(Adds Kenney quote, details on UPC, background)
By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta May 18 The Progressive
Conservative and Wildrose parties in Canada's oil-rich province
of Alberta signed a tentative agreement on Thursday to merge,
creating a unified right-wing opposition to the ruling New
The United Conservative Party could provide a serious
challenge in the next provincial election, due in 2019, to
Premier Rachel Notley's left-leaning NDP, which was helped by
divisions on the right when it swept to power in 2015.
Alberta is home to Canada's vast oil sands and is the
largest exporter of crude to the United States. But it has been
struggling with a three-year slump in global oil prices and a
C$10.3 billion ($7.57 billion) deficit.
The energy industry is likely to welcome unification of the
right, with the new party eager to develop policies aimed at
cutting costs for the oil and gas sector.
Jason Kenney and Brian Jean, leaders of the PC and Wildrose
parties, have both pledged to scrap unpopular environmental
regulations, including carbon taxes and the phase-out of
coal-fired power plants.
"The first act of a United Conservative government will be
the carbon tax repeal act, the first job will be restarting
Alberta's economy, restoring investor confidence, getting jobs
back to our province," Kenney told a news conference in the
provincial capital, Edmonton, where he and Jean signed an
agreement to start the merger process.
Both parties will ask members to vote on the proposed merger
in coming weeks. Once approved, the new party will hold a
contest to elect a new leader, in which both Kenney and Jean
have said they will take part.
Some voters in the traditionally right-wing western province
say NDP policies like higher corporate taxes and a cap on oil
sands emissions have exacerbated the downturn by making Alberta
less attractive to potential investors.
In recent months, international oil majors have sold off
billions in oil sands assets and Canada has not made any
progress on building new crude export pipelines.
A February poll by Mainstreet/Postmedia showed the Wildrose
Party had 38 percent support among decided and leaning voters,
while the PC party had 29 percent and the NDP 23 percent.
"If the election was today, they (the NDP) would be sunk and
defeating a unified conservative party would be very difficult,"
said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal
University in Calgary. "Some people are blaming the entire
economic downturn on the NDP, even though it was occurring
before they were elected."
The PC party ruled Alberta for 44 years until 2015, while
the Wildrose Party was formed in 2008 because of dissatisfaction
with the PCs. The two parties have a combined 30 seats in the
Alberta legislature, versus 55 for the NDP.
Any move to scrap the carbon tax would cause tensions with
the federal Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,
which says it will impose a tax on provinces that do not move
independently to meet binding targets set by Ottawa to combat
($1 = 1.3605 Canadian dollars)
(Additional reporting by Ethan Lou in Calgary and David
Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney)