Federal conservatives meet with PCs and Wildrose leaders in bid to unite the right in Alberta

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader hosted PC Leader , Leader and other federal and provincial conservatives at on Friday for a private reception, as federal Tories try to help facilitate a unite-the-right movement in Alberta.

The federal Alberta Conservative caucus met Friday morning with McIver and Jean, according to multiple sources, with Tory MPs encouraging both sides to find common ground and unite under one conservative banner.

Later Friday, Ambrose hosted federal and provincial conservative politicians, lobbyists and prominent organizers — many who’ve convened in Ottawa for the annual conference of conservative thinkers — at Stornoway for a gathering of like-minded friends.

Cocktail conversation was undoubtedly on the federal Tory leadership race and calls for a united conservative movement in Alberta. Indeed, while the reception wasn’t designed around uniting the Wildrose and , that’s a topic on the minds of all federal and provincial conservative politicians from Alberta.

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Ambrose told some conservatives gathered in Ottawa for the Manning Conference that both McIver and Jean were invited to stay at Stornoway, the residence of the leader of the Official Opposition.

McIver, the interim Alberta PC leader, confirmed he’s staying as a guest of Ambrose and her partner J.P. Veitch, close friends of his, while he’s in town for the Manning conference that attracts conservatives from across .

Conservative MPs are certainly interested in having the PCs and Wildrose come together for a united conservative party in Alberta, he said, but cautioned that the process can’t be top-down or pushed on Progressive Conservative members through a “bare-knuckle, unvarnished power grab.”

“There’s a lot of federal Conservatives that would like one conservative party provincially. … That’s one of the topics that’s regularly being discussed,” McIver told the Ottawa Citizen.

“Those that think they can just force everybody to do this, you’ll end up with three or four parties on the right, rather than the two that exist now.”

Yet, McIver said the direction he has received from his members to this point is to prepare the PC party to compete in the next election.

All 29 Tory MPs from Alberta have at least one Wildrose member and one PC member on their federal constituency boards, with most of the riding association boards almost evenly split between the two provincial parties, according to one conservative politician who was attending the reception at Stornoway.

Tory MPs quietly note that Alberta federal Conservatives have more supporters and organization to help bring the two parties together.

The sense among some Conservative MPs is that they don’t want to interfere in the process of two separate provincial political entities, but will eventually start to lose their patience if the parties don’t get their acts together in time for the next Alberta provincial election to defeat Rachel Notley’s NDP.

Ambrose and fellow Alberta Tory Jason Kenney are two MPs whose names are regularly discussed among prominent conservative organizers as possible saviours who could unite the two warring provincial parties, although neither has publicly expressed any interest in doing so.

Jean, the former federal Conservative MP and current Wildrose leader, is also in Ottawa for the Manning conference, along with four of his Alberta MLAs and a few staffers. Ambrose invited Jean and his fiancée to stay at Stornoway, but he decided to stay at the same hotel as his MLAs and staff.

The Wildrose leader echoed some of McIver’s sentiments, saying his party’s members will decide on the future of uniting the right. Jean said he certainly hopes there will be one united conservative party in Alberta, and believes Wildrose is the best option right now for achieving that goal.

“What I do believe is that Albertans will consolidate behind one Conservative movement and I do believe that movement is the Wildrose, whatever banner and whatever structure it is,” Jean told the Citizen.

I’ve heard my members and they want to consolidate conservatives in Alberta because we believe that’s the best opportunity moving forward to invoke our principles and policies

“I’ve heard my members and they want to consolidate conservatives in Alberta because we believe that’s the best opportunity moving forward to invoke our principles and policies.”

However, Jean said there is currently no “willing dance partner” for the Alberta PCs, so it’s uncertain where the movement is headed. He acknowledges there is a certain “fear factor” on both sides about joining the two parties.

Jean said he isn’t opposed to rebranding the Wildrose party if it means bringing provincial conservatives together under one tent. But it will ultimately be up to members to decide whether a rebranding exercise occurs, he said.

“You can argue that the Wildrose brand is damaged. Sure, I can accept that, but the PC brand is destroyed. I don’t object to a rebranding,” he said.

Discussions about uniting the right in Alberta are in their infancy, but gaining steam. Wildrose and PC MLAs have been hosting beer and coffee nights so conservatives of various stripes can discuss the future of the two parties and conservatism in Alberta.

Some constituency boards from both parties also have been meeting in certain ridings to gauge whether there is common ground.

About Jason Fekete, Ottawa Citizen