Embattled federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told hundreds of Alberta conservatives Friday he will stay on and fight despite the efforts of detractors trying to push him out.
"Some people have asked why am I still fighting. Why I don't just give up? Because I can't and I won't," Scheer said in a speech to the United Conservative Party's annual general meeting in Calgary.
"Because Justin Trudeau isn't stopping his fight for his version of Canada. So neither will I."
The crowd was polite and cheered at points throughout Scheer's speech. A widespread walkout of members that was rumoured to be in the works did not transpire.
Although the Conservatives won 33 of Alberta's 34 federal ridings, there is frustration because the party didn't win enough seats nationally to form the government. Some prominent conservatives have called on Scheer to step down before the party's convention in April where he will face a leadership review. Scheer said "losing hurts" and acknowledged the result was hard on Albertans who "are on the front lines of what is at stake if Justin Trudeau is allowed to keep doing what he did for the last four years."
Scheer said he wanted to hear from party members about how the Conservatives can win and not from naysayers he claimed were trying to divide the party.
"When we focus on our differences, instead of our common goals and our vision for a strong and united Canada, we have snatched victory from ourselves in the past," Scheer said.
"But I have met with Conservatives right across this country and I know that that isn't what our convention is going to be about. It's going to be a convention where Conservatives of every stripe come together, and like we always do when we work together, we are going to come up with some big ideas."
Fair deal panel
Scheer's speech kicked off the United Conservative Party's three-day annual general meeting, the first since the party formed government after winning last spring's election.
Premier Jason Kenney is to speak to members on Saturday — with an introduction by Laureen Harper, wife of former prime minister Stephen Harper — followed by questions from party rank and file on Sunday.
Talk focusing on a "fair deal" for Alberta is set for Saturday afternoon. The "fair deal" panel was struck earlier this month by Kenney to look at tax system changes, a provincial police force and equalization.
Speaking on Friday to a business forum hosted by the law firm Bennett Jones in Lake Louise, Kenney said his government will seek every possible way to maximize Alberta's leverage in the federation.
But he struck a somewhat conciliatory note toward the federal Liberal government, noting that, after meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, he believes Ottawa is committed to completing construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Kenney also said while the renewed sense of alienation in Alberta is real and should not be ignored, most people in the province don't favour separation.
"Albertans are proud Canadians. We are proud to have been a major engine of prosperity and shared generosity across the federation. We want to continue playing that role," he said.
UCP party members are set to vote on a variety of resolutions through the weekend and will elect new members to the board of directors.
Facebook groups, ranging from students to public-sector workers, are encouraging people to come out on Saturday afternoon to protest government budget cuts.