By voting to join forces over the weekend, the Alberta Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties have increased their odds of defeating Rachel Notley’s New Democrats. But lessons from the 2003 merger that created the federal Conservative Party should caution them against taking victory for granted — or thinking that one plus one will equal two.
At 95 per cent in favour of a merger that will create the United Conservative Party (UCP), the vote among the two parties’ respective members was nearly unanimous. But the general voting population may not get on board in such big numbers, if the last merger of conservative forces is any guide.
In 2003, the federal Progressive Conservatives under Peter MacKay and the Canadian Alliance under Stephen Harper agreed to merge.
There are similarities between the two events. In both cases, the older conservative party — the PCs — was overtaken by an upstart, populist party created by disgruntled members from the older organization.
The Reform Party and, subsequently, the Canadian Alliance formed the Official Opposition in Ottawa after the 1997 and 2000 federal elections, just as Wildrose did after the 2012 and 2015 provincial votes. The federal PCs were decimated in 1993 and were on life support, just as the Alberta PCs were in the aftermath of the 2015 election that ended their 44-year run in office.
Lessons from the past
In their last election as individual parties in 2000, the PCs and Canadian Alliance combined for 38 per cent of the vote, just three points behind Jean Chrétien’s Liberals. The Liberals benefited from the split on the right — the Canadian Alliance took 25.5 per cent and the PCs 12 per cent — to secure a majority government.
But in 2004, the Conservatives were unable to retain all the support of their two legacy parties. Their combined vote share fell by eight percentage points to 30 per cent.
In raw ballots cast, the Conservatives were down 824,000 votes. Though there…