Alberta Wildrose leader reaches out to disenfranchised Conservatives

Alberta Wildrose leader reaches out to disenfranchised Conservatives
CALGARY -- Alberta Opposition Leader Brian Jean reached out to disenfranchised members of the Progressive Conservative Party in a speech to Wildrose delegates in Calgary on Friday.

Jean, whose party holds 22 seats in the Alberta legislature, told delegates that there was no time for gloating for the hard times that the former PC government has gone through since losing to the NDP last May.

"The events of the last decade or so caused the conservative movement in Alberta to ... split into two parties. The events of the last year have thrust one of those parties into a very difficult situation," Jean said at the Wildrose annual general meeting.

"The future of the Progessive Conservative Association in Alberta is in doubt. After the fierce and at times hurtful partisan battles of the past few years many people in the room tonight, myself included, sometimes feel like I should be inclined to celebrate this. But I m choosing to look at it a bit differently."

Jean, who got teary-eyed after a standing ovation at his introduction, said there are a "whole bunch of good conservatives" in the province who don t believe they have a "viable political home."

He said they know their old party is dying and they don t think they are welcome with Wildrose.

"Having these good people sidelined or worse, completely disinterested from politics, is not a good thing," Jean said.

"It s not a good thing for democracy. It s certainly not a good thing for conservatism," he added. "We need these people. We need their willingness to help and their belief in our great province."

Jean was reaffirmed as party leader at the meeting, with 78 per cent of voting members choosing not to hold a leadership review.

Jean had said earlier the party s constitution requires a review every three years so he thought Friday s meeting was a good time to ask supporters to rate his performance.

"Since I became leader, we ve had a general election where we ve performed very well, and we had a byelection where I think we performed exceedingly well. Both of those ought to give our membership an opportunity to tell me how they think I ve done," he said.

"If they think I should have done better, that s their opportunity, and if they think that I ve done great, that s their opportunity to give me their seal of approval."

Jean, a former federal MP, took over as Wildrose leader last March after the party had fallen into disarray.

Former leader Danielle Smith and eight Wildrose colleagues crossed the floor last December to join what were then the governing

Progressive Conservatives. Several other Wildrose MLAs had already left the party, which was left with just five seats.

"I would suggest Wildrose is coming off our most trying year in the history of the party. I couldn t be more proud of our 22 MLAs and the opportunity for our members to discuss policy," Jean said.

The leadership review and all policy discussions are behind closed doors, which is different from how the party has handled meeting previously.

"You mentioned past party practices and we all know what that led to," said Jean.

"I want to do things differently. I have a different management style. I m certainly open and transparent, but this is an opportunity for members to fully debate policy issues."
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