Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta Leader Jason Kenney was in Red Deer hosting an open house regarding the unification of the PC and the Wildrose parties.
More than 150 people went to hear Kenney speak on several issues including his stance on education. Kenney spoke to the media following the event regarding a comment he made on March 28th in Calgary about informing parents whether their child is in a gay-straight alliance at their school.
“What I think is that it depends on the student, it depends on the circumstance. There should not be a hard and fast rule that parents are told are told if their kids are involved. There shouldn’t be a hard and fast rule barring informing parents.
“You might have very caring and compassionate parents who are supportive of their kid and why would a teacher lie to those parents? On the other hand, you might have other parents who don’t understand what their kid is going through. Kids who have confided with their teachers and that information should stay private. My view is that highly trained teachers should use common sense and the protocols that are in place to know best and when to engage parents. Politicians shouldn’t be getting in the middle of that situation with rigid rules.”
Kenney felt that his town hall Tuesday night regarding the unification of the Wildrose Party and the PC Party was, “Super positive.”
“I think this is our 14th town hall around the province this month on the unity agreement and as you could hear, there is close to unanimous support for it,” he said. “What I find most exciting is the people who have never before been involved with politics are coming out, learning more and getting involved. We feel a growing momentum across the province and it is super strong here in Central Alberta.”
Kenney noted the unification will face some challenges, particularly due to the fact that the Wildrose Party requires 75% of their membership to approve a unification on July 22nd, whereas the PCs only require 50%.
“I can imagine a scenario where 10-15 per cent of Wildrose members vote against for one reason or another,” Kenney said. “That means people from outside – NDP supporters causing mischief – could sign up and get the other 10-15 per cent to veto the merger agreement. It is a certainly a concern but most of my Wildrose friends are optimistic they will get over the 75 per cent threshold.”
Kenney stressed it is important for members to vote and he was thankful to have many other representatives on stage with him showing their support including Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre), Wildrose MLA Nathan Cooper (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills) and PC MLA Richard Gotfried (Calgary-Fish Creek).
“It was awesome to have two of the leading members of the Wildrose caucus joining me on stage,” Kenney said. “They have been big supporters of the unity cause. Jason in particular was a key person on the negotiating committee to get the deal done. They have just been larger than life in getting this done.
“Having the Wildrose senior leadership helped drive home the point that we are already uniting.”
Kenney clarified the division between the Wildrose and the PC wasn’t policy related and will be hammered out.
“The main issues for the division were the royalty review – which ticked off people in the energy sector – the big deficits that alienated fiscal conservatives, land use bills that upset a lot of agricultural people because it was seen as compromising property rights and just a ton of arrogance,” he explained. “The two parties have been voting identically in the legislature since the last election. There are no major issues that separates them. In the negotiations, we had no issue disagreements. The negotiations were mainly over legal mechanics, not policy issues.
“If we get a big majority with both parties endorsing this, then they are telling us to bury the hatchet.”
There was some concern expressed by people present at the town hall the new United Conservative Party will not consult their membership regarding policy and the party constitution. Kenney reassured voters this will not be the case.
“That tends to come to Wildrose supporters, who understandably are very focused on grass roots accountability,” he said. “I get their concern and that is why I fought hard during the negotiations to defer as many decisions as possible to the future, to the members at the founding convention. I didn’t think it was right for me, Brian Jean or a handful of insiders to impose a constitution or policy declaration on the party. I thought we should be modest and restrained in the agreement and give as much of the decisions to the members as possible.”
Questions also arose as to whether a United Conservative Party could attract young voters, to which Kenney was confident they could.
“I am pleased to see in the polling so far that over half of young Albertans said they would likely vote for a United Conservative Party,” Kenney said. “We have to work hard to earn their support. I think the key issue for young Albertans is whether they will have jobs in the future, economic security and opportunity. Why do you go to university and rack up a bunch of debt? You do it because you want a decent job afterwards or you go to trade school and do the same thing.
“We need to focus on economic opportunity and I think there might be some young voters who were seduced by pie in the sky promises last year around the minimum wage and tuition freeze. They ended up being unemployed. We need to be the party of jobs and opportunity for young people. If we are not, we won’t win their support.”