Alberta’s United Conservatives will hold their second annual general meeting under Premier Danielle Smith on Friday and Saturday in an event that has seen registrations surge with seats on the party’s board up for grabs.
It’s expected the number of delegates will far surpass previous AGMs, including the UCP’s founding convention in 2018, which drew around 2,500 members.
This weekend, more than 3,500 members are anticipated to file into Calgary’s BMO Centre, which was chosen as the venue after the number of attendees outgrew the previous site of the Grey Eagle Resort & Casino.
The event comes as Alberta is locked in a battle of wills with Ottawa over pensions and power. Those are subjects political observers expect Smith will use as chief areas of focus during her keynote address, scheduled for Saturday afternoon.
Her speech will also be revealing in terms of how she seeks to keep her party united behind her, noted Lisa Young, a University of Calgary political science professor.
“One of the things that Premier Smith has to do in order to stay in office is to keep the party on the ground happy. I think it will be really interesting to watch to see the mood of the convention,” Young said.
That may be easier said than done when it comes to managing competing groups along the conservative spectrum vying for power — the most notable being Take Back Alberta, a group registered as a third-party political advertiser with Elections Alberta that has been vocal in pushing for change around various social issues.
Some of those social issues are reflected amongst the 30 policy resolutions that will be voted on by members during the convention, including:
- Banning race-based admissions in post-secondary institutions.
- Requiring written consent of parents whenever a student under 16 wants to change their name or pronouns at school.
- Ending provincial funding of supervised consumption sites.
- Refusing transgender women in women’s correctional facilities.
- Prohibiting the implementation of so-called ’15-minute cities.‘
Other resolutions may sound more familiar to followers of conservative politics in the province, such as opposing net-zero power rules in Canada by 2035.
Policy resolutions, which are brought forward by party members and voted on at party meetings, are non-binding. If a resolution passes, Albertans shouldn’t expect government to act on it immediately afterward, noted Young.
“It does give us a bit of insight into the party’s grassroots and that base that the premier certainly keeps in mind,” she said. “So it’s not that it’s meaningless. But it’s also not something that gives us a roadmap for the government over the next number of months or years.”
Take Back Alberta pushing for board control
At a recent Take Back Alberta event in Taber, Alta., the head of the group, David Parker, attributed much of the surge in attendees for this year’s UCP AGM to his group’s efforts.
Last year, the group sent hundreds of its members to the UCP AGM and swept all nine open seats on the party’s board, representing half. The other half of the board, including its president, will be elected this weekend. Current UCP president Cynthia Moore, long a target of ire from TBA members, is not running for re-election.
“No matter what happens at this AGM, we will have a majority of the board — we’ll have an absolute majority of the board,” Parker told attendees in Taber on Oct. 18. “What that will guarantee for you is grassroots representation, no matter what.”
In his speech, Parker outlined some of his group’s priorities, among them being “parental rights.” The Saskatchewan government recently passed a bill that makes parental consent required before a child under 16 can use a different gender-related name or pronoun at school.
Take Back Alberta claims many in its camp are attending the AGM, which presumably means those individuals will vote for a board that pushes for their agenda, noted Lori Williams, a Mount Royal University political science professor.
“You have to wonder whether these concerns reflect the kinds of things that most Albertans are concerned about,” Williams said.
“If it’s too far afield where most Albertans are, then it could have an impact on whether the party is seen to represent most Albertans, and that could have electoral consequences down the road.”
Christine Myatt, a spokesperson for Jason Kenney during his time as premier, said she would be watching to see how the large number of delegates affects policy, debates and board elections, adding that the potential record number of attendees makes this AGM “particularly unpredictable.”
“We know that Premier Danielle Smith takes her base and the opinions of her base very seriously,” said Myatt, who is now a senior consultant with New West Public Affairs.
“We have some controversial policies coming to the floor for discussion. And I’m really interested to see how the large number of registered delegates impacts those debates.”
Myatt said Smith will need to send a signal that she is listening to her base, while remembering she is a premier for all Albertans.
“We do know what happens when the base feels like it’s not being listened to. It often organizes itself to take out different leaders,” Myatt said.
Colin Aitchison, a former spokesperson for the UCP under ministers Adriana LaGrange and Nicholas Milliken, and an acting director of government communications to Premier Smith, is now a senior consultant for Enterprise Canada.
He said he expected much of Smith’s speech to be tailored to the grassroots while minding the rest of the UCP’s membership across the conservative spectrum.
“We have centre-right conservatives who agree with more left-leaning views, and then we have conservatives on the further right,” he said.
“She’s going to have to provide a balanced perspective on party policies. Obviously, serve up some red meat to the base to keep them energized.”
The opening ceremony for the AGM takes place Friday at 5:45 p.m.
Board candidate speeches and voting taking place Saturday morning. Board election results will be announced that evening.
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