Members of Alberta’s United Conservative Party wrapped up their annual general meeting on Saturday by approving the vast majority of resolutions out forward, including one calling for a requirement that teachers and schools get written consent from parents before using names and pronouns chosen by students.
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“I want every parent listening today to hear me loud and clear. Parents are the primary caregivers and educators of their children,” said Premier Danielle Smith. That statement resulted in a standing ovation from the crowd.
“Regardless of how often the extreme left undermines the role of parents, I want you to know the parental rights and choice in your child’s education is and will continue to be a fundamental principle of this party, in this government, and we will never apologize for it,” Smith said.
There were nearly 3,800 people at the BMO Centre. Premier Danielle Smith said that makes it the largest provincial party meeting in Alberta’s history.
The big turnout may have been driven by ‘Take Back Alberta’, a third-party advertiser that’s been working on getting the voices of social conservatives heard.
Several of the resolutions were surrounding pandemic-related grievances, including one calling for the protection of medical practitioners’ rights.
Newly elected UCP president Rob Smith said the voice of the grassroots speaking out is “the most exciting thing to happen in politics in Alberta since the 1930s.”
“It’s people that are coming together first to indicate that they felt that this wasn’t their Alberta, only to find they had so many friends and neighbours that were close by and not close by, that has created a whole new community.”
Smith estimates more than 2,000 of the 3,800 people who were there at the meeting were at their first convention.
“I think the grassroots Albertans will not be not heard – ever again,” Smith said. “I think ‘Take Back Alberta’, as well as other conservative groups that have tried to create some structure and provide some opportunity for education, learning and training to all these folks, I think that’s been a tremendous thing for the conservative movement in Alberta.”
“I think that the new conservative movement to be characterized as socially conservative in my opinion is a mischaracterization,” Smith said.
McEwen University political science associate professor Chaldeans Mensah says the AGM reflects the ascendency of the Wild Rose part of the party.
“This AGM has cemented the Wild Rose control of this party, reflected in its rural base in groups like ‘Take Back Alberta’ have really taken over this political party,” Mensah said.
He doesn’t see this shift as a major problem for the party.
“They now have a sense of direction. The direction is what the members want — the government to be much more responsive to the concerns of the rural base of the party. This direction that has been given says you must listen to the base of the party, and I think this is a direction that Danielle Smith has to heed if she’s going to make any headway,” Mensah said.
He said many moderates of the party, mostly in the urban areas have left the party and moved to the NDP, and those that have remained share commonalties with the rural base, in terms of being tough against Ottawa.
“But when you get into the contentious social issues, I think this is where some of the progressive elements have a bit of concern,” Mensah said.
“The party has spoken, and I think those folks will come to accommodate this new direction and see where things lead.”
Speaking to reporters after her speech on Saturday, Smith downplayed the roll the AGM policy voting would have on decisions made by government.
“I am still hopeful that we can keep the temperature down on it and depoliticize it,” Smith said.
“I don’t think it needs to be polarizing. I think that we have to make sure that we are respecting the rights of parents but also making sure that kids feel protected and supported. I think we can find the right balance.”
Regarding parental rights Mensah said it’s conceivable that Smith will come up with a policy that tries to respect those rights without compromising some of the gains that have been made on the human rights front.
“It’s a tricky business, but I think it can be done,” Mensah said.
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