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Wildrose-PC merger agreement leaves many unanswered questions for Wildrosers and the rest of us

Brian Jean & Jason Kenney

If anything's clear from trying to make sense of the agreement that outlines the scheme to merge Alberta's two main conservative parties, it's that members of the Wildrose Party are being asked to give away, metaphorically speaking, the deed to their house, their bank card's pin number, and the keys to their car.

Just whom they’d be giving them to is far less clear.

If Wildrose members decide to vote yes to somehow rolling their party into the United Conservative Party on July 22nd -- and it’s far from clear how this will work, or even if it will -- they'll just have to take it on faith they’re doing the right thing for their party in the right way.

It's their party. They can do what they wish. Still, the agreement in principle signed on May 18 by Wildrose Leader Brian Jean and Progressive Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney does not answer many key questions one would think members and supporters of a well-established and well-financed political party would want answered before they try to figure out what will replace it.

It's pretty clear that what Wildrose members and MLAs will get to vote on is whether to dissolve their party, their constitution and their policies.

They won't, however, have any idea what will replace them.

They will know, in the words of the May 18 agreement, that "a new society with the name the United Conservative Association … will be incorporated immediately under the Societies Act (Alberta) for the purposes of activities related to the establishment of the UCP."

They won't know:

  • Who will incorporate it
  • Who the directors of the new society will be
  • Who will write its bylaws
  • Who will be allowed to join
  • What role their current leaders will play

The Societies Act society that is the foundation of their party -- the Wildrose Political Association -- will cease to exist.

Assuming it continues to exist, the Wildrose Party will be run by a 12-member interim board. Six of those members will be appointed by Mr. Kenney, the PC leader. Notwithstanding the size of the two parties' legislative caucuses -- 22 Wildrosers and eight PCs -- there will be just one non-voting MLA from each party on the board.

The United Conservative Association "will apply to the Chief Electoral Officer to register an Alberta political party under the name UCP," the agreement says. "The result will be that the UCP and the Legacy parties will have one executive and one leader having control of all three of the registered parties."

In other words, current members of both parties will have no vote in what happens next.

The parties' money and assets -- the Wildrose Party has more -- will be spent and disposed of by the same interim board, laden with Kenney appointments. Wildrose constituency associations will be dissolved. The acting leader will be appointed by MLAs only, including PC MLAs -- which sure seems like a violation of the Wildrose Party’s supposed grassroots principles.

Well, I'm not a conservative, with or without a Capital C, so it's not really for me to say what they should do, but this sure sounds like the old Tory entitlement and arrogance the Wildrosers used to rail against, doesn’t it?

How are the rest of us -- who may be making up our minds how to vote -- supposed to take their promises of grassroots influence and direction in 2019?

The other foundational document of the UCP is the legal memorandum signed on March 20 by five lawyers who made up the "Alberta Conservative Consolidation Legal Review and Strategy Committee."

Entitled "Removing the Legal Roadblocks," the document purports to show "the road forward to unification of Alberta’s conservative parties." But while it is the political opinion of the authors (who are careful to note it is not their legal opinion) that this can be legally done, it is not at all clear that this is so.

If anything shines through this document, it is the shambolic and, yes, entitled way that the Progressive Conservative Party did business in Alberta for so many years.

The Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta, which since it was founded in 1977 Albertans have been told was the association that ran the PC Party? Oh, it hasn’t existed since 2000, when it was dissolved for failing to file annual returns!

But since it continues to do business, what is it, exactly? The memorandum’s authors are unsure. Is it a dissolved society? Is it an unincorporated association? Has it been replaced by the entity called the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta Foundation, using the name of the dissolved society as an unregistered trade name?

"All we know is what it is not," wrote the five lawyers. "It is not a society."

To me, this situation is powerfully emblematic of the shambolic and extra-legal way Alberta operated for so many years under the PCs -- and, presumably, would operate again if they or their successor party are elected.

Laws weren't really necessary if you were part of the conservative establishment. Things just sort of worked in your favour, as God and the PC Party intended. As for the rules, such as they were, they were for everyone else.

No wonder, as revealed a week ago in this space, Wildrose leaders felt they could blithely tell their members not to worry their pretty little heads about the money in their constituency associations. After all, if what they proposed to do turned out to be illegal, they’d just get elected and change the law.

If it seemed brazen to just lay it out as the Wildrosers did with such eye-popping chutzpah in a memo to their constituency association boards, it’s also completely in tune with past conservative practice in Alberta -- just as the Wildrosers used to complain.

Judging from the murky details of the merger agreement, it seems that still might be something Wildrose members want to think about.

Perhaps this accounts for the intense feelings of disunity still plaguing the two parties' memberships, which Mr. Kenney appears to be trying to explain away with his unlikely conspiracy theory supporters of Alberta NDP Government or the Alberta Teachers Association are plotting to hijack the July 22 vote.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Wildrose Party

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