| CALGARY, Alberta
CALGARY, Alberta May 18 The Progressive
Conservative and Wildrose parties in Canada's oil-rich province
of Alberta have tentatively agreed to merge, a Wildrose
spokeswoman said on Thursday, creating a unified right-wing
opposition to the ruling New Democratic Party.
The move would 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 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 deficit.
The energy industry is likely to welcome unification of the
right, with the new party expected to be keen to develop
policies aimed at cutting costs for the province's oil and gas
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.
Some voters in the traditionally right-wing province, which
was ruled by the PC party for 44 years until 2015, 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.
"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."
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
Alberta's two conservative parties have been discussing a
merger for some time and Premier Notley told reporters the NDP
would continue to focus on policies, including maintaining
government spending and programs, despite the budget deficit.
"I'm happy to have that debate with one right-wing party or
10 right-wing parties," she told reporters at a news conference.
Any deal to merge would need to be approved by members of
(Additional reporting by Ethan Lou; Editing by Dan Grebler)