Center-right parties set to merge in Canada's oil-rich Alberta

By Ethan Lou
| CALGARY, Alberta, March 18

A candidate with
plans to merge Alberta’s splintered right-leaning factions has
won the leadership of the province’s Progressive Conservatives
(PC), the party said on Saturday, heralding a political shift in
Canada’s oil heartland.

The merger plan by former federal cabinet minister Jason
Kenney will likely go through as the other right-leaning
faction, the Wildrose party, has agreed to it.

But Kenney may not get to shepherd the merged conservative
party, as the head of Wildrose, Brian Jean, has said he would
vie for the new leadership. Wildrose is currently the bigger

Nonetheless, a merger bolsters the pro-business right
against the incumbent left-leaning New Democrats, who have drawn
the ire of conservatives by imposing a carbon tax on the
emissions-heavy energy sector and by what critics says is heavy
government spending despite budget deficits.

The next election has to be called on or before May 31,
2019. A victory by the new merged conservative party will
restore the status quo for the mostly right-voting province and
could bring drastic changes, as both the PC and Wildrose have
opposed most of the NDP’s policies.

The NDP rose to power in 2015 after nearly half a century of
PC rule in Alberta, aided by a divided right and on a pledge to
review oversight of the oil and gas sector. The party
capitalized on voter anger over low oil prices, entitled
politicians and government budget woes.

That election nearly decimated the then-incumbent PC, but
Wildrose made gains and remained the Official Opposition with
the second highest number of seats in the provincial

Now in the second year of its mandate, the NDP government
takes credit for federal approvals of two pipeline projects that
would boost the province’s economy by exporting its landlocked
crude. But during the NDP’s term, global oil prices fell even
further, to as low as $26 a barrel, taking a toll on Alberta’s
economy, which is largely dependent on the commodity. The
provincial government projects deficits until 2024.

Representing an Alberta federal electoral district, Kenney
served in multiple portfolios in former Conservative Prime
Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet, most recently defense. He
survived the 2015 federal election in which his party lost
power, but resigned his parliamentary seat shortly after to seek
the leadership of the aligned but separate PC party in Alberta.

(Editing by Leslie Adler)

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