Premier Danielle Smith gave a solid speech at her party’s convention Saturday, touching on great things she sees for Alberta in coming years, including inter-city rail lines, a powerhouse economy, and a stronger place in Canada.
Smith’s grand dream got polite applause from the vast crowd of more than 3,000 UCP members at the BMO Centre hall.
But when she mentioned protecting parental rights, they burst from their seats with a mammoth mass cheer.
That was the whole convention in one dramatic moment.
A premier trying to set a wider public agenda faced a crowd demanding abolition of diversity offices in universities, banning race as a factor in admissions, ending transfer of transgender convicts to women’s prisons, purging school libraries, the right to approve changes to kids’ pronouns, freedom of doctors to ignore their professional associations, the right to keep guns, and a great deal more.
These motions were met with a forest of YES signs. Only a proposal for school vouchers lost, and that was close.
Members who pointed out problems with resolutions were simply ignored. The mere presence of expertise annoyed some delegates.
I’ve covered nearly every major conservative meeting held in Alberta since 1978. There has never been one remotely like this, not even the angry Wildrose sessions in the early teens. To find an equally ardent group of social conservatives, we probably have to go back to Social Credit before 1971.
I have to say, these delegates were polite to their moderate opponents (few) and even to the media. Reporters were sometimes approached by friendly and curious UCP members, like creatures in a petting zoo.
But the members are fierce in their beliefs and expect the premier to bring their resolutions into law. Smith can’t possibly do this without abandoning all hope of expanding the party base and winning another election, after almost losing the last one.
“The people at this convention are not at all representative of the party’s wider base,” says Cynthia Moore, the past party president who finished her term Saturday.
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It’s true that many moderate conservatives voted UCP in May. But they don’t run this party anymore. It’s firmly in control of forces that have been building ever since the UCP was formed in 2018.
This budding resistance was expected to fade after Premier Jason Kenney quit. Then it would wither after Smith captured the UCP leadership; then after she won the election.
Now it’s stronger than ever.
Rob Smith, approved by Take Back Alberta leader David Parker, won the race to replace Moore as president of the party apparatus.
Rick Orman, the “unity” candidate Smith surely wanted to win, lost even though he tried to make peace with Parker and TBA.
There’s no place in this group for anybody who smacks of the old establishment or doesn’t believe key systems like health care and education are hopelessly polluted by moderation and woke-ism.
One veteran organizer said: “This isn’t a party crowd at all. I doubt if a fraction of them give a penny to their riding associations. It’s a single-issue group.”
But they brought their people — in the case of Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul riding, nearly 190 people.
Centrist UCP supporters brought nobody, even though they could have found a good many moderates within walking distance of the BMO Centre.
Rural triumphalism is on open display. Parker said on X, formerly Twitter: “Little-known fact, the population of Calgary + Edmonton does not even equal the population of rural Alberta. We are the majority.”
(The “fact” is little known because it’s false. The cities have a combined population of more than half the province, whether considering metro areas or only the cities themselves.)
Parker also said: “This weekend begins a new age in Alberta, the Age of Democracy.
“After this AGM, the grassroots of the UCP will be in charge.
“Those who do not listen to the grassroots, or attempt to thwart their involvement in the decision-making process, will be removed form power.”
That’s a typically grandiose statement from Parker. They’re getting harder to dismiss.
Smith was asked at a news conference how she’d deal with the resolutions. Her answer is exactly what you’d expect from a premier who has to consider the whole province, not just a faction of her party.
The way resolutions are worded, she said, is that the government “should” do this or that: “We look at that as advice from our members, and then we have to take that to stakeholders and we have to take that to all Albertans because when you’re government, you have to govern for all Albertans.
“So I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to find the right balance on that. But it’s a process that we go through.”
The party members at this convention don’t want a process. They demand results.
Smith faces no rebellion. She’s generally liked and admired.
But so was Kenney, once upon a time.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald