UCP policy convention shows MLAs and Premier still have little sway

In the third policy convention since the amalgamation of the dynastic Progressive Conservative Association and the plucky but urban riding-challenged Wildrose Party, the members have shown once again they are uninterested in what the figure heads representing the Party in the legislature want.

To be fair, the United Conservative Party once bragged they had around 150,000 members but only 700 to 800 of those are actually interested in voting for policy (three years of conventions all show this turnout for policy voting). That two per cent is creating policy for a party aiming to represent the four million residents of the province.

In 2018, Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIvor, Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer, and Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Jason Nixon asked the membership to vote against a policy requiring schools to inform parents if their child joined a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).

McIvor made a genuine plea with members asking they not saddle the newly-formed UCP with another “Lake of Fire” moment. The proposed policy passed with 57 per cent.

In 2019, the annual general meeting was filled with independence or bust sentiments focused on a fair deal for a province who – for decades – has held itself above all others when it comes to maintaining a tax advantage by using oil revenues to balance its spending.

This past weekend, members denied Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s request to vote down a policy to repeal the government’s highly contested Bill 10, which came into effect during the public health emergency to ensure the Chief Medical Officer of Health could not act on the extraordinary powers afforded to the role by the declaration of a public health emergency.

Shandro said the government was moving beyond Bill 10 and had the intention of repealing section 52 of the Alberta Public Health Act that affords the power to the Chief Medical Officer of Health in the first place, as well as making other amendments to the Act.

As a rebuttal, the proponent of the policy responded “it’s not repealed yet.”

The proposal passed with 78 per cent support.

On the subject of supporting private health care, Strathcona – Sherwood Park MLA Nate Glubish asked the membership to vote against the proposal as it would make it “awkward” for MLAs who ran on a platform to preserve public healthcare.

The proposal passed with 52 per cent support.

Other policies, such as recall legislation, which was also supported by Fort McMurray-Conklin and Brooks-Medicine-Hat MLAs Laila Goodridge and Michaela Glasgo respectively, collecting the province’s federal portion of income taxes, supported by Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, and a provincial police force, supported by Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr, all passed as well.

What this means for Albertans

Kenney and crew can continue to semi-support or ignore party policy.

As Kenney said in response to the policy to remove privacy for students joining GSAs policy in 2018, “I hold the pen” on the election platform; however, support for those policies exist within the party, no matter how small the numbers may seem.

Kenney and the current group of elected officials may have no intention of acting on any of the more controversial policy at this time, or after the next election – or ever – but they may not always be in the position to make that decision.

The government is in the position of choosing which policies to enact, but those who show up to vote at policy conventions are the ones choosing which policies will be ‘approved’ party policy.

If you think that can’t be damaging, just remember the LEAP manifesto.

What is obvious, is that party policy is being directed by a small number of people. That’s how political parties work. The real power comes from governance policy and there is a push – still -to ensure decisions are in the hands of the membership when it comes to candidate selection.

In 2018 there was a concerted effort to stall the governance policy voting by two lawyers in particular; Len Thom, former President of the UCP after Kenney won the leadership in 2017, and, ironically, John Carpay, of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. It worked and leadership played havoc with candidate nominations throughout 2018.

In 2020, the policy proposals that would have given members greater control over who is nominated did not pass the 75 per cent threshold, coming in seven per cent shy at 66.

What this means for the UCP

Political parties are made up of very passionate people who want to choose the direction of government policy. The majority of people are volunteers and they put in a lot of time to craft policy in the hope that they will be enacted into legislation.

MLAs as figure heads, as I referred to them above, may have little sway when it comes to enticing the membership to vote a certain way but they do have the power, when in office, to choose which policies will be put forward, and, in a majority situation, will become government policy.

When leadership maintains the power to meddle in candidate nominations, the leadership becomes the most important element in getting certain policy enacted. Many leaders make promises to get themselves elected to the role but change their tune and decide they’d rather worry about getting elected by the general public – as Kenney did with his “I hold the pen” comment.

One policy that did pass was the Leadership Review and Selection Rules (Governance Resolution GR-01) that proposed a leadership review will be held at one out of every three Annual General Meetings (AGM) with a clear question to all members eligible to vote: “do you approve of the leader?” and an option of “yes, or no”.

As the policy passed and will now be part of the bylaws, Jason Kenney may face a leadership review in 2021 or 2022 as there have now been three AGMs without a review.

But there is a silver lining. 58,232 people voted in the UCP leadership.

Let me rephrase that; 58,232 votes were cast in the UCP leadership.

It’s really not a big number if Albertans want to get serious about change.

This post contains opinion.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a political commentator physically distancing in Southern Alberta. Connect: @Mitchell_AB for more, @thisweekinAB for posts @politicalRnD for something in between

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