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Nostalgia the driving force behind merger

Wildrose and Progressive Conservative party members have voted overwhelmingly to merge into a new entity called the United Conservative Party — a name that evokes grand strategy but also crossed-fingers hope that they can all get along.

Wildrose and Progressive Conservative party members have voted overwhelmingly to merge into a new entity called the United Conservative Party — a name that evokes grand strategy but also crossed-fingers hope that they can all get along.

The next step is to elect a leader on Oct. 28. That is supposed to end more than a decade of internal troubles. The loss of “conservative” unity was directly tied to chronic unhappiness with PC leaders.

Ralph Klein was losing support by about 2005. Ed Stelmach became PC leader in 2006 but never won over a large segment of the party. Alison Redford won in 2011 but faced even more dissension, starting with her own MLAs.

By the time Jim Prentice took over in 2014, the PC party was using as much energy to get its internal affairs in order as it was to govern the province.

The UCP leadership vote may end the merry-go-round. By voting to merge, members of both parties in effect agreed to support fully whoever wins in October.

But there's already a winner: nostalgia.

Most comments from PCs and Wildrosers over the last few months hearkened back to the good old days. Back to the days when elections were predictable. Back to the days when rural constituencies could count on having several members in cabinet. Back to the days when there weren't so many darned problems, such as how to balance a budget without more than $10 billion in oil and gas revenues.

The other constant theme from party members, from Wildrose leader Brian Jean and from PC leader Jason Kenney (who started the merger train rolling) was a vision of doom.

“I've seen the desperation in people's eyes as they watch every level of government work against them – whether it's the NDP in Edmonton, or Trudeau in Ottawa,” Jean said after the merger vote.

Kenney has also talked about ending a nightmare. But he usually adds language meant to persuade listeners that the next provincial election is already a done deal.

“The writing is on the wall,” he said after the vote. “This accidental NDP government will be a one-term government.”

That assurance is based on a simple formula: any party that wins most of the Calgary seats plus the most of the rural seats forms a majority government.

Well, nothing is ever certain in politics, as Kenney and Jean know. There are rocks to avoid.

Who knows whether all PC and Wildrose voters will actually support the new alternative, or how many of them there really are.

The merger was approved by just under 52,000 members of the two parties combined. Fewer individuals actually took part because an unknown number held memberships in both parties.

More than 78,000 people voted in the leadership election that made Alison Redford premier. In the final ballot of the 2006 PC leadership contest that elected Ed Stelmach, about 144,000 people voted.

Sheer numbers suggest there's some distance to go.

There's the issue of Jason Kenney. He's a good bet to become leader. What would his strong social conservative bent mean for the tenor of the party? And if he loses, he has no particular reason to stick around playing second fiddle to someone with less experience. A large part of his motivation is to use provincial politics to affect federal politics anyway.

Then there's the question of what the United Conservatives stand for. So far, they stand for fear that Alberta is going to heck in a handbasket. What about their natural allies?

It's clear what rural leaders want. They want more money spent on local infrastructure, and direct influence inside the provincial government.

The energy industry knows what it wants, too. A statement on July 5 from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers laid out a list – looser regulation of methane emissions, looser enforcement of industry responsibility for well liability and well closure, looser wetlands policy, looser caribou management, no increases in municipal or corporate taxes (not even to pay for roads worn down by oil and gas equipment). In short, the industry wants to shift a lot of its environmental and infrastructure costs onto the province.

Kenney or Jean or a surprise alternative will try to keep both those groups happy. He (it won't be a she) will also promise to create jobs and hint at a magic plan to balance the provincial budget.

A return to the good old days. Make Alberta rich again. And do it by electing the right government to look after you. It's funny. What the new “conservatives” want is a nanny state.





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