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Not Your Grandpa’s Conservative Party

Take Back Alberta, a key Danielle Smith backer, continues its UCP takeover.

David Climenhaga 28 Mar 2023Alberta Politics

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at AlbertaPolitics.ca. Follow him on Twitter at @djclimenhaga.

A clearer picture is starting to emerge of how Take Back Alberta — the anti-vaccine, pro-convoy, Q-adjacent extremist group key to Danielle Smith’s victory in last year’s United Conservative Party leadership race — is now taking over her party one riding association at a time.

Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt sounded a warning bell about Take Back Alberta early this month in a Calgary Herald op-ed.

He was the first to use the phrase “a Take Back Alberta government” to describe how a post-election Danielle Smith government might function and act.

Look for a full-blown assault on public education, including attempts to take over local school boards by TBA cadres, and legislation to weaken public health measures, Bratt said in the op-ed, written with Sarah Biggs of Olsen-Biggs Public Affairs, who has worked as a Conservative political organizer.

We could also expect a TBA government to make good on Smith’s advocacy of an Alberta-autonomy agenda, they wrote — “creating Alberta provincial police to replace RCMP, Alberta tax collection agency to replace Revenue Canada, and an Alberta pension plan by pulling out of the Canada Pension Plan.” Eventually, we might also see “a referendum on Alberta’s separation from Canada.”

“This is not hyperbole or fearmongering,” they warned. “These are all statements coming from Take Back Alberta.”

Now we have an eyewitness account of TBA’s effort to gain control of the UCP party apparatus in the Livingstone-Macleod riding, which extends south from High River, home to Smith, all the way to the U.S. border in southwestern Alberta.

Writing in the Crowsnest Pass Herald March 15, publisher Lisa Sygutek described her experience and feelings as a Conservative supporter watching TBA in action.

“I have been a card-carrying conservative my entire adult life,” began Sygutek, who is also a Crowsnest Pass municipal councillor. “When I was in university, I was part of the young conservative organization. I believe in the party, well the party I used to know and understand, and I must tell you I don’t understand this party anymore.”

“What I experienced,” she wrote, “was basically a takeover by the ‘Take Back Alberta’ faction.”

Describing the election of candidates for the constituency association board in her community, she said, “It was bizarre. There was honestly a sense of extreme hostility in the room. It felt like a coup.”

That would seem fair. Indeed, what appears to have happened in Livingstone-Macleod could be described as a coup without stretching the facts too much.

“After the board elections, I found out that around 80 per cent of the board had been replaced and many of the new board members were a faction of the TBA group,” said Sygutek, who is also a director of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association.

She describes what sounds very much like a concerted effort to suppress the votes of people who don’t support TBA. The UCP, she wrote, “is fractured by an extreme right conservative group and people like me who are moderate are left bereft.”

There’s more, and I recommend you read Sygutek’s commentary.

Remember that TBA has already, as Bratt pointed out, enjoyed significant success turning the UCP into an extremist organization, and when it turned to taking over UCP constituency associations “assembled more than 500 people to attend the AGM for the Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre constituency association and took over the board, winning 28 of 30 seats that were up for re-election.”

This, he noted, lead to the party’s nomination being reopened with the intention of replacing former cabinet minister Jason Nixon with a more radical candidate.

The same group is moving to take over other UCP riding associations.

Back in November last year, the Globe and Mail reported how TBA managed to gain significant control of the party’s provincial board.

As often happens with developments of this type, less attention has been paid to this group than it deserved when it was campaigning for Smith’s leadership. Obviously, it’s time to start paying some heed to what voices within the Conservative party, like that of Sygutek, are saying.

If it ever was, the UCP is not your grandfather’s Conservative party anymore.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Alberta

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