Albertans are seeing the character and quality of the new United Conservative Party (UCP) for the first time during its first leadership campaign.
Although the new leader will be the prime influence as the MLAs and members shape the party’s vision and platform, the campaign debates, being held from Sept. 20 to Oct. 17, are revealing the starting point.
All four agree that in the Notley era, conservatives should stop apologizing for being conservative.
And they agree that conservatives should not tear each other down because there are enough others attacking them. “It only gives the NDP what they want,” said Brian Jean.
When the four leadership contenders differ, and they do on the speed and extent of changes, they do so without disagreeing.
It is a subtle but important difference, and if they can maintain it, it will make the job of the new leader easier.
The purpose of unifying the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties is to get rid of the NDP government.
There is a notable consensus of views on the alternative to the NDP that link the four leadership candidates: Jason Kenney, Brian Jean, Doug Schweitzer and Jeff Callaway.
A common theme they have is the restoration of the Alberta economy to its former strength.
The economy under the UCP would start over, first getting provincial spending in line with what the province can afford. Reduce the debt and deficit without protecting “sacred cows.”
If you analyze their proposals for provincial tax cuts, deregulation and speeding up regulatory approvals for oil and gas projects, they have a business creation platform.
They have differences between the four on how deep other tax cuts should be, and how fast they should be made.
The four have signed a pledge to end the Alberta carbon tax and fight the federal carbon tax.
They all assent to Jason Kenney’s words that the Alberta government must be “the watchdog not the lapdog” of the federal government.
They all want changes in the federal equalization program to make it fairer to Alberta. They differ on the constitutional process to change equalization.
They all want oil export pipelines to tidewater so that producers in Alberta can get fairer prices.
The Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion is first on their list and the threats from the new British Columbia government to impede the approved expansion of the pipeline, which has been operating safely and without major incident for more that 60 years, makes them crazy.
The UCP has two political bad guys, the provincial NDP in Alberta and B.C. and the federal Liberals, and all candidates promise to deal with them “without flinching or blinking,” in Kenney’s words.
Shaping and articulating social policy, especially on LGBTQ issues, is problematic because of intra-party differences between the right wing and the moderates.
The emergence in the leadership campaign of 38-year-old Doug Schweitzer as an influential force in the party has made that easier. His conservative-based values and open-minded, conciliatory approach, if tapped, could bridge the gap that exists between the new party and moderate millennials and gen-Zers.
– Frank Dabbs is a veteran political and business journalist, author of four books, editor of several more and is working this autumn on the history of Trimac Transportation and the McCaig family of Calgary.