Brian Jean

Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean keeps saying he’s got a better plan to unite Alberta’s right than Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney’s much-publicized double reverse hostile takeover of the two Alberta conservative parties.

“I think that our plan is, quite frankly, much more palatable to both sets of members,” Jean told a reporter last week. The trouble is, as the reporter went on to explain, the Opposition leader “provided few details.”

So far, in fact, Jean doesn’t even seem to have provided many hints of how his plan might work, beyond telling the Postmedia reporter the two parties might find ways to co-operate without a formal merger.

Or did he?

Back in May, Jean revealed his party had registered the names “Alberta Conservative Party Association” and “Conservative Party of Alberta Association,” either of which in theory could do political business under the name Conservative. “Everything, including the party name, can be put to a vote, as long as the rules are properly followed,” the Opposition leader told a reporter at the time.

Well, a pretty little pink flower whose petals blow away in the fall probably isn’t the best thing after which to name a party that complains incessantly about supposedly delicate lefty “snowflakes” insisting on “political correctness.”

Anyway, everyone on the political right no matter how extreme their views wants to cash in on the solid old “conservative” brand, with its implications of steadiness and occupancy of the middle of the road. Indeed, appearing to be centre right could very well turn out to be essential if a conservative party, united or otherwise, is to topple the Alberta NDP government of Premier Rachel Notley.

It was also suggested at the time that such a new name would show more clearly how the Wildrose Party was aligned with the federal Conservative Party of Canada, then led by Stephen Harper, which was certainly the case then, and is now.

But many observers presumed back then that all Jean had in mind was keeping the option of having the Wildrose officially become a Conservative Party, as Preston Manning’s Canadian Reform-Alliance Party managed to do back in the early Zeroes, in the event a deal couldn’t be worked out with the flagging PCs.

All that said, I now hear a buzz that just such a name change is exactly what Jean is proposing within the secret chambers of the Wildrose Party as his better way to unite the right.

In other words — so goes the buzz — Jean is privately suggesting to his caucus that the old Wildrose name needs to be abandoned as quickly as possible so they can transfer their allegiance in the Legislature to the new, appropriately branded, political entity.

The trick, so the story goes, would be to do it fast enough for Jean and his ‘Rosies to steal a march on Kenney and his plan to seize the Conservative brand.

This, the rumour says, is now being presented to Wildrose Caucus members not as a way to keep the PCs from using the name, as I think pretty well all commentators assumed last spring, but as the way to create a completely new Alberta conservative party that they’re in charge of.

At least four Wildrose MLAs who are just now starting to suss out the leader’s plan are rumoured to be mad enough about it to have threatened to quit and sit as Independents. These would-be Independents — all far enough to the Alberta right to be called, as a wag of my acquaintance puts it, the “Alb-right” — view the scheme as a betrayal of Wildrose grassroots principles.

Others in the fractious caucus are said to be looking for a way to align themselves with Kenney’s effort as quickly as possible.

Well, if a few newly independent Alb-right MLAs then declared themselves to be Kenney Conservatives, this could have the interesting result of giving Kenney a legislative home even in the event he lost the leadership race in March to one of the three candidates who wants to preserve the old Progressive Conservatives. (Let’s call them the Progressive Preservatives).

Negotiations are said to be discreetly under way, just as happened before “The Great Betrayal” on Dec. 14, 2014, when then Wildrose leader Danielle Smith led nine of her MLAs into the PC government headed at the time by premier Jim Prentice. Manning was believed to be cracking the whip behind them all, to the eventual great displeasure of the Wildrose base.

The application to register the new party association was filed back in November 2015, as a simple corporate search will show.  The paperwork shows an eclectic mix of Wildrosers, not all of whom may be in complete agreement with Jean any more.

This, of course, all presumes Elections Alberta would let them do what’s being suggested, which is no sure thing. As blogger Dave Cournoyer pointed out on his Daveberta.ca blog back in May, Alberta election legislation prohibits party names “likely to be confused with the name or abbreviation of (another) registered party.”

Surely it is unlikely Elections Alberta would allow a Progressive Conservative Party and a Conservative Party on the same ballot.

Such an eventuality, of course, is presumably why someone has registered the name “Unite Alberta Party” with Elections Alberta — although it seems to me that name too could be confused with “Alberta Party.”

Well, this is idle pre-Christmas chatter. But what else is a blogger to do when the only comment he can get from Wildrose officials to queries about when Jean will announce his plan is, “No comment. :)”?

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

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David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...