Jason Kenney's Merger Plans Might Break Alberta PC Leadership Race Rule

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EDMONTON — Alberta's Progressive Conservatives have laid out the rules for their leadership race, including retroactive finance disclosure and a rule forbidding candidates from doing harm to the party or its brand.

Party president Katherine O'Neill said the rules were approved by the party's board of directors at a meeting in Red Deer on Saturday night.

The race does not officially begin until Oct. 1, and Conservative MP Jason Kenney is the only candidate to announce he is in the running to replace former leader Jim Prentice.

Rule says candidates cannot 'harm' PC brand

In an interview Sunday, O'Neill said the board decided to continue with a rule from the 2014 leadership campaign that directs candidates to "avoid causing harm or disrepute'' to the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta and its brand "through any detrimental action or conduct.''

Kenney is running on a platform to merge the PCs with the Wildrose party to create a new right-centre party to challenge Premier Rachel Notley's NDP government.

O'Neill declined to say whether Kenney's merger plan would violate that rule.

"I'm not going to go into hypotheticals until we have officially nominated candidates,'' she said.

"But those are rules that we've had in place for many years going into leadership races, and we expect every single candidate to respect and abide by them.''

Kenney's campaign to review rules

Kenney's campaign team said they were reviewing the rules and would comment as early as Monday.

Political scientist Duane Bratt with Mount Royal University in Calgary said the rule against doing harm is sure to reignite the battle within the party between pro- and anti-merger factions.

"Critics of Kenney are going to leap on this,'' said Bratt.

Kenney, a Calgary Conservative MP, has been campaigning since early July and raising donations through a third-party entity known as Unite Alberta.

jason kenney
Jason Kenney hopes to unite the right-of-center parties in Alberta. (Photo: CP)

O'Neill said the board of directors has also decided that all candidates must disclose all spending, donations, and donors tied to the leadership bid in the pre-writ period starting June 30.

"If they can't give us that report , we don't officially call them a nominated candidate,'' said O'Neill.

There is no cap on campaign spending.

"Critics of Kenney are going to leap on this."

The board confirmed the leadership vote will take place March 18, 2017, as previously announced, but will move up the nomination deadline from Jan. 9, 2017 to Nov. 10 of this year.

O'Neill said the new date gives candidates more time to campaign and gives constituencies more time to organize their delegate elections.

Leadership candidates will have to pony up a $30,000 non-refundable fee and, for the first time, post a $20,000 compliance bond. They get the bond money back if they don't violate the rules of the race, conduct themselves properly and attend all leadership events.

Delegate system

The PCs have returned to a delegate system to pick the leader, a process they have not used since the 1980s.

O'Neill said party members in each of the 87 ridings will vote for 15 delegates who will in turn vote for the leader next March.

Five of those delegates must be from those who have been on a constituency board since before October 1.

The other 10 will be picked from those who bought party memberships at least two weeks before the delegate vote.

The party is stressing youth and renewal, said O'Neill. Of the 15 delegates in each riding, three must be under 26 years of age.

There are others automatically made delegates, including the party's board of directors and ex-MLAs.

Steps to avoid mass membership purchases

O'Neill says the party is also taking steps to avoid mass purchases of memberships, something criticized in the last leadership election won by Prentice.

O'Neill also said Stephen Mandel, former Edmonton mayor and PC cabinet minister, is now the party's northern finance chairman.

The PCs were the governing party in Alberta for more than 43 years before losing in 2015 to Notley's NDP. Calgary MLA Ric McIver is the interim leader of the nine-member caucus, which sits third in the legislature, behind the Wildrose.

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