In a speech to party members on Saturday, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith expressed her opposition to federal net-zero rules and called out her federal counterparts in Ottawa, but received the loudest approval of the day after signalling her support for "parental rights."
"Regardless of how often the extreme left undermines the role of parents, I want you to know that parental rights and choice in your child's education is and will continue to be a fundamental core principle of this party and this government," Smith said.
This weekend's annual general meeting in Calgary, one the United Conservative Party has referred to as the largest in Alberta's history, drew a large contingent of members affiliated with Take Back Alberta, a social conservative group.
David Parker, the leader of that group, has made the subject of "parental rights" among his chief areas of interests. Over the past number of months, some parents and socially conservative groups have been protesting LGBTQ-inclusive education policies in the classroom and in extracurricular settings under that term.
Attendees at this weekend's AGM passed a non-binding resolution that would require the written consent of parents whenever a student under 16 wants to change their name or pronouns at a school.
Party faithful cheer Alberta Premier Danielle Smith as she speaks at the United Conservative Party annual general meeting in Calgary on Saturday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
The Saskatchewan government recently passed a similar bill. Critics and researchers say the term "parental rights" isn't accurate, because it doesn't include the concerns of LGBTQ parents or parents of LGBTQ children.
Smith herself has, in the past, spoken about how she didn't want to turn this issue into a political football, mentioning a non-binary family member. Speaking to reporters after her speech, she said she was still hopeful that it was possible to "keep the temperature down."
"Whether you're a straight couple or a gay couple or whether you're a trans individual, you want to know what's going on with your kids," she said.
"I don't think it needs to be polarizing. I think that we have to make sure that we're respecting the rights of parents, but also making sure kids feel protected and supported."
While the premier didn't make any policy commitments, it was a way for her to indicate to members that that she shared their concerns, said Lisa Young, a University of Calgary political science professor.
"I think that the reaction from the party members who were there really did signal how important this issue is to them," Young said.
"So it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the policy debate, and in the days to come if there's pressure on the government to act, as opposed to simply expressing sympathy."
Attendees at the UCP AGM also voted on a number of other policy resolutions. They approved resolutions banning race-based admissions in post-secondary institutions and a resolution that would prohibit the implementation of so-called "15-minute cities."
Delegates cast their votes at the United Conservative Party annual general meeting in Calgary on Nov. 4. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
They've also approved resolutions that would ban the use of electronic voting machines, end provincial funding of supervised consumption sites and refuse transgender women in women's correctional facilities. Members also voted to approve a resolution that would oppose net-zero power rules in Canada by 2035.
Party members voted on 30 policy resolutions in total. Policy resolutions are brought forward by party members, and are non-binding, but they do provide grassroots direction on what it thinks the government's policies should be.
Smith references AHS decentralization
Smith, in her speech at the BMO Centre, also received a big response from the crowd after saying her government would have more to say "in the coming weeks" on health reforms that would "decentralize decision-making and resources from AHS down to our front lines."
Young, the U of C political science professor, said there have been a number of people recruited into the party as members over the past year or two who were unhappy with the provincial government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically when it came to mandates.
"The policy stance that seems to be favoured by those groups is that there needs to be decentralization of Alberta Health Services," Young said.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith promised to continue to reduce taxes, balance budgets, pay off debt and eventually build a high-speed rail link between Edmonton and Calgary as a part of her speech to almost 3,800 delegates at the United Conservative Party's annual meeting in Calgary on Saturday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
During her speech, Smith also touched on familiar topics such as her opposition to federal net-zero rules, receiving loud applause from the crowd when she referred to federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's "green czar."
"They are still hell-bent on imposing these destructive leftist policies on the people of Alberta. You know what I say to them. Not so long as I am premier. Not a chance," said Smith.
Smith did not mention the ongoing battle over the Canada Pension Plan during her remarks. Based on a report from the consultant LifeWorks, the province has claimed that if it pulled out of the CPP, it would be entitled to $334 billion, which would represent more than half of the fund's assets.
Rob Smith new party president
One of the other main areas of focus at this year's AGM has been the question of unity — in particular, how Smith might respond to Take Back Alberta and the members it drew to the event.
"I think a strong message is going to be sent to our government that the grassroots is very interested in protecting their rights," said Parker, the leader of the group, on Saturday afternoon.
David Parker, centre, founder of Take Back Alberta, looks on as delegates debate resolutions at the United Conservative Party annual general meeting in Calgary, on Nov. 4. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
Parker has said the group's goal is to take a majority of the seats on the UCP board so as to ensure the goals of his group's members are represented in government.
Before this weekend's event, Take Back Alberta already held half of the board seats, with Parker saying he wanted his group to control an "absolute majority" of the seats after the AGM.
Two Take Back Alberta-affiliated individuals, Sonia Egey-Samu and Vicki Kozmak-LeFrense, filled spots by acclamation on Saturday, with Egey-Samu the new vice-president of fundraising and Kozmak-LeFrense a northern director. Attendees at the AGM voted for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills constituency association president Rob Smith to become the new party president. As a riding president, Smith challenged the leadership of former premier Jason Kenney.
United Conservative Party member Ron Pearpoint said he was concerned about unity within the party moving forward. (Joel Dryden/CBC)
Though Take Back Alberta drew plenty of supporters to this weekend's events, its large presence drew concern from some attendees, too.
In line for the lunch buffet on Saturday afternoon, Ron Pearpoint said he was concerned about how long conservative premiers have typically lasted in Alberta, including Smith's predecessor, Kenney.
"That bothers me more than anything else. We eat our own, right?" he said.