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Delegates vote on policies at the Alberta United Conservative Party Annual General Meeting in Calgary, on Nov. 30, 2019.Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press

Two factions of Alberta’s United Conservative Party are warring over control of its annual general meeting, where half of the seats on its provincial board will be up for grabs, amounting to the latest battle in the fight for the future of the UCP.

UCP directors, on the provincial and local boards, are sparring over the registration fee that members must pay to attend the party’s AGM in the fall. Those aligned with Take Back Alberta, the network of social conservatives on the party’s far-right flank, want to lower the fee, arguing that more people can get involved if the cost is reduced. Others, meanwhile, say the party must cover its costs while putting on a convention worthy of Alberta’s governing party, and are weary of TBA grabbing power.

The battle over the AGM’s sticker price is a proxy for the larger clash over the direction of the party, and e-mails obtained by The Globe and Mail underscore the dysfunction on the UCP’s provincial board as it debates the issue. Party members will vote on who should fill half the provincial board seats, including the president’s chair, at the AGM. In Alberta’s conservative circles, this is no longer a low-stakes procedure.

TBA wants to oust directors who do not share its values – generally those elected when former leader Jason Kenney was in charge and whose terms expire at the AGM – and replace them with people aligned with its movement. To do so, it needs hundreds of like-minded Albertans – people who vote conservative but are new to internal party politics and tend to live in rural communities – to shell out for the AGM in Calgary. And so the registration price and associated costs could heavily influence the UCP’s future.

“It shouldn’t be a rich man’s game,” said Mitch Sylvestre, president of the UCP’s Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul constituency association (CA) and TBA captain.

Mr. Sylvestre, in a letter to his fellow CA presidents dated June 10, proposed that the 2023 AGM registration fee be capped at $150 per person. The meeting is scheduled for Nov. 3-4, at the Grey Eagle Resort & Casino, on the outskirts of Calgary. UCP members who missed last year’s early bird offer paid $375 each to attend the 2022 AGM at the River Cree Resort & Casino, abutting Edmonton.

Roughly 1,800 people attended that meeting, and TBA’s founder, David Parker, said about 850 to 900 of them were affiliated with his network, known for its commitment to individual rights and angst over COVID-19 restrictions. TBA endorsed a slew of candidates competing for the nine open board seats at last year’s AGM and all of the victors had the group’s blessing. The UCP’s board consists of 18 voting members, including the party’s leader.

Vicki Kozmak-LeFrense, the former president of the UCP’s Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo CA, noted the debate over registration fees preceded TBA’s existence. Ms. Kozmak-LeFrense, who intends to run for a provincial board seat and said she enjoys support from across the UCP’s factions, stressed that TBA would not be the exclusive beneficiary of cheaper fees.

“A lower price will benefit everybody,” she said in an interview.

However, the debate over planning the AGM inflamed tensions among the UCP’s provincial board members.

Vince Byfield, who joined the board in October as part of TBA’s slate, on June 21 e-mailed his fellow directors, noting some local executives and party members have “serious concerns” that the 2022 fees were “far pricier” than necessary, according to images of the correspondence obtained by The Globe and Mail. He put forward a motion to give Patrick Malkin, another board member aligned with TBA, the “authority to manage and oversee all future UCP AGM and policy events,” including preparing budgets and pricing for the board’s approval. An image of Mr. Byfield’s e-mail circulated on social media.

Cynthia Moore, the party’s president, ruled the motion out of order, according to images of the exchange obtained by The Globe, on the grounds that e-mail motions are only for urgent matters and must come at the request of the president.

Mr. Byfield, meanwhile, thanked his colleagues and said the votes were in and the motion passed. He congratulated Mr. Malkin and asked him to arrange a meeting with staff and board members.

Directors on both sides of the divide weighed in, underscoring the board’s inability to operate effectively in light of internal disharmony.

John Voorhorst, a board member who preceded TBA’s rise, directed his response to Mr. Byfield: “You are surely jesting,” he wrote in an e-mail. Once ruled out of order, a motion dies, Mr. Voorhorst said.

“The rest of you can’t be serious either. Sending notes around congratulating someone on a motion that does not exist? Really? New lows have been reached today.”

Mr. Malkin, Mr. Byfield, and Mr. Voorhorst declined to comment.

Ms. Moore, meanwhile, in another e-mail said “recent events” prompted her to reflect on the board’s responsibilities. She said directors should set an example for CAs and party members when it comes to following the code of conduct, which includes respect for each other. She also reminded the directors of the seriousness of breaching the party’s confidentiality agreement and called a meeting for June 29.

Ms. Moore did not return messages seeking comment.

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