03/17/2017 15:01 EDT | Updated 03/18/2018 01:12 EDT

Kenney confident of winning Alberta PC leadership, uniting right

CALGARY — Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney says he's confident of winning, but willing to move to Plan B if the party won't follow his plan to merge with the Wildrose.

"My commitment is to serving Albertans through the free enterprise cause," Kenney said Friday outside a downtown Calgary convention centre.

"My preference is for us to unite into one big broad party, so basically reconstitute the coalition that Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein had before it split in half. "But if the grassroots members decide not to go in that direction, I would respect their mandate, as well as the mandate I have as PC leader.

"I would then try to make the PC party the platform for unity and to find other ways to reach out and co-operate with our Wildrose friends."

PC party members will vote Saturday in a delegated convention to pick a leader to replace former party leader and premier Jim Prentice.

Prentice announced he was quitting politics in May 2015 after the PCs lost the election to Premier Rachel Notley's NDP.

Current PC legislature member Richard Starke and party member Byron Nelson are also running for the top job.

Kenney, a Conservative cabinet minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper, believes he has the majority of delegates needed to win.

"We're very confident," he said.

"We believe that the majority or all of the delegates in the 80 of the 87 constituencies were elected to support this unity campaign.

"But we're not going to take any one of those votes for granted. We're going to continue to work hard over the next 24 hours to win the confidence of the some 1,300 or 1,400 delegates here."

Kenney has said only a merger can prevent vote splitting in the 2019 election and another election win by Notley.

Starke said he's disappointed the exchange of ideas in the race was eclipsed by debates over Kenney's plan.

"There has been very little talk about policy, and that's frustrating to me," Starke said in an interview.

"It's politicians that think about the next election and that's where their focus ends. People who are nation builders think not just about the next election, they think about the next generation."

Should Kenney win, the next step in his plan would be to negotiate a framework agreement with the Wildrose to create a new party. Alberta election rules forbid two parties from merging; they must fold up and surrender their assets.

After that, goes the plan, members in both parties would approve the new entity later this year and then candidates and constituencies would be put in place in 2018 to fight the next election, scheduled for the spring of 2019.

Nelson said it's a road map with no road but a lot of potential detours, adding that the party leader is but one voice on the executive.

"There's nothing in the constitution to fold up the party," said Nelson.

"No one anticipated the end of the party. You can amend the constitution to add that but at current you can't just have a vote and say 'OK, the party's done.'

"It's potentially a process that will take months and years."

There's also the Wildrose. Party Leader Brian Jean has said he is open to a merger, but on Wildrose terms.

In a video message to Wildrose members Friday, Jean extended that olive branch again.

"Whoever the PCs select at their leadership meeting this weekend, I'm extending an open invitation for the new leader to meet with me Monday afternoon," said Jean in the video.