Alberta's Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties can theoretically merge without forfeiting assets, according to a group of politically conservative lawyers who say Elections Alberta's suggestions to the contrary are wrong.
"We have found no legislation specifically prohibiting the merger of two non-profit organizations that happen to be registered political parties," the group said in a statement issued Monday.
The parties "may amalgamate under Alberta law without government consent or penalty," the statement added.
The group calls itself the Alberta Conservative Consolidation Committee and consists of five self-described "volunteer lawyers" who support the Wildrose or PCs.
Some of the lawyers have been politically involved in the past but none have any current, formal ties to either party, according to the group's chairman Andy Crooks.
The group's report outlines two different scenarios by which the parties could amalgamate under the provincial Societies Act or the federal Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, depending on how exactly the PC Party is defined — or redefined — as a legal entity.
Crooks said the group wanted to independently study the legal questions surrounding a political merger and its findings contradict what has been stated publicly by Elections Alberta.
Last month, deputy chief electoral officer Drew Westwater said there's no formal process for two political parties to merge in the province, but it would be possible for them to dissolve and reform as a new party.
But Westwater said a party's dissolution would mean it would have to pay off all existing debts and any leftover funds would go to Elections Alberta.
Crooks said it would "overstate the case" to suggest his group was accusing Elections Alberta of acting in bad faith but he believes its public statements regarding a potential merger were inappropriate.
"Regulators with serious authority such as Elections Alberta should not be answering hypothetical questions," Crooks said. "They should wait until they see the facts and then arrive at a determinative decision."
Richard Jones, another lawyer in the group, described Elections Alberta's publicly stated position as "off-the-cuff" and not fully informed, from a legal standpoint.
"I think what I've seen from Elections Alberta is that they've yet to come to a comprehensive opinion as to whether it can be done," he said.
Jones believes his group's legal position is virtually airtight.
"We're of the view that once Elections Alberta reviews it, there's no real comeback or opposition to it," he said.
Elections Alberta stands by its position
Alberta chief electoral officer Glen Resler said Elections Alberta has yet to take a detailed look at the lawyers' report but it will review the document.
"We'll take into consideration the comments they make and determine whether that has any impact on our interpretation and legal opinion of our legislation," he said.
For now though, Resler said Elections Alberta stands by its position.
Regardless of legislation governing the merging of non-profit entities, he said Alberta's election law prohibits one party from transferring funds to another party.
"If a party transfers to another it would be a contribution," he said. "Because only individuals are eligible to make contributions in Alberta, it would be prohibited."
Resler also defended Elections Alberta's previous statements on the topic, saying it has a duty to answer questions and keep the public informed.
Crooks disclosed relationships the committee members have had with both the PC and Wildrose parties.
He said he has personally raised money for both Wildrose Leader Brian Jean and newly elected PC Leader Jason Kenney.
Crooks has also known Kenney personally for more than 20 years. He was chair of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation when Kenney was its executive director.
Jones, meanwhile, ran as a candidate for the Wildrose in the 2012 provincial election.
Tyler Shandro, another member of the committee, is a former executive member of the PC party.
The other members of the committee are Rick Breen and Julia Loney.
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This is the full Alberta Conservative Consolidation Committee report: