Beautiful country but strange goings on in the Crowsnest Pass (Photo: Municipality of Crowsnest Pass).

CALGARY – A clearer picture is starting to emerge of how Take Back Alberta – the anti-vaccine, pro-Convoy, Q-adjacent extremist group key to Danielle Smith’s victory in last year’s United Conservative Party leadership race – is now taking over her party one riding association at a time. 

Crowsnest Pass Herald Publisher and municipal councillor Lisa Sygutek (Photo: Linked-In).

Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt sounded a warning bell about Take Back Alberta early this month in a Calgary Herald op-ed.

He was the first to use the phrase “a Take Back Alberta government” to describe how a post-election Danielle Smith government might function and act. 

Look for a full-blown assault on public education, including attempts to take over local school boards by TBA cadres, and legislation to weaken public health measures, Dr. Bratt said in the op-ed, written with Sarah Biggs of Olsen-Biggs Public Affairs, who has worked as a Conservative political organizer. 

We could also expect a TBA government to make good on Ms. Smith’s advocacy of an Alberta-autonomy agenda, they wrote – “creating Alberta provincial police to replace RCMP, Alberta tax collection agency to replace Revenue Canada, and an Alberta pension plan by pulling out of the Canada Pension Plan.” Eventually, we might also see “a referendum on Alberta’s separation from Canada.”

“This is not hyperbole or fearmongering,” they warned. “These are all statements coming from Take Back Alberta.”

Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Now we have an eyewitness account of TBA’s effort to gain control of the UCP party apparatus in the Livingstone-Macleod riding, which extends south from High River, home to Ms. Smith, all the way to the U.S. border in southwestern Alberta.

Writing in the Crowsnest Pass Herald yesterday, Publisher Lisa Sygutek described her experience and feelings as a Conservative supporter watching TBA in action. 

“I have been a card-carrying conservative my entire adult life,” began Ms. Sygutek, who is also a Crowsnest Pass Municipal Councillor. “When I was in university, I was part of the young conservative organization. I believe in the party, well the party I used to know and understand, and I must tell you I don’t understand this party anymore.” (Emphasis added.)

“What I experienced,” she wrote, “was basically a take-over by the ‘Take Back Alberta’ faction.”

Describing the election of candidates for the constituency association board in her community, she said, “It was bizarre. There was honestly a sense of extreme hostility in the room. It felt like a coup.”

That would seem fair. Indeed, what appears to have happened in Livingstone-Macleod could be described as a coup without stretching the facts too much. 

“After the Board elections, I found out that around 80 per cent of the Board had been replaced and many of the new Board members were a faction of the TBA group,” said Ms. Sygutek, who is also a director of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association.

Conservative political campaigner Sarah Biggs (Photo: Olsen-Biggs Public Affairs).

She describes what sounds very much like a concerted effort to suppress the votes of people who don’t support TBA. The UCP, she wrote, “is fractured by an extreme right conservative group and people like me who are moderate are left bereft.”

There’s more, and I recommend you read Ms. Sygutek’s commentary. 

Remember that TBA has already, as Dr. Bratt pointed out, enjoyed significant success turning the UCP into an extremist organization, and when it turned to taking over UCP constituency associations “assembled more than 500 people to attend the AGM for the Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre constituency association and took over the board, winning 28 of 30 seats that were up for re-election.”

This, he noted lead to the party’s nomination being reopened with the intention of replacing former cabinet minister Jason Nixon with a more radical candidate. 

As this is written, the same group is moving to take over other UCP riding associations. 

Back in November last year, the Globe and Mail reported how TBA managed to gain significant control of the party’s provincial board. 

As often happens with developments of this type, less attention has been paid to this group than it deserved when it was campaigning for Ms. Smith’s leadership. Obviously, it’s time to start paying some heed to what voices within the Conservative party, like that of Ms. Sygutek, are saying.

If it ever was, the UCP is not your grandfather’s Conservative party any more! 

Politics, United Conservative Party, Take Back Alberta

If it ever was, the UCP is not your grandfather’s Conservative party any more! 

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  1. The truly frightening part is she sees herself as a “moderate” but she will ” never vote NDP” because she’s “not a socialist, which is what I see in the NDP”.

    It’s like comedian Bill Maher’s critique of religious people saying they “don’t believe in the crazy stuff” when it’s all so obviously crazy stuff.

    Or if you prefer, conservativism – “an exercise which always involves a certain number of internal contradictions and even a few absurdities”

    John Kenneth Galbraith,
    “Wealth and Poverty,” speech, National Policy Committee on Pockets of Poverty (13 Dec 1963)

    1. That’s a good JKG quote, but it’s hard to top his “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

  2. Take Alberta back to what? A bunch of pseudo conservatives and Reformers who will continue to rob us of our oil and tax wealth, do the priciest shenanigans, that coust us so much money, privatize and deregulate anything and everything they can, leve our infrastructure in a state of decay, let the destitute suffer more hardship, lose more jobs, and let the environment suffer irreparable damage? That’s not the Alberta I want. Anyone who recalls what Peter Lougheed was like, will know we didn’t have this level of stupidity under his leadership. People are foolishly believing anything the UCP tells them. What a shame.

  3. TBA is an apt acronym–To Be Announced. The high priestess of this cult, Danielle Smith, isn’t being straight with Albertans about her agenda.

  4. Yeah sure.
    A bunch of ignorant and belligerent trolls are taking over from a bunch of belligerent and ignorant trolls. So what?

    Those who identify as conservative are bad news. Period!
    Doesn’t matter where they stand on this or that issue or how they parse out their current position, (she says she is fiscally conservative but socially liberal) they will all tend towards right-wing nuttery. If you can call fascism nuttery.

    You allow these trolls into your system, like we did with the Jasons and Dani, this is what happens. Nothing good. Only bad or worse.

    Perhaps Rachel is not our savior but at least those in the NDP party are not out to turn society back into some long lost fantasy of tough but fair frontier justice for Christian White Folks. It’s at least possible to think that Rachel and her gang might be swayed by facts and reason. Perhaps.

    Slim pickins, indeed!

  5. The myopic bumpkins can “take back” their steaming manure pile of a province. I won’t be letting the door hit me on my way back to Canada.

    1. This part of the world really is an utter toilet, populated predominantly by borderline-humans with a collective intelligence quotient approaching something like that of a dead tree.

  6. Let’s just call a spade a spade. The Take Back Alberta crew and their queen Danielle are seditious fascists. The reckless idiots supporting these people have no concept of the nasty long-term effects their selfishness will unleash.

    1. “Take Back Alberta”.
      Huh? Sounds very MAGA-ish.
      Give it back to the racist, misogynist, homophobic, Christo-fascist, RWNJs that used to control everything?
      What the hell makes you think you own it?
      You don’t. You’re living in the past.
      Coal and fossil fuels are the past. Renewables are the future.
      Rachel cares about real people. Smith and the TBA does not.
      You don’t have to like it, just get out of the way.

      1. Don: Absolutely “take back Alberta” is a MAGA style dogwhistle, implicitly racist, sexist, and homophobic. It means “bring back the good old days when nobody challenged our convenient racism and unhindered bullying.” Indeed, it’s a little more explicit than MAGA, as it doesn’t claim there was anything particularly great about the Alberta they would like to bring back. DJC

  7. On the plus side it’s nice to see a little fight coming back in the Alberta politics scene even if it’s mired in conspiracy theory. What the hell, today’s conspiracy theory sometimes becomes tomorrow’s scientific fact. In 1492 Christopher Columbus going around saying the earth was round was considered conspiracy theory.

    1. You have a point, ronmac. The TBA crew probably wants to Take Back the Atlantic, believing as they do in conspiracy theories. The earth is still flat, if you believe hard enough.

    2. Haha. thanks for the laugh, Ron! And coming from our resident covid-obsessed conspiracy nut, the irony is almost too much to handle.

      I have to say, you and your friend Bret Larson are a constant source of amusement on these boards!

    1. Lars: It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools, I know, but I wrote this on a nearly non-functional computer in an overheated hotel room with lousy wifi. I’ll be back in front of my own big screen soon. DJC

  8. How long before the far right (UCP) finally come out of the closet and finally announce they are full-on Fascist/Nazis. That way voter would truly know who they are voting for. These are NOT your parents’ Conservatives. Wake up people (aka sheeple)!

  9. Yes, it is a very different UCP under Smith. The remaining fiscal conservatives who had a lot of influence under Kenney must be aghast at her spending in the recent budget, particularly now that oil prices are considerably lower than the level set in the budget. There is no way there will be a surplus for the upcoming year if that price level continues. Of course, Smith will try avoid talking about this now and save all the related unpleasant surprises until after the election. I also don’t see the supposed libertarian Smith as being that reassuring to social conservatives either. So, that leaves the mostly the separatist leaning and the anti vaxers as her real base of support.

    Interestingly, it was just in the news that one of the Kenney stalwarts, Jason Nixon is now being challenged by a UCPer running as an independent.

    Despite trying to keep up appearances, all is still not well in UCPland beneath the surface. I have always thought their choice of name, which smacked of hubris by using the word United, would end up being a big, perhaps fatal, curse.

    1. Should a candidate be elected on an independent platform perhaps we may expect support for UCP tabled bills and a floor crossing. There’s more than one way to effect a take over.
      Thoughtful voting at elections can prevent them becoming predictable expressions of brand loyalty. Voters who have tended by habit and by tradition to chose the PC’s and later UCP may realize the provincial NDP is in reality a conservative party that is basically very similar to the one of your grandfather’s time that used the word conservative in its title.

  10. It just goes to show you that people like the publisher are only too willing to accommodate extremists in some sort of codependent, symbiotic, dysfunctional relationship. They’ve always voted conservative, and they won’t change their minds just because the so-called “conservatives” are radical/extremist/fascists this time around. Better to let the extremists win. Grammy and Gramps made all the decisions. One must never stray from family tradition.

    Apparently a quick course in 1930s European history is in order. Stuff happened. Soldiers died fighting in WWII. Why? Read of Anne Frank’s diary to find out. I read it in a single day when I was Anne Frank’s age. It will give you the sober second thought desperately needed right now. You certainly won’t get anything sober from the UCP, currently boozing it up in the gin-joint, aka “legislature”. BTW, the legislature is where laws are made. It is not the parking lot of the off-sales store at the old Cecil Hotel.

    History course over. (We’re doomed.)

    1. That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Obviously very well funded and very well organised, so they didn’t pop out of nowhere. If I had to venture a guess I’d say it’s a mix of dark American oil money and personal funds from homegrown Canadian billionaire/batsh*t blowhard Brett Wilson (circumventing political donation laws, of course).

  11. I haven’t forgotten what the MLAs from the Lougheed era taught me and how disgusted they were with what these phoney conservatives were doing to us and the idiots who supported them. Nothing has changed their supporters, mainly seniors are as dumb as they ever were , believing ever lie they feed them and hurling sarcastic comments at those of us who are trying to stop them because we aren’t as stupid as them.

  12. It’s been my experience over the years that a guy running as an independent has absolutely no way of doing anything for his constituents without a governing party to back him , so why would you elect him? This fool Drew Barnes thinks he can do it also, but I think introducing Convoy Trucker organizer Tamara Lich in the legislature was a really stupid mistake and it has likely assured his defeat from what is being said in the Medicine Hat News. While the survey showed only 24% of Canadians supported these criminals , at coffee this morning some of us think it was less than that when people realized the damage they did costing taxpayers $65 million, proving without a doubt that there is nothing conservative about them.

  13. Catch a man a fish and you can sell it to him. Teach a man to fish and you ruin a wonderful business opportunity.
    Karl Marx

    Conservatism: There must be in-groups the law protects but does not bind, and out-groups the law binds but does not protect.

  14. I’m in the heart of Freedom Fighting, Anti-Mandate, Pro Convoy, APP, TBA turf AKA Livingstone Macleod. It’s notable that the polling stations in our riding for the recent UCP nominee contest were all open for 2 hours each, except for one. That one, coincidentally in the winning candidate’s home town, was open for 4 hours. She won handily. Also notable that her campaign manager is the CFO of TBA – most recognized by his recent appearance as an invited guest in the Alberta Legislature on Budget Day and also recognized as someone under charges for his involvement in the Coutts border blockade and one of the fellows Premier Smith allegedly wanted to/did/did not talk to the Crown Prosecutors about.
    All of our nominee candidates shared similar themes surrounding Freedom and Sovereignty. One had a nice photo op with Christine Anderson at the Petroleum Club.
    High River just recently had a spirited protest/meeting with a local feedlot about their efforts to deal with feedlot manure smells. It stinks in High River sometimes. It really stinks in Livingstone Macleod right now and no amount of odor mitigation seems to be working.

  15. It is no secret what Take Back Alberta are up to and the majority of voting Albertans will go along with it, because Socialism.

  16. Is it comedy? Is it tragedy? Perhaps some type of demented tragi-comedy? Maybe bathos as it is acted out on the political stage? Or perhaps, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”?

    Where, for the ‘audience’, perhaps it could be said that, “it is necessary to create sober, patient people who do not despair in the face of the worst [stupidities] and who do not become exuberant with every silliness. Pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will.”

    The Alberta UCP Danielle Smith Government apparently seeks to keep its ‘friends’, compliant stooges, hooligans, and its 5th column [“A fifth column is any group of people who undermine a larger group or nation from within.”] agitators very close and well cared for:

    Where the joke, “Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, included everything from sidewalks to roadways in its sweeping definition of what could be listed as critical infrastructure, and brought with it fines of up to $25,000 and up to six months in jail.”

    Is followed by the punchline(s), “I think the vast majority are well-intentioned, law-abiding Canadians who are sick and tired of how COVID has turned their lives upside down,” Kenney said on Tuesday at a news conference. “So to those folks who’ve been out there trying to make that point, peacefully and respectfully, thank you, thank you for using your democratic rights to do that. Thank you for sharing your passion, your frustration. And I certainly hear you.”

    “She gave hope to all of Alberta, Canada, and the world. She was proud to stand strong and free in the face of the worst government overreach in a generation, Tamara Lich.”

    Speculation suggests that perhaps the cynical political maneuverings are merely the concrete manifestation of a deliberate exploitation of a “cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism”. Where, for example, “The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”

  17. I have no doubt that the encrouchment of Take Back Alberta into many ridings across Alberta is just the beginning. As it becomes apparent that their influence is growing, I expect to see more and more UCP MLAs start engaging in bizarre behavior. Witness the recent act of shotgunning a beer in the Alberta Lesgislature by Dan Williams. In a clear act demonstrating that he is a yahoo with no sense of decorum or seriousness of the forum he is attending, Williams chugged a beer just to show he could get away with it. Wait until Devin Dreesen starts doing shots during the session.

    Obviously, TBA is impressed by nonsense and public drunken antics, so we can expect to see the few adults left driven from the UCP. How do you like Jason Kenney now?

  18. Great article DJC. TBA is very effective at flying under the radar. I would say surprisingly, but AB is Postmedia/Western Standard/Rebel Media territory, so unless you actively seek out alternative media sources, you read what the Sun/Journal/Herald wants you to read.

    I did read the article from Ms. Sygutek for which you had provided the link (much appreciated). While not the main focus, I was struck by her statement “I will never vote NDP”. Personally, I am party agnostic, and try to listen to all viewpoints, so when I see an educated, informed person such as Ms. Sygutek make such a definitive statement, it is disheartening. As a long time Albertan, I am fully aware of the ingrained generational conservative (and Conservative) bent of rural Albertans, but as you point out, this is not your grandfather’s Conservative party anymore!

    With the spring election looking more likely (although with the recent drop in oil & gas prices, never say never to a delay to fall), many Albertans will stick with the current version of conservative party on voting day. With the high likelihood that only two parties will win seats, one will form a majority government. Should it be the UCP, as DJC has pointed out, a new budget will be tabled and buyer’s remorse will be immediate, perhaps even more so among the never NDPers. However the UCP will have four years to change/dismantle/reshape Alberta however they see fit. While the readers of this blog may be able to shout “I told you so!” from the rooftops, it won’t lessen the pain, expense, and hardship that will result.

    1. Bob: I think “radical” is quite appropriate in this case … a person or group advocating complete political or social reform. As for reactionary, the same could be said, although it’s a word I find too restrictive and not to my taste as it is at odds with its roots, and therefore potentially ambiguous. Regardless, TBA want to change society, and they want to change it in a way that will be bad for most people. They are utopian idealists, and the utopia they idealize is dystopian. DJC

  19. I like how you said “ what appears to have happened in Livingstone-Macleod could be described as a coup without stretching the facts too much.”
    At least you admit that your story is stretching the facts; you are only adding a little manure to the cookie dough:-)

  20. Their agenda? Why, it’s grind them down and impose our vision, of course! What’s the picture in that vision? It’s our way! No ifs ands or buts! If you like that? Vote UCP. If you don’t? Vote NDP. But mark my words, no democratic society has ever succeeded with what the UCP is peddling!

  21. For a province whose political history is so staid —or at least blocky in multi-decadal chunks that seem natural for the time and place—Albertan voters have been in a mood to try new something new—and politicians try to keep up with the electorate’s perceived fickleness.

    The results have been extremely variable on politicians’ parts, so voters are probably still in the mood for something new—still searching in the dust storm. The UCP—still less-experienced than its NDP rival which governed for the single, previous term—certainly promises something new, radically new, while the NDP—with which voters actually have more experience and, probably, more reason to expect more reasonable governance—has so far kept its conspicuously-larger war chest dry as a desert. Yet the most mysterious politicians of all are the ProgCon faction of the UCP: although it alone has the greatest potential to try something new, it hasn’t much offered it—as if it’s still not sure if voters are as much in a mood for taking a chance with something new as the Wildrose faction—their own colleagues— prays they are.

    It began about 35 years ago with the slogan, “The West Wants In,” and drastically changed the federal partisan right. Despite precipitating the creation of several parties of the right ever since, Western Prairie voters returned to their traditional, staid loyalty to a single one: the new CPC’s Alberta cohort dominating in Ottawa, toppling the Liberal minority and governing for three consecutive terms. Western voters have painted nearly the entire electoral map CPC blue, from BC’s Interior and Prairie grasslands to the Canadian Shield, for the last two decades—although fringe Western factionalism has reappeared as CPC ridings became more evenly balanced between East and West since the party lost power in 2015.

    Yet this federal partisan consistency didn’t match Alberta’s provincial scene which is often—perhaps too often—seen as largely overlapping, its chronological features being quite similar: c1990, c2011, and of course, 2015. During the calm before the storm, the Progressive Conservative party began to deKlein then struggle as Wildrose hove off to the right; finally, the WR, now-official opposition, lost a general election it was expected to win, and after its leader Danielle Smith crossed the floor to the listing ProgCons with half her caucus hoping to achieve more radical policy by democratic shortcut, the longest-governing party in Canadian history was dragged down to defeat in 2015.

    While pundits were parsing the Wildrose scratches on the wall left by Smith’s unprecedented floor-crossing, nobody expected Albertans to elect a nominally socialist party in the historically most-conservative province in the country. Voters were in a mood for something new, but not for waiting on politicians to provide it. Neither the ProgCons nor the Wildrose parties would contest another general election. Wholesale changes were afoot.

    Political flux is more intense in Alberta right now than anywhere else in the country. The electorate appears unafraid of something new, and that’s dangerous because, right now, it’s Danielle Smith who is offering just that while the rival party seems only to offer a return to normalcy. I for one would a lot sooner normalcy instead of anything, absolutely anything Smith can dream up, and I suspect most Albertans do too. The problem is that many centre-right citizens are getting swamped in calculus that the ProgCon faction will somehow temper the UCP and, however much it succeeds, it’ll be better than the socialist bogeyperson it lamely portrays the NDP as. In fact, Rachel Notley’s government was so good that the UCP’s only parry is to associate it with its primary bogeyman, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister, making it difficult for Notley to boast that she and he were successful at agreeing to a pipeline deal, TMX (which is controversial everywhere else except for the PMO and Notley’s caucus, and maybe the UCP’s which compares so poorly in this regard). Nevertheless, it’s bad news for the NDP if the mood is simply change for its own sake because the way things stand now, it’s Notley’s NDP which is the known quantity and unless it announces something different from its governing position, it looks relatively retro compared to the UCP which remains and unknown quantity. It’s perverse, I know—and Dippers surely do, too, in my favourite province away from home. What gets me is that so do many in the UCP’s ProgCon faction and their electoral supporters, most of whom, I’m guessing, don’t really want change for its own sake, or anything as radical as Smith’s dopey ideas, for Pete’s sake!

    Another perversity, or maybe just an irony, might be that whenever a ProgCon politician, former, sitting, or candidate says chi won’t vote UCP (because it has departed far from prudent conservative principles ), the NDP looks like it might take that as a credit it can count on, relieving it of having to bring the fight to the enemy, or to follow too closely Napoleon’s edict that the enemy will defeat itself if our side merely gets out of the way.

    On another front, the Dippers must up their tactical game, replete with vigorous counter-attack, surprise, and spoiling actions. There’s nothing to negotiate here.

    Let’s not forget that the Dippers didn’t win on policy in 2015, but rather by circumstance and luck. Many voters, especially of the partisan right, aimed to punish the ProgCons and, to some extent, Wildrose, too: once that was done and presuming desired change by shake-up, they would resume voting for the partisan right again, abandoning the NDP as a convenient protest vehicle. But to many observers’ surprise, Notley did provide good government, even under duress, and, moreover, many erstwhile ProgCons obviously did not resume voting for the new right-wing party. If their idea was to complete the job of neutering radicalism from the conservative movement by way of defeating the UCP, expelling the radical faction, reforming it and only then resume voting for it, it’s job is only half done. The good news is—or could be—, it is precisely these moderate Tories who have the greatest potential to do just that—much greater than the NDP has . And the greatest potential of all is found among the ProgCon faction in the UCP caucus: what’s stopping it is the fact that to organize a reformed or wholly renewed centre-right party will probably take at least a term or two (personally, I think it would be rewarded for the effort and courage). In yet another irony in the province of, the NDP could also be rewarded by encouraging such a move. Heck, it could even use reverse psychology and offer its temporary endorsement, just like voters offered theirs in 2015.

    Finally, the NDP winning in just 73 days from today would indeed be something new, and probably steal a march on moderate conservatism toward a stable future for the province. This is doubtlessly what moderates Tories want. In the strangest way—which is the Alberta way these days—Tories and Dippers can cooperate to bring Albertans back to the staid political realm they once had.

    But isn’t that what political parties used to do?—respect and work with each other, and criticize only in contribution to the public good? The NDP can certainly make this case in comparison to the batshit crazy UCP, but the ProgCon voter can make it happen if it lets go of the odium and radicalism behind which Danielle hides her ineptitude.

  22. “I have been a card-carrying conservative my entire adult life,” began Ms. Sygutek…. “When I was in university, I was part of the young conservative organization. I believe in the party,”

    — Surely she refers the the Conservative Party, not philosophical conservatisim.
    Welcome to the Tea Party, Alberta! (and Canada too, sadly)

    Why must so many stupid and reactionary U.S. trends show up in Canada five to ten years later?

  23. Is the over the top name calling bordering on liable really necessary? If TBA was truly as well funded as some of those commenting believe our dear blogger would likely have already received a letter. As a believer in free speech some advice, counter ideas you view as bad with good ideas. Calling your fellow Albertans names shows weakness.

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