By Trevor Busch
With the United Conservative Party’s founding convention now in the rear view mirror, Albertans have been given a snapshot of policies the party intends to stand behind in the upcoming 2019 provincial election.
Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter attended the convention in Red Deer over the May 5-6 weekend, and was impressed with the turnout of party members he witnessed.
“It was great to see that we had 2,600 people come out. Previously it was thought there’d be a 1,000. The momentum keeps on growing, so it was amazing to see and feel the energy in the convention center. Lots of conservatives concerned with the direction Alberta is going.”
While policy direction was definitely the highlight, the convention featured speeches from UCP leader Jason Kenney, former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and his predecessor Rona Ambrose.
While members pushed through resolutions on a dizzying array of topics, from social issues to economic policy, Hunter cautioned that in a party with a six-figure membership it’s important to remember that the convention is only a cross-section of viewpoints.
“We had 2,600 members there. There’s 110,000 members in our party. A convention does give you a snapshot of membership, but not always. Sometimes a convention can be taken over by certain groups — and I’m not saying that’s what happened here — but this was a founding convention of this new party, and it was amazing to see how many people were engaged in making sure that this was a great party to start.”
Near unanimous support was resounding in connection with a resolution calling for the repeal of the provincial carbon tax.
“It’s interesting because when they were going through the policies on that, they said let’s split this up because it was part of an omnibus policy package. So they split it out, and it was 98 per cent support for getting rid of the carbon tax. I don’t think we got 100 per cent on anything. I imagine what happened is that people pushed the wrong button,” said Hunter jokingly.
And during a fiery speech to delegates, Kenney signaled an intention to form a provincial coalition to fight against the federal imposition of a carbon tax should the UCP form government in 2019.
“We’ve got provincial elections coming up in Ontario, and in Alberta. In Ontario I think it’s in July, and I think if Doug Ford (Ontario PC leader) gets in, he’s already indicated he’ll be joining the fight with Saskatchewan in fighting against a carbon tax,” said Hunter. “So if you’ve got Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta — I think Manitoba has said that they’re not going to let it go above $25, and Trudeau has said it has to go to $50. So it looks like it’s actually starting to unravel for Prime Minister Trudeau.”
Hunter suggested the province needs an environmental action plan that actually produces results rather than a carbon tax he argues is “all pain and no gain.”
“Which is good — Canadians are starting to recognize that this is not going to accomplish what the prime minister has said it’s going to accomplish, which is reducing GHG emissions. So it’s all pain and no environmental gain. So let’s create a scenario where we can get some environmental gain without hurting our economy. Australia did this once, introduced a carbon tax, and I think they got rid of it within a couple years. They just realized it was just destroying their economy.”
Controversy did erupt on the conference floor on May 6 when the membership passed a motion to reinstate opt-in parental consent for any subjects of a religious or sexual nature in Alberta schools, which was met with open criticism by three UCP MLAs.
“This is going to be a hotly-contested issue, and the truth is that the memberships were allowed to be able to come forward, present their opinions, vote, and that’s grassroots,” said Hunter. “The truth is that democracy can be messy sometimes. I know that the press has tried to spin this thing in their way — and they’ll do that — but the truth is that our position since Bill 24 came out has been very clear, and we were unanimous in our caucus, that a GSA (gay-straight alliance) is absolutely fine and accepted by our caucus and all members of the house, as long as it is a peer group setting. But when they start introducing anything such as sexual or religious instruction — there’s a law, the Alberta School Act, Section 50, talks about if there’s sexual of religious instruction being done, then parents have to to be notified.”
The vote was the closest of the day, passing by a 57 per cent approval margin. Kenney has since told media that the vote doesn’t mean the party is opposed to GSAs in schools, and he characterized it as a badly worded motion.
“The way the resolution was worded was probably not as correct as it should be, so it was maybe poorly written, but I think that most people there understood the intent of it, which is basically that if there’s sexual or religious content being presented in these GSAs — not even just GSAs, but any after school event, then parents need to be notified.”
Widely attacked on the left as a massive tax break for Alberta’s wealthiest residents, the UCP membership also passed a motion calling for the reintroduction of a flat tax for Alberta, something Hunter strongly supports.
“I’m a big believer in that. I often hear the NDP say you guys just want to give the richest one per cent of your province a break — a $700 million tax break. The reality is that if everybody in the province gets a benefit, then why wouldn’t we go forward with a best practice? There’s lots of evidence to show that that was a major part of the Alberta Advantage, people came here and said if I just work hard, I won’t be penalized for working harder, I won’t be jumped up into a higher tax bracket. So people worked harder, they made more money, and they paid more taxes because they made more money. So I think the NDP’s argument is flawed in this situation. There’s lots of evidence to show that flat taxes were very beneficial to our economy in Alberta, and was part of that Alberta Advantage that we are looking for.”
The membership would also approve a motion calling for the separation of the union and professional bodies of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, while backing a resolution banning taxpayer dollars being utilized to lobby government for political purposes.
In the area of health policy, the membership passed resolutions to expand the scope of practice for emergency medical services, and support for publicly-funded, privately-delivered health services. A resolution requiring the consent of a parent or guardian for all invasive medical procedures on a minor was more controversial, with critics arguing the motion’s intent is actually targeting consent for abortion procedures.