As Carlos says, we need to find a way past this if we want to maintain our democratic institutions.

  11. James says:

    Does no-one in Alberta remember Harper and how he “fixed” the Progressive Conservative Party?
    Kenny is following his directions. And Harper’s government was so good for Canadia.
    Remember Peter McKay and Harper lying to the third contestant about how the new party would be?
    Hey Alberta, give your collective heads a shake before you have to hang your collective heads in shame.

    • Keith McClary says:

      I remember when the Reformers (aka C.R.A.P.) advocated “free votes in the Legislature”. When Harper got in it was the the official Harper line, no free speech in the Legislature or anywhere.

    • James: Very apt comparison. The only difference I see between Kenney and Harper is that Harper had to wheel and deal to get control of the federal conservatives while the PC and WR leadership teams handed the provincial conservatives over to Kenney on a silver platter.

      Keith: Harper’s “free vote” is a great example of what a politician will promise and what he’s actually prepared to deliver once he gets into power. Kenney doesn’t appear to have much use for the grassroots. This could be his Achilles Heel if Jean is prepared to make an issue of it. The big question is just how frank are they prepared to be in the upcoming UPC leadership race–if they give the impression of preserving the power of the grassroots, and (heaven forbid) form government in 2019, there will be hell to pay when they fail to deliver.

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