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Take Back Alberta's UCP board takeover is part of a long game
Some people are saying that TBA's control of the board doesn't suddenly make them more powerful. I say they're wrong.
The United Conservative Party’s annual general meeting was yet another successful get-together for the province’s most easily manipulated American wannabes.
From gun rights and opposing diversity initiatives in post-secondary institutions, to parental rights and banning books, it was difficult to tell if we were still watching a policy convention in Canada or a Fox News circle jerk.
Former UCP president Cynthia Moore attempted to soften the mostly irrelevant policy of “choice” by saying the crowd of ~3200 (or 3792) was “not at all representative of the party’s wider base”.
It’s probably not untrue. Not that it necessarily matters to those watching from the sidelines.
I always referred to it as a problem of “the weakest link”. While I work really hard not to paint every person who identifies with a group or is a member of a group with the same brush, the weakest link is always what holds me back from being able to unconditionally throw my support in any direction.
One would think I can’t be the singular exception.
This weekend’s UCP AGM was the weakest links on steroids.
We don’t have free speech in Canada, we have freedom of expression that may be limited if we use that freedom to infringe upon the rights of others. We don’t have parental rights to bend the public school system to our will, we have the right to choose where our children will be educated (limited by available options, unless you’re Catholic in Alberta or Saskatchewan and then the province has to build you a whole school).
The issues brought forward were straight out of Facebook groups south of the border and frightened little homogeneous communities who have convinced themselves “the left” is trying to take over their way of life.
Settle down, folks, it’s just the free markets.
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Although, it’s also politics
In 2016, Jason Kenney brought his busloads of youth members to the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta’s policy convention and leadership launch to take over the youth wing’s board. The “renewal” slate was annihilated by the promise of pepperoni pizza and Stephen Harper.
It’s just a simple numbers game — you get people who support you or your goal into the room and they will vote.
If you abandon the fight, they can fill your seat with someone who supports their goals. It’s like not voting — no one cares who you didn’t vote for, least of whom the person who won because you helped out most by not casting a vote for someone else.
Is it “dirty pool”? Since anyone can do it (insert caveat that most people who can’t spend a year or three driving around the province holding “free” events), I would have to say it’s exactly how politics — and democracy — works.
I became singularly focused on politics in January of 2015. I was working for the Alberta government and, every morning, we were sent an environmental scan of news items that included: our ministry, the minister, and/or the Premier.
You may recall that in January of 2015, rumour had it that we may see an early election, Jim Prentice was being accused of trying to decimate the Wildrose by poaching its leader, a recession was on its way — it was a mess.
A beautiful, scandalous, fascinating mess.
Two years later, in January of 2017, I went to my first major political event — a Jason Kenney Unite Alberta stop in Calgary.
Watching the news and coverage of the PC leadership race, and being in the rooms, everyone was selling memberships. “Vote for the next leader!”
I held off for a while as I already had one provincial membership, and had inadvertently become a member of a second provincial party by virtue of buying a federal membership, but eventually I purchased a membership so I could attend both a delegate selection meeting and the leadership convention. I couldn’t vote for the leader but I could be in the room.
That spring, I ended up with an opportunity to be part of an Alberta Liberal leadership campaign (and add a fourth party membership to my growing collection). I traveled the province with Kerry Cundal and her team, met lots of people who were interested in politics, and received a crash course from veteran campaigners in what it takes to win.
I also learned that when things are moving in a direction the executive doesn’t like, the party apparatus can intervene.
It has been noted that the PCs could have stuck to their own bylaws and disallowed Jason Kenney from even running for the leadership — leadership candidates were supposed to be members for at least one year prior to seeking candidacy, or receive a waiver from the party’s leadership election committee. Suddenly, I understood the importance of having a supportive board.
Recall Raj Sherman’s unsuccessful bid to join the UCP’s most recent leadership contest in 2022 — the board refused his application to waive the one-year membership requirement. Boards matter.
Deep in the euphoria of all politics all the time, I went back to where I started in 2015 — the Alberta Party — and put my name on the ballot for a board position.
Unfortunately, I was woefully unprepared for the amount of work that requires. Or I was far too busy with my own life to take it on. Probably definitely both.
I also went through another leadership race, this time while both on the board and the Leadership Election Committee. I mentioned I was far too busy for even just a regular old board position, right?
The point is that I’ve seen it from outside, almost inside, and right at the top; boards matter.
They can decide who runs for the party, who runs for the leadership, and — while it’s rarely used because they really like collecting membership fees — they can even have the final say over who can be a member.
So, while I’ve seen some commentary saying that boards don’t really have all that much sway over government, one has to look at the reality of the situation and understand that they may not have much sway over government yet.
And suddenly, the TBA acronym is much more impressive than it once seemed.