Tag Archives: Edmonton Pride Parade

UCP draws huge crowds, huge controversy to its first policy convention

(Photo credit: @Alberta_UCP on Twitter)

With more than 2,500 party members in attendance, this weekend’s United Conservative Party founding convention was one of the biggest political events in Alberta’s recent memory. It was a big show of force for the official opposition party, which continues to dominate in the polls and fundraising.

Ric McIver

Ric McIver

The convention should have been a victory lap for Jason Kenney after forcing the merger of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties and winning the new party’s leadership. Instead, the big story of the convention is how it was derailed by a membership base weirdly obsessed with Gay-Straight Alliances.

Fifty-seven percent of convention delegates voted in favour of a policy that would out students who join Gay-Straight Alliances. Supporters of the policy claimed it was about parental rights, but that did not stop three MLAs from going to mic to plead with UCP members to end the madness.

“This is about outing gay kids,” said Calgary-Hays UCP MLA Ric McIver as he pleaded with party members not to pass the policy. “Don’t be called the Lake of Fire party, I’m begging you. This will really severely hurt our chances at winning. Don’t do that to yourself.”

“When we’re talking about freedoms, that means all people’s freedoms. That means making sure that children have safe spaces in schools,” urged Chestermere-Rockyview UCP MLA Leela Aheer.

But the pleas from the MLAs were not enough to change the minds of members, including a well organized contingent of social conservatives, at the convention.

The debate over this motion came only days after Edmonton’s Pride Festival Society rejected the UCP’s application to march in this year’s pride parade. A similar application was rejected by Calgary’s Pride festival in August 2017.

Even though it was Kenney’s comments about Gay-Straight Alliances that reignited this issue back in March 2017, he now says he won’t implement the policy if he becomes premier.

It could, and probably will, be argued that Kenney’s denouncement of this policy contradicted his “Grassroots Guarantee” that the party membership will determine the party’s policies. Kenney used the “guarantee” as a way of circumventing any substantive policy debates during the 2017 UCP leadership contest.

It is not clear what other member-endorsed policies Kenney will choose to ignore if and when he becomes Alberta’s next premier.

UCP members also adopted policies to eliminate the carbon tax, reintroduce a flat tax, increase privatization in health care and education, and require parental consent for invasive medical procedures on a minor (this motion was cheered by anti-abortion groups).

All things considered, it is hard to imagine that Rachel Notley‘s New Democrats could have hoped for a better outcome this weekend.

One Big Conservative Family

An underreported story of this weekend’s convention is the very close relationship between the UCP and the Conservative Party of Canada.

The presence of a federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer as a keynote speaker would have been unheard of at any provincial party convention in recent years. Scheer was joined at the convention by a number of Conservative MPs, and former leader Rona Ambrose, who spoke at the convention on a panel about women in politics.

The relationship between the federal and provincial conservative parties has always been complex, but it has been exceptionally complicated over the past three decades. The rise of the Reform Party and collapse of the federal PC Party in the early 1990s meant there was no formal alliance between the dominant federal and provincial conservative parties in Alberta for many years.

Almost as soon as the Conservative Party of Canada was formed in 2003, the Alberta Alliance, and later the Wildrose Alliance and Wildrose Party split the provincial conservative movement, leaving federal Conservative MPs divided in their loyalties for the PC and Wildrose parties.

While most of the focus has been on the Wildrose-PC merger, Kenney’s “unity” extends to the federal party as well.

Alberta Conservatives now appear less united than they have in years

Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney took aim at the New Democratic Party and Alberta’s teachers this week, claiming that both groups are planning to hijack the July 22 vote to fold his party and the Wildrose Party into a new United Conservative Party. Kenney’s claims are unsubstantiated and are likely a distraction from the unity crisis happening in his own party.

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader,” wrote Sumita Anand in an email May 24, 2017 email announcing her resignation as west Calgary regional director on the Progressive Conservative Party board of directors.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive,” wrote Anand, who was president of the Calgary-Foothills PC association from 2014 to 2016.

Anand is one of a handful of high profile Conservatives to resign from the PC Party board since Kenney became leader on March 18, 2017.

Among the individuals who have left the PC Party board since the change in leadership include president Katherine O’Neill, northern finance committee chair Stephen Mandel, budget director Kim Krushell, southern Alberta vice-president Jordan Lien, south Calgary regional director Connor Turner, St. Albert regional director Lorna Wolodko, north Edmonton regional director Stephanie Shostak, central north east regional director Bud James and vice president organization Denise Brunner. Janice Harrington resigned as vice president outreach to become the party’s interim executive director.

Kenney’s public statements on Gay-Straight Alliances and his party’s recent political maneuvering around Edmonton’s Pride Parade suggest he is willing to appeal to the loud vocal minority of social conservatives at the expense of moderate conservatives already in his party.

Shostak announced on her Facebook page that she had joined the Alberta Party, and Brunner has emerged as the Edmonton regional organizer for the Alberta Party. Brunner recently sent an email to Alberta Party members announcing a series of annual general meetings to be held in the Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, Edmonton-Castle Downs, Edmonton-Decore, and Edmonton-Manning constituencies.

The Alberta Party’s recruitment of former PC Party executive director Troy Wason, and his extensive list of contacts across the province, will surely help the party, but it needs organization on the ground and money in the bank. The Alberta Party raised only $14,070.49 in the first four months of 2017, which was only three percent of total amount that was fundraised by the governing New Democratic Party in the same period.

The Alberta Party is not the only recipient of political refugees from the PC Party. Former PC Party member Kerry Cundal recently ran for the Liberal Party leadership and some PCs unhappy with the direction of the party have even joined Rachel Notley‘s NDP.

The most high-profile Tory to join the NDP recently has been Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, who crossed the floor in November 2016 after dropping out of the PC leadership race. More recently, Thomas Ockley, a former PC caucus and party staffer who served as Richard Starke’s scrutineer in the 2017 PC leadership race, is now listed on the Alberta government website as being employed as a researcher for the NDP caucus at the Legislature.

Support for the new party is not unanimous in the Wildrose Party either. Leader Brian Jean faced pushback from party president Jeff Calloway this week. Sharon Maclise, the party’s president in Edmonton-Glenora, described abandoning the Wildrose Party to create a new party as an “idiotic idea” in a letter to the editor in one of Edmonton’s Postmedia newspapers last month.

Unlike Kenney, who only needs the support of 50 percent plus one to fold the PC Party, Jean requires a steep 75 percent approval from the Wildrose Party membership.

While Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party earlier this year may lead to the creation of a United Conservative Party (at least on paper), conservatives in Alberta now appear less united than they have in years.


Here is the full email from Sumita Anand:

Dear President and fellow board members,

Regretfully, I submit my resignation from the board of Directors. 

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader. 

During my tenure as a volunteer with the party, I have always observed and recognized the leader as being the pillar on which the progressive and conservative values stood firm and grounded, leading the party’s initiatives to form government without any selfish objectives. Those principals seem to have been lost under the current leadership.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive. 

A party leader’s actions are a reflection of the direction for not only its members but for Albertans at large. Currently the party reflects being resourceful but not compassionate, responsible, open or practical.  I would like to contribute my capabilities to a party that is humble yet remarkable and according to me, those values are not aligned with the direction this party is taking. 

While working with the party, I have found great friends and take back with me very fond memories.  I appreciate the opportunity given to me through the years for contributing to community at large. 

I wish the current board success through its endeavors. 

Sincerely 

Sumita Anand 
Board member 
 Dated: 24th May 2017