A Tory and Wildrose merger is legally possible
There has been much discussion lately about whether the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta should or could co-operate to create a united, principled, competent alternative to the NDP government.
Questions raised in these discussions include whether there are any legal obstacles to a merger, and if so, how these might be overcome.
To address these questions, the Manning Centre asked the law firm of Masuch Albert LLP to review the relevant provincial legislation and regulations, the treatment of the assets of merging political parties in Alberta, and other relevant documentation and precedents.
In response, we received a memorandum that is available on our website, www.manningcentre.ca, so Albertans, including the leaders, members and grassroots supporters of both parties may have access to this material.
The principal finding of the Masuch Albert memorandum may be summarized as follows: If the membership and leadership of the parties should decide to unite, such a union is legally possible.
The best approach, as discussed in the document, would see both parties sign a memorandum of understanding to create a new entity, spend their existing funds in pursuit of the joint venture, and formally join the new entity once these funds had been expended.
The memorandum notes that unlike federal legislation governing political parties, the Alberta legislation does not provide the chief electoral officer with a mechanism for directly recognizing the merger of political parties and prohibits the direct transfer of assets from one party to another.
These obstacles to a merger can be overcome, however, by following the approach recommended previously.
In April 2016, Alberta’s chief electoral officer indicated another possible approach to uniting, despite the lack of specific provisions for mergers in the provincial act.
This approach, again through a memorandum of understanding, would see one party wind up its operations and exhaust its funds before deregistering, while continuing the operations of the second party, along with its fundraising.
The second party would then simply change its name and register the new party and name with the chief electoral officer. The difficulty with this approach, however – which would see one party continue operating while the other winds down – is that it would likely be unacceptable to the membership of the party winding up its operations.
The approach recommended by the Masuch Albert memorandum avoids this difficulty by respectfully treating the merging parties as equals – a condition essential to the successful negotiation of any memorandum of understanding leading to a merger.
While the Masuch Albert memorandum did not discuss how parties and constituency associations interested in combining to create a new entity could use their existing funds “in pursuit of a joint venture,” a number of constructive options exist.
For instance, the two parties could use their resources to fund additional opposition research to better hold the NDP government more accountable and to develop platform components for the new entity. Such funds could also be used to train staff, candidates and grassroots activists in preparation for the next election.
One thing should be clear: Any plan to create a united, principled, competent, alternative to the NDP government would ultimately need to carry the judgment of the grassroots membership and leadership of both the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.
Time will tell whether such an option will be pursued, but the legal advice contained in the Masuch Albert memorandum should be helpful in informing the discussion.
Preston Manning is the founder of the Manning Centre.
This column was published by the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal on October 22, 2016