David Parker, executive director of the Take Back Alberta faction of the United Conservative Party, was tweeting about Alberta Health Services’ new enhanced-masking directive first thing Thursday morning, the day the provincial health authority’s weak buck-passing response to a resurgence of COVID-19 in Alberta hospitals took effect.
“Masks do not work,” Parker declared inaccurately, but with passionate intensity.
“The fact that AHS is trying to push them again shows that a hostile and communist ideology has taken over our health-care system and is defying the democratic will of the people,” concluded the man who boasts he is a “black belt” in political organizing.
“They must be removed from any decision-making roles,” his mini-rant concluded.
On Friday morning, he returned to the same theme in the same venue: “Dear Leadership of Alberta Health Services,” he tweeted. “We are coming for you, and we will not rest until your evil communist ideology is eradicated from the face of this province. Sincerely, Take Back Alberta.”
Parker sounds like a nut, but he has to be taken seriously because supporters of the insurgent group he founded occupy nine of the 18 seats on the UCP’s board of directors. As is well known, Take Back Alberta aims to grab the rest at the party’s annual general meeting in Calgary on Nov. 3 and 4.
If there is resistance from traditional conservatives within the UCP meant to block TBA’s takeover bid, it is not obvious.
Former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and leadership contender Rick Orman is seeking the party presidency and has launched a “Unity Slate” of candidates for the nine open board positions, but it’s not clear if he’s challenging TBA or seeking it imprimatur.
Nor is it obvious if Parker and other Take Back Alberta insurgents are even interested in unity. At this point, they may be confident enough to expect to purge the UCP completely of any remaining moderates and traditional conservatives.
Even if Take Back Alberta controls the United Conservative Party machinery, it still won’t be able to force the party’s legislative caucus to do what it wants, but that may not be necessary. It will have enormous influence, and quite possibly the ability to remove the leader, Premier Danielle Smith, who attended Parker’s wedding last spring.
In his mid-30s, Parker boasts he has worked as an advisor to the likes of federal Conservatives Stephen Harper, Rona Ambrose and Erin O’Toole. He brags about his role in the party coup that removed former premier Jason Kenney from power for offending the UCP’s far-right base with his government’s COVID policies.
He portrays himself as just an ordinary guy from Central Alberta, home schooled and successful because he’s in tune with what folks in Wild Rose Country really think.
Say what you will about Parker, he’s not shy about expressing his opinions, even if they sound unhinged.
He has called the UCP’s outgoing party president a “power-hungry tyrant” and demanded her removal. Cynthia Moore chose not to run for re-election instead. He’s of the opinion women ought to be at home having babies, not spending their days working or, God forbid, in demanding careers. He demands “an end to the climate cult” and for society to “eradicate gender ideology from our schools.” He seems to think the COVID-19 vaccine makes you sick. He calls ideas he disagrees with communism, as in Thursday’s and Friday’s tweets.
He has attended anti-LGBTQ rallies throughout Alberta and vowed to have his supporters take over school boards and fire principals who won’t toe TBA’s line on gender and pedagogy. And, to the annoyance of some conservatives who may accept much of his agenda, he’s prepared to take credit for almost every success enjoyed by the right flank of the UCP.
He gets up lots of people’s noses on social media, too — which is presumably his goal — although he does so without the humour and mordant wit that characterized Matt Wolf, Kenney’s “executive director of issues management” and personal online troll. (We miss you, Matt!)
Indeed, Parker acts as if he doesn’t have any sense of humour at all, and takes himself far too seriously.
David Parker and the Ditchley Foundation
So, given Parker’s strong views about prophylactic medical masking, communism and COVID, not to mention his populist pose as a man of the people, it seems odd that he serves on the board of the Canadian arm of an elite establishment organization that posts a reasonably sensible COVID-19 policy on its website.
Google the Ditchley Foundation of Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, and you won’t find much about what it does beyond that it “holds conferences, with a primary focus on British-American relations,” as a rather skimpy Wikipedia article puts it. It occasionally rents out its picturesque headquarters to wedding parties and TV production companies.
Well, perhaps a certain vagueness is to be expected of an organization that includes a former chief of MI6, the U.K.’s secret intelligence service, among its “governors,” and invited the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to deliver its annual lecture in July.
At any rate, if Ditchley has a real purpose beyond chitchat about the troubles of the world, and the Special Relationship in particular, it would appear not to be for hoi polloi to ponder.
In a video made by the organization 11 years ago that verges on parody, a plummy voiced narrator explains that, “Here at Ditchley, high level experts from all over the world come to discuss the thorniest global problems.”
A hint about the organization’s goals may nevertheless be found in the fact the Donner Canadian Foundation — generous supporter of such noxious outfits as the Fraser Institute, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms includes Ditchley’s Canadian arm on its list of donation recipients.
Still, Ditchley appears to cater mainly to the upper crust.
The board of its Canadian wing includes a former CBC director, former Canadian ambassadors to France and China, partners in prestigious law firms, senior bankers, oil sands executives, an actual Trilateral Commission member and Canadian senator, a former Ontario Securities Commission chair, a former governor of the Bank of Canada… and David Parker!
What does the rough-hewn populist rabble-rouser from the Great Plains of Alberta have in common with this well-heeled crowd?
It can’t be his boast that “Take Back Alberta was created to remove power from the wealthy elite and put it in the hands of common people.”
Parker’s biography is an anomaly amid the restrained offerings of the rest of Ditchley’s distinguished establishment insiders, most of whom merely list their impressive credentials in abbreviated curricula vitae and occasionally modestly add a few charitable efforts or personal accomplishments.
Parker’s potted bio, by contrast, boasts of his role with TBA, an organization he says “was integral in removing Jason Kenney from office, helping elect premier Danielle Smith as one of two freedom candidates in the UCP leadership race, and organizing a slate for the UCP AGM.”
Surely Kenney would have fit in more naturally with the Ditchley crowd than Parker.
As for those freedom candidates, as the video says, the foundation is always looking for new ideas. Perhaps mastering heavy-handed MAGA rhetoric is now a requirement if one wishes to discuss British-American relations.
Ditchley also posts on its website a perfectly sane COVID-19 policy — dated, granted, 2020, when the pandemic was still being treated as an international public health crisis and not a communist plot.
The policy encourages remote work and social distancing, and permits the use of masks and Perspex screens to protect staff. Moreover, it firmly states, “Guests displaying symptoms will be asked to leave immediately.”
There is nary a hint that this might indicate communists are marching on Ditchley Park, the foundation’s lovely Oxfordshire HQ, which has been “an idyllic retreat for royalty and power since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.”
Indeed, the first Elizabeth is thought to have had her portrait painted on that site in 1592.
Pip! Pip! It’s remarkable that Parker can stand it!
UPDATE: On Saturday, Parker revealed he was being dropped from the Ditchley board. In a bitter sounding tweet, Parker complained that “the woke mob has succeeded in intimidating the Ditchley board to have me removed. So, I guess you guys are good at something!”
The tweet includes a screenshot of what appears to be part of an email or series of emails from Pierre Lortie, president of the Canadian arm of the foundation and a senior business advisor at the Dentons LLP law firm.
“I am writing to inform you that the Governance and Nominating Committee of the Canadian Ditchley Foundation has taken the decision not to recommend your reappointment as a Director of the Foundation for the coming year,” it says.