By Scott Strasser, February 10 2017
The Wildrose on Campus (WROC) student club has endorsed Progressive Conservative Party leadership candidate Jason Kenney over current Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean as their pick for the leader of a united right-wing party in Alberta.
WROC recently conducted a survey asking club members if they support merging the province’s two conservative parties, as well as who they feel should lead a new unified party. According to WROC, 82 per cent of respondents support a united conservative party and 56 per cent of respondents support Kenney as its hypothetical leader.
Forty-four per cent of survey respondents also said they are “severely displeased” with the Wildrose Party’s current administration and staff.
WROC is a Students’ Union-registered club that promotes the Wildrose Party at the University of Calgary. The club was formed in 2013 and has approximately 160 members.
A former Member of Parliament with the Conservative Party of Canada, Jason Kenney stepped down from federal politics last summer to run for leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta (PCs). Kenney is running on a platform of uniting the two right-wing parties in Alberta — the PCs and the Wildrose — in an attempt to oust the New Democratic Party from power in the next provincial election.
WROC vice-president external Keean Bexte said another reason the club endorses Kenney over Jean is because Kenney puts more emphasis on student engagement.
“Jason Kenney has just — in his actions — appeared far more open to engaging with youth and students about issues facing them, whereas Brian Jean has come to campus [a few times] in the last year, and only to talk with Students’ Union executives,” Bexte said. “Jason Kenney came and invited everyone who wanted to talk to him and talk about issues facing them.”
On Jan. 26, Jean released a video saying he supports the idea of merging with the PCs, but only if the new party would be established under the Wildrose’s legal framework. In Jean’s video, he said he would seek to lead the new party if it formed.
Under Elections Alberta law, merging the Wildrose and PCs would mean both parties’ finances and assets would be forfeited to the Crown. Jean’s proposal would let the Wildrose keep their funds.
Bexte felt Jean’s video “reeked of desperation.”
“It’s never good to be reacting to your political opponent, it shows you’re not in a leadership position, [but] just following,” Bexte said. “We’re concerned Brian Jean is trying to kneecap any sort of negotiations by saying it must have the Wildrose Party’s legal framework. While he has some reasons for that, and while there are benefits to it, it’s worrisome that he’s trying to make it seem it’s his way or the highway. We all need to compromise.”
The new PC leader will be determined at the party’s leadership convention on Mar. 18. According to public opinion polls, Kenney is the frontrunner in the three-candidate race against Richard Starke and Byron Nelson, who both oppose plans to unite the PCs and the Wildrose.