After a year of NDP government, huge numbers of right-of-centre Albertans are clamouring for a united conservative party to stand in the next election.
Despite overtures made by the Wildrose last autumn, leadership and delegates at the recent PC annual general meeting emphatically voted to move ahead in isolation. For those who want to see conservatives united in the next election, this is unfortunate.
As desirable as uniting conservatives sounds to many, the obstacles are significant and abundant.
The conservative movement needs to be broad enough to encompass a winning coalition, but not so broad as to abandon time-tested principles that have proven successful in growing the economy, helping Alberta prosper and taking care of our most vulnerable.
There needs to also be a recognition that PCs are heirs to a proud institution that served Alberta well for a time, and was once a home to the vast majority of Wildrose conservatives, but that time has passed. Unfortunately, this legacy carries burdens and baggage.
But if we are going to point fingers, Wildrose has an obligation to engage in serious introspection. For many of us, bruises and mistrust of the PCs have kept us from welcoming them as equals and acknowledging that they also only want what is best for Alberta.
A major obstacle that lingers is a suspicion that some elites in the PC establishment would just resume old habits built up in the post-Ralph Klein era that caused Albertans to turn against them. As has been demonstrated, merely changing who leads the PC party did not fix this problem.
A unified conservative movement would need to embrace the best elements of the Peter Lougheed and Klein legacy, while rejecting the liberal drift and questionable ethics that caused Wildrose members to leave the PC party in the first place.
Egos and factions will also be difficult to overcome. A legitimate grassroots split in the conservative movement began over a decade ago — with roots in a longer and equally bitter struggle at the federal level — and all sides have scars to show for it.
Wildrose conservatives had every reason to forge our own way a decade ago, and while we made some early mistakes, we have been remarkably successful. More recently, Wildrosers have overcome incredible odds to rebuild a shattered party after the betrayal of December 2014. There is a deep belief in our mission that is equalled by a legitimate grassroots opposition to short cuts to power.
But sitting across the aisle from an NDP government that is bent upon reshaping Alberta in its government-first image has made us reassess our prejudices. It’s time for all conservatives to do likewise.
Since the PC establishment firmly shut the door to any form of merger of organizations at their convention, there is no point in pursuing that path.
Instead, the Wildrose will rise to the occasion and move to invite and unite conservatives with more than a greeting. The current incarnation of the Wildrose can and should become a bigger and broader coalition of conservatives. We will begin a process whereby all conservatives can come together and be welcomed as equals, and not as winners or losers.
Let’s start with a shared vision: A conservative party dedicated to principles of individual freedom, fiscal responsibility, religious liberty, equality of opportunity and the greatness of Alberta; welcoming to Albertans of all backgrounds; unafraid of taking principled stands, even when it may be unpopular; and uncompromising in its commitment to accountable and ethical government.
Achieving this will be more difficult than just writing out a vision. This summer, our party will bring people together at meetings and town halls right across Alberta to solicit support for changes to make our party a home for all Albertans that reject the overspending, overtaxing and economically illiterate NDP.
Together, we will put our children’s Alberta above ourselves.
A week ago I began work on a column about getting Alberta’s conservatives together. I then found out Brian Jean was working on a speech that was very similar. We ended up joining our ideas in the above column, which I am proud to say was signed by all members of the Wildrose Caucus.
Derek Fildebrandt is the Wildrose Shadow Minister of Finance and the MLA for Strathmore-Brooks