Alberta conservatives unite, leadership race underway

Former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean (left) and Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney (right) successfully merged the two center-right parties and are both now running for leader of the United Conservative Party.

Former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean (left) and Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney (right) successfully merged the two center-right parties and are both now running for leader of the United Conservative Party.

On July 22, the memberships of both the Wildrose Party and Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta voted 95 per cent to merge the two parties to form the United Conservative Party. According to a unity agreement signed by each entity’s former leader, Brian Jean and Jason Kenney, a new leader will be elected on October 28 in a one-member, one-vote vote.

Albertans who are members of the new party 15 days before the leadership vote are qualified to help choose the leader. There are four declared candidates: Jean, Kenney, former Wildrose party president Jeff Callaway, and party activist Doug Schweitzer. Libertarian-leaning Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt was expected to run but decided not to amidst a series of scandals and alleged hit-and-run accident.

Both Jean and Kenney were qualified by Campaign Life Coalition as pro-life and pro-family when they were federal MPs. Kenney supported the motion to drop the Conservative Party of Canada’s traditional definition of marriage at its 2016 policy convention. He has, however, been outspoken in favour of parental rights since making the jump to provincial politics. Kenney has criticized the NDP government for promoting gay-straight alliances which keep secret students’ sexual identity from parents as well as the government’s harassment of religious private schools and homeschooling associations.

Schweitzer is running as an unabashed social liberal, saying “I’m fully supportive of the LGBTQ community” and backs gay-straight alliances in schools. He also said, “I respect a woman’s right to choose,” and vowed not to raise the abortion issue if elected leader.

Kenney raised eyebrows when he released a five-point Grassroots Guarantee, which stated he would not be offering policy during the leadership race. He vowed to listen to the party membership in the policy creation process that is scheduled to take place early next year. Kenney said people know what he stands for but he was not prepared to impose his views on the party. He denied he was abdicating leadership, calling his style “servant leadership, a leadership characterized more by humility than arrogance.” Kenney said the erstwhile provincial PCs got into trouble when the leadership ignored the grassroots and insisted the UCP avoid similar mistakes. “There is a certain wisdom and common sense that emerges when large numbers of people are engaged in the policy process,” he stated.

Jean and Schweitzer were both releasing policy and condemned Kenney’s guarantee as a gimmick designed to turn the leadership campaign into a policy-free popularity contest.

Meanwhile, interim UCP leader Nathan Cooper, an MLA who worked for Canada Family Action before he entered elected politics, was attacked by the NDP deputy premier Sarah Hoffman for his pro-life and pro-family views. In 2009 he made statements on “Real Life with Susan & Friends,” in support of traditional marriage and said he wanted an outright ban on abortion. The Calgary Herald reported that Cooper now says he “unequivocally” supports LGBTQ but that he offered no specifics in terms of policy. Hoffman said if he did not clarify his views, he should step down as opposition leader.

Cooper did not comment on his views about abortion.

The UCP application to officially take part in Calgary Pride was rejected by the parade’s organizers. Pride president Jason Kingsley’s letter to the UCP stated that the new organization “does not yet have a clear policy in support of the gender and sexually diverse community,” but did invite members of the party to take part in a “collaborative learning opportunity” before they could participate in future pride parades. The “opportunity” consisted of a three-hour workshop with the Calgary Sexual Health Centre “to talk about sexual health, relationships, gender and sexual diversity.”

UCP members were welcomed to take part in the parade as spectators. Callaway and Schweitzer said they would attend.

Newly selected Alberta Liberal leader David Khan, who is openly gay, praised the committee’s decision to exclude the new conservative party. “I think it’s a constructive step forward,” he told CBC Calgary, because many UCP caucus members “have a history of not supporting LGBTQ rights.” Alberta Party leader Greg Clark also praised the decision. His party’s application for official recognition at Pride was accepted.

Country singer k.d. lang offered free tickets to one of her concerts to Kenney if he agreed to sit down and have a conversation about LGBTQ rights with her. His spokesman, Annie Dormuth, said Kenney was focusing on the leadership race and would not be attending any Pride events.

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