03/18/2017 08:10 EDT | Updated 03/19/2017 01:51 EDT

Jason Kenney Voted Leader Of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives

'Today it is springtime in Alberta'

CALGARY - Jason Kenney is the new leader of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives.

Kenney, 48, captured 1,113 of 1,476 votes cast in the party's first delegated convention since 1985.

Richard Starke, a sitting PC legislature member, was second with 323 votes. Longtime party member Byron Nelson was a distant third, with 40 votes.

"Today, it's springtime in Alberta,'' Kenney proclaimed after the results were revealed.

"This result sends a message to our fellow Albertans who are struggling, to those 200,000 Albertans who are looking for work, we are going to ensure there is a government on your side.''

A convention attendee is silhouetted amongs shamrocks at the Alberta PC Party leadership convention in Calgary on March 17, 2017. (Photo: Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Kenney will now begin the next phase of his unite-the-right campaign by seeking a deal with the Wildrose party to join forces under a new conservative banner.

Under Alberta rules, political parties cannot merge. Rather, they must fold up shop and surrender their assets before seeking to create a new party.

Wildrose party Leader Brian Jean has said he's open to meeting with the new PC leader, but has stressed that any new conservative party will be created under a Wildrose legal framework, with the approval of Wildrose members.

Jean congratulated Kenney in a statement Saturday evening.

"Wildrose has its dancing shoes on when it comes to creating a single, principled, consolidated, conservative movement,'' he said. "I hope to meet with Jason on Monday and share with him more about the direction I have heard from our members.''

Kenney has stressed unity is necessary to avoid the vote splitting he says led to the majority win by Premier Rachel Notley's NDP in 2015. Notley's win brought to an end four decades of PC rule in the province.

An attendee, who declined to give his name, tries on a Jason Kenney cowboy hat at the Alberta PC Party leadership convention in Calgary on March 17, 2017. (Photo: Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Kenney attacked the New Democrats in his speech after his win.

"Today is the beginning of the end of this disastrous socialist government,'' he said as supporters roared their approval. "You have decided, we have decided, to ensure the defeat of this tax-hiking, job-killing, debt-loving, mean-spirited, incompetent NDP government.

"We Albertans are going to unite to take our province back.''

Starke and Nelson ran on promises to follow the wishes of party members who voted just a year ago to not merge with the Wildrose, but instead rebuild the PCs.

Kenney's critics fear he will abandon the party's centrist approach on social issues to embrace the social conservatism of the Wildrose.

“Today is the beginning of the end of this disastrous socialist government.”

— Jason Kenney

Delegates booed Starke during his speech earlier Saturday when he warned that a merger with the Wildrose could tar the PCs with the label of intolerance toward women and minorities.

The NDP immediately reached out to progressive voters on Twitter after Kenney's win.

"Progressives looking for a modern and moderate party? Welcome,'' the party said. "Join us.''

For Kenney, unity is a road map with no road. There is no provision in the PC constitution to dissolve itself and the leader is just one vote on the party's board of directors.

The PCs and Wildrose, should they join forces, would have just two years to create constituency associations and field candidates in time for the next election, set for the spring of 2019.

Kenney has said Canada's conservative parties united federally in far less time, bringing about the Conservative governments of former prime minister Stephen Harper.

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