David Parker’s bespectacled eyes widened as the Take Back Alberta leader told his fellow political activists what will happen at the United Conservative Party’s annual convention this weekend.
It’s different from what most traditional politicians will say is happening at Calgary’s BMO Centre: a political party where members can applaud leader Danielle Smith, get drunk in hospitality suites and elect party apparatchiks who They manage fundraising dollars and help constituent associations file paperwork. on time.
Parker sees it in more revolutionary terms.
He sees this as an opportunity to elect an “absolute majority” of the UCP board of directors, loyal to his movement and its beliefs.
‘Control your politicians’
Parker has taken credit for helping prompt Albertans to channel their anger with COVID rules into ousting former Premier Jason Kenney, replacing him with Danielle Smith and electing like-minded Conservatives to make up half of the UCP board of directors at the annual general meeting last fall. She is among the organizers who encouraged 3,725 Albertans to attend this weekend’s event, largely to fill the other half of the board seats.
But lately the charismatic Parker has tried to shake off accusations that he is a aspiring puppeteer, rather than a great grassroots empowerer. “I don’t want to control the prime minister; I’m not interested in that,” he told a crowd in the small town of Taber, Alta., last month. “I want you to control your politicians. I want the people to be in charge.”
SEE | How Take Back Alberta tries to take over the UCP:
Attendees at the Take Back Alberta events Parker has held across the province are motivated by the continued fights against the threat of mask mandates or any threats to their personal freedoms and, more recently, by the fight for ” parental rights” when it comes to transgender children. . Those who vote for the UCP president at the Annual General Meeting will also be able to vote on several political resolutions on issues such as student pronouns and medical freedoms.
On the eve of the convention, Parker took an even more decisive tone on social media.
“After this General Assembly, the rank and file of the UCP will be in charge.” he wrote Thursday night. “Those who do not listen to the grassroots or attempt to thwart their participation in the decision-making process will be removed from power.”
But if there is a “control” mentality that many of those record crowds bring to the United Conservative General Assembly, political veterans have a warning for them:
Parties don’t work that way.
“The reality of modern politics is that the influence of the elected board is either overstated or not all that significant,” says David Yager, chairman of the Wildrose party when Smith led it a decade ago.
These were thankless tasks to manage the party’s operations, especially outside of electoral periods: it was administrative and technical governance stuff, and no one wanted the jobs.
“You didn’t go to the bathroom in the middle of a meeting because you came back and found out you were president,” Yager joked.
That couldn’t be further from the excitement surrounding Danielle Smith’s party in 2023. Local groups the UCP and Take Back Alberta have hosted multiple candidate forums for positions like vice-president of communications and southern regional director. Other activists have made videos of interviews with candidates.
It arises from misinformation about how much caucuses matter, says Dustin Franks, who was party director in Calgary until it was swept away by the so-called “freedom movement” last fall.
“It’s like a dog that (chases and) eventually takes off the bumper of a car, and then says, ‘I don’t know what to do now,'” Franks told Breaking:. “What is his move trying to accomplish besides taking over a board of directors?”
It’s those political issues, like residual frustration over COVID, that animate many of the UCP’s new members. Joanny Liu is a traditional Chinese doctor who helped lead “freedom rallies” in Calgary during the pandemic and is now running for UCP secretary.
“It’s really important to push our MLAs to put all of those policies, the best ones, into law,” Liu said at a Take Back meeting last week at a northeast Calgary hotel.
As much as most party leaders like to say they listen to the grassroots, there is usually tension between decision makers and simple party card holders.
Kenney initially courted the United Conservatives with promises of a “grassroots guarantee” that he would carry out their wishes.
But that willingness hit a wall in 2018, when members at the first UCP convention voted to require parents to be notified if students enroll in a gay-straight school alliance. Not wanting to allow the NDP to capitalize on a socially divisive issue, Kenney rejected that resolution, saying, “I hold the pen to the platform.”
At the federal level, conservative leader Pierre Poilievre is similarly grappling with his recent proposal from party members ban medical interventions for transgender youth.
Although Smith is generally as motivated as this part of the UCP base is to hate pandemic restrictions, her personal convictions It goes against the conservative trend of, as she puts it, “politicizing” the situations of transgender or transitioning youth.
At last year’s Annual General Meeting, members overwhelmingly supported a resolution calling for the government to protect the rights of parents “so as not to require them to affirm or socially condition a child into a gender identity that is incongruent with the child’s sex.” birth of the child”, but Smith and his Cabinet effectively ignored that wish.
This time could be different, with so many people excited to attend this convention and vote for executives and political ideas.
Presidential candidate Jack Redekop has promised that his party executive will demand semi-annual reports from the UCP leader on how they are implementing party policy.
While many members don’t understand the party caucus’s ability to get policies passed, they will expect to see action from the prime minister, says fellow presidential candidate Rob Smith. “If they don’t, there will probably be some backlash.”
After all, this base fired Kenney for going against their wishes on pandemic rules, and Rob Smith and Redekop are folk heroes in many circles for being two of the UCP presidents who challenged the former prime minister’s leadership.
But these conservatives seem firmly behind Danielle Smith.
Parker praises Smith as a freedom fighter, but expressed his own caution this week on a UCP channel in the Telegram social media app. “The freedom movement cannot be his friend,” she wrote. “They should hold her accountable.”
It is unclear to what extent the Prime Minister is quietly trying to manage the results of this convention, as leaders often do. His Saturday speech to the convention audience and his reaction to the resolutions voted on later that day may help determine how much resistance there really is.
Even if Smith manages to ignore controversial party resolutions as others have done, a more activist core of party directors could point Alberta’s ruling party in different directions. The things on a board does What matters: They will exercise control over fundraising messages, candidate nominations and can frame conditions around a leadership review that, if a convention resolution passes, would take place next year.
New guard, old guard
Has been reported friction between the new generation of members and Kenney-era establishment members on the board, including outgoing chairwoman Cynthia Moore, whom Parker has called a “power-hungry tyrant.”
Insiders say it is incorrect to view TBA-aligned board members as drones willing to carry out the wishes of Parker or the freedom movement. But they risk causing headaches for a leader who will naturally want to assert his own control over the party.
“They don’t always know what’s good for her and what’s going to hurt her,” says a United Conservative familiar with partisan issues.
TBA is not endorsing anyone this year, although other groups have, including the pro-independence Alberta Prosperity Project. The preferred choices for president among the “freedom” group are Redekop and Rob Smith, facing small-town newspaper owner Ruven Rajoo, and Rick Orman, an Alberta cabinet minister in the 1980s who has been active in provincial conservative politics since then.
Some activists view Orman’s long resume as a negative and argue that he is too much of an establishment man. His debate speech focuses more on building a party machine that can defeat the NDP in the next election, rather than on grassroots engagement and changing government policy.
As a way of downplaying the importance of a UCP president in the policy-making food chain, Orman likes to say: while more than 3,000 Albertans voted for the UCP board, that’s a large number by anyone’s standards. of the party’s Annual General Assembly, about a million voted for Danielle Smith as prime minister.
At the same time, however, while most Albertans don’t have a say in his leadership until the 2027 general election, that smaller group will have their say sooner.