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The UCP decided to change to mail-in ballots because an unexpected number of people signed up to decide Premier Jason Kenney's fate as leader.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

The owners of a café in Red Deer, Alta., spent $1,500 on extra stock anticipating a surge in business from the United Conservative Party’s leadership review next month, but they and other business operators in the city had their hopes dashed when the in-person meeting was scrapped this week.

“I think this is extremely ridiculous,” said Kim Valin, who owns Black Label Coffee House with her husband, Kyle Valin.

The party said it decided to change to mail-in ballots because an unexpected number of people signed up to vote April 9 on whether Premier Jason Kenney should remain as leader.

Membership has ballooned to more than 15,000 registrants since the one-day vote was announced in December, the UCP said.

The Valins said they were preparing for an influx of people in downtown Red Deer for the vote.

“We always look forward to meeting new people as well and it would have given up the opportunity to branch out that way,” Kim Valin said.

She said they were also forced to close their indoor dining area last month for refusing to abide by the province’s vaccine screening program.

The couple said they have never been in favour of the restriction exemption program and never required customers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

“With this vote, I feel that we would have had a lot of support because we stood up against all the COVID-19 mandates,” Kim Valin said.

The UCP vote was scheduled take place at the Cambridge Red Deer Hotel and Conference Centre, a few blocks from Black Label Coffee House.

A person who answered the phone at the hotel said they were not taking media questions.

The UCP did not respond to a request for comment.

Katrina Sakkalis, the manager of It’s All Greek To Me in downtown Red Deer, said business has been slow during the pandemic and they were looking forward to people flooding into town for the leadership review.

“This whole thing has been a yo-yo,” said Ms. Sakkalis, whose parents own the restaurant. “Before [the pandemic], you could tell what kind of business you would get.”

She said local businesses were also disappointed in December when the World Junior Hockey Championship, expected to take place partly in Red Deer, was cancelled because of rising COVID-19 cases among players.

“It’s really hard because you don’t know what the government will do,” Ms. Sakkalis said. “This will affect all businesses here because we were counting on 15,000 people coming to town.”

Amanda Gould, executive director of the Downtown Red Deer Business Association, said the cancellation of any event is unfortunate.

“Our businesses, of course, have been affected by the pandemic and especially our small, locally owned businesses,” Ms. Gould said.

“The good news is that we have over 100 events scheduled for downtown and we are doing many things to improve the vitality of downtown over the coming year, so hopefully this won’t be a huge negative impact for us.”

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