Jason Kenney has been fined $5,000 by the Progressive Conservative Party for breaking leadership rules by holding a hospitality suite in the same building as a party Delegate Selection Meeting on Nov. 16, 2016. He lost the 15 delegates spots elected at the Edmonton-Ellerslie meeting, where the rule breaking occurred. A second vote in that constituency will be scheduled for a later date.
Despite losing the 15 delegates, Mr. Kenney is still cleaning up at Delegate Selection Meetings being held in other constituencies. According to my rough count, Mr. Kenney currently has the support of 35 delegates elected at three recent meetings. The other three candidates – Richard Starke, Stephen Khan and Byron Nelson – have the support of 9 elected delegates.
Mr. Kenney has the weight of the federal Conservative Party, including former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, behind him. Even with the organizational and financial advantage of having the support of Alberta’s conservative establishment, including a legion of lobbyists and Wildrose Party supporters, the system being used to elect delegates to the March 2017 leadership convention might lead to his greatest advantage.
Unlike delegate systems that have been used by other parties, like the federal Liberal and New Democratic Parties, the delegates elected in the PC Party leadership race are not proportional to the total votes cast in support of each leadership candidate. The PC Party delegate selection rules state that “The voter must clearly mark an ‘X’ to select their top fifteen (15) delegate candidates,” which amounts to a first-past-the-post system (or a winner-takes-all system) to select delegates.
This means that, like general elections in Alberta, the delegates with the most votes, not necessarily a majority of the votes, will win. This means it is possible for delegates supporting Mr. Kenney to earn 30 percent of the total votes cast and still win 100 percent of open delegate spots at a Delegate Selection Meeting.
For example, at a local Delegate Selection Meeting to choose 15 delegates (10 open delegate spots and 5 delegate spots reserved for local executives) it would be possible for delegates supporting Mr. Kenney to win all 15 spots if his slate earned the votes of a minority of voting party members at that meeting. If 30 party members at a DSM voted for the slate of ten delegates supporting Mr. Kenney, while slates supporting Mr. Starke, Mr. Nelson and Mr. Khan earned 26 votes, 24 votes and 20 votes, then Mr. Kenney’s slate could win all 15 of the delegate spots up for election that meeting.
Although the delegates elected at these meetings are not officially “bound” to a leadership candidate, Mr. Kenney’s campaign is organizing slates in each constituency. It is likely that these delegates will face heavy pressure to support Mr. Kenney at the March 2017 leadership convention. And as long his opposition is split between the other three candidates, a united front against him could be unlikely.
While it was initially believed that a delegate system would help shield the party from a hostile takeover, like the one being led by Mr. Kenney, this weakness might actually make it easier for him to win the leadership. Unless support for the continued existence of the PC Party coalesces around one single candidate, it might be difficult to stop his campaign from securing a majority of delegate spots to seal his victory before Christmas.
Meanwhile, the “Unite Alberta Party” name has been reserved by Elections Alberta, meaning that someone has initiated the process of registering a new political party under that name. Unite Alberta is the for-profit organization set up to fund Mr. Kenney’s leadership campaign when he announced his candidacy this past summer. Political watchers will have noticed the “Unite Alberta” slogan on the Kenney campaign’s Trump-like baseball caps.
The “Unite Alberta Party” could be the planned name for a new party that would be created if Mr. Kenney wins the PC Party leadership and moves forward with his plans to merge the party with the Wildrose Party.
While I am sure Mr. Kenney and his supporters would prefer to brand the new party as the Conservative Party of Alberta, that might not be an available option. Section 7 (3) (a.1) of the Elections Finances and Contributions Act states that a party cannot use a name used by another party until the name goes unused for a general election.
So it is possible the Chief Elections Officer could determine that the Progressive Conservative Party and Conservative Party are too similar to support that name change before the next election. In that case, the “Unite Alberta Party” could be a convenient placeholder until after the next election, expected to be held in 2019 or 2020.