There were a number of things happening at the UCP AGM but it didn’t really get interesting until Saturday afternoon. The afternoon plenary session began 25 minutes late and we were only into the 25th of 63 proposed resolutions. Other members soon began to voice concern over the time as well. Motions were being made to try to hasten the process but effectively took longer. The lawyers involved started to make is seem as if the delays were deliberate. John Carpay, Kenney’s personal friend and head of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms who launched a case against the Alberta Government challenging the constitutionality of Bill 24, was the worst offender.
Members began to withdraw their motions in an effort to speed things up. Further stalling tactics emerged and the rules of debate were becoming convoluted. With less than 10 minutes to go in the day’s agenda, Governance Resolutions were finally tabled. The membership was only able to vote on two before time was up. One requested more time but due to the speeches later, the request could not be accommodated. In the event that not all proposals can be voted upon, the provincial board is granted the discretion to accept or reject any recommendation. Not particularly “grassroots”.
Saturday night was lined up to be a further celebration of the new Party and those who had made it possible. Brad Wall, former Premier of Saskatchewan and new Alberta employee (but Saskatchewan resident) was to open for Kenney. The show began with a video tribute to Kenney which highlighted accolades from others for his work as Immigration Minister in the federal government.
Brad Wall is a great orator and entertaining to both watch and listen to. He had an agenda for this crowd of course and brought up Premier Notley’s “embarrassing cousins” comment. I marveled at how the conservatives have controlled the narrative on those supposed missteps. Much like Sarah Hoffman’s “sewer rats” comment, they’ve taken the direct quotes and misrepresented them so consistently that even I, someone who knows better, am almost tempted to believe their version.
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Wall then introduced Kenney who meandered through the crowd to the upbeat 1980 ‘hit’ “Celebrate” by Kool and the Gang. Kenney leisurely made his way to the stage, feigning surprise at seeing people he knew along the way, shaking hands and accepting vigorous arm pumps from enthusiastic members. When he finally arrived on stage, a human backdrop consisting mostly of women had been assembled.
I watched with a morbid fascination as he spoke, noting the strange facial expressions he made while repeating his carefully crafted lines. He’d been busy taking in the results of the CBC’s polling and it showed. Kenney is a mediocre speaker but this speech hit every note; women, healthcare, education, the failing economy. It was brilliantly concocted and delivered well. Strange facial expressions aside, I could tell his words would resonate with a great number of people.
The crowd was energetic; he told them their party was the most popular in the province; the most popular in the country actually! They applauded and they cheered. He took a moment to condemn threats against the Premier and asked the crowd to applaud her commitment to public service; and they did. Then he dropped a bomb.
“Anyone who would threaten the Premier” he said, “is not welcome in the UCP.” It was a strong, bold statement that finally put a limit on what was acceptable to Kenney’s UCP. It was amazing. At that moment, I envisioned the UCP sailing to victory in 2019. It no longer mattered that he lies or that, to me, he is neither trustworthy nor genuine. The outcome of the election was secured by that speech. He would be the next Premier of Alberta.
There were supposed to be 2400 registered attendees for the conference but if that was true, they don’t vote for policy. Every vote was tallied and then broken into “yes” and “no” votes and displayed on a big screen. A few of us kept track of each outcome; they never reached 900 votes on any proposal and most often were below 700.
The first policies were in omnibus form with a number of resolutions to be voted on at one time. These contained some sketchy proposals including one in Education which stated:
“The United Conservative Party believes that the Government of Alberta should… reinstate parental opt-in consent for any subjects of a religious or sexual nature, including enrollment in extracurricular activities/clubs or distribution of any instructional materials/resources related to these topics.” (R030)
Leela Aheer, MLA from Chestermere-Rockyview, Jason Nixon, MLA from Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre and Ric McIver, MLA from Calgary-Hays all spoke against supporting the collective proposals as some, above, put student’s ability to safely join a GSA in jeopardy. The motion passed with 74% in favour. And it actually managed to get worse from there.
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Corporate welfare? Yes. Personal tax cuts with a huge deficit? Yes. Two-tiered healthcare? Yes. Equivalent funding (pay more to private schools or less to public) for the school of your choice? Yes. Accept motions that, in an experienced Indigenous woman’s words, “show a distinct lack of understanding around government funding” for First Nations? Yes. Limit the ability of a young person to make their own healthcare choices? Yes. Small government indeed.
One woman derided First Nations groups. A man made a degrading comment about low-income earners. It was grotesque. Members were begging the congregation to vote “no” on contentious issues so the Party could have a chance at being elected. It was stunning. The “big tent” was sucked into a fanny pack to be worn as a symbol of pride under grandpa’s bulging belly. Suddenly, there was no longer a vision of “clear sailing”.
I was almost in a daze as I started walking towards my car. I had just witnessed a well-organized coup by socially regressive ‘conservatives’ who want all the benefits without the bill. Behind me, two older gentlemen began to converse. “I am one hundred percent happy with how this went” said one. “Me too” the other responded, “I made some good contacts”. “Jason is going to have to dance around for a few days,” mused the first. “Well that’s why he’s paid the big bucks” replied the second.