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David Parker, founder of Take Back Alberta, speaks to a small audience in the basement of Deer Run Community Centre in Calgary on April 24.Jude Brocke/The Globe and Mail

David Parker stood on stage in the basement of the Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge, microphone in hand and a Take Back Alberta banner behind him.

The 100 people in the room weren’t here for the TBA leader’s fiery lecture on how progressives took over society’s institutions because everyday conservatives are apathetic. Or how conservatives like them can shape society by running for a spot on their local library board.

Mr. Parker has been delivering versions of that speech for about two years in order to identify and rally disaffected social conservatives, largely in rural Alberta.

Many in the Lethbridge audience had learned his lessons and had come to hear from scores of candidates running for positions on the United Conservative Party’s provincial board, including Valerie Boese and Joanny Liu – the only two competing to become the UCP’s secretary.

“Both of them are TBA hard-core supporters,” Mr. Parker said as he introduced the pair in late September. “This is literally what Take Back Alberta is about.”

One of them will be elected at the UCP’s annual general meeting this weekend in Calgary, as will others who are either affiliated with TBA or share the group’s world view, advancing Mr. Parker’s mission to find like-minded social conservatives to secure positions of power.

TBA-endorsed candidates took half of the seats on the UCP’s governing board last year, shortly after Danielle Smith, who enjoys Mr. Parker’s support, won the party’s leadership and became Premier.

Ms. Boese told the Lethbridge crowd that she participated in the convoy that flooded Ottawa in 2022 to protest public-health rules designed to limit the spread of COVID-19. As a grandmother, she said she is concerned about programs like the one that helps teachers make schools inclusive and safe for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities (SOGI).

“This evil ideology that is getting pushed in schools, called SOGI 1, 2, 3 – it is downright insanity,” she said, drawing applause from the crowd.

Ms. Liu, who helped organize weekly protests in Calgary against pandemic restrictions, followed. She said she is a founding member of Freedom4Canada, which supported lawsuits against actions taken by Alberta under former premier Jason Kenney and Deena Hinshaw, the province’s then-chief medical officer of health, during the height of the pandemic. Again, the crowd applauded.

TBA’s town hall gatherings have served as vital campaign stops for board candidates, giving credence to Mr. Parker’s argument that he and people in his network, who are united by an individualistic understanding of rights and freedoms, are pulling the governing UCP further to the right. Three of the four people running for UCP president attended TBA’s meeting in Lethbridge.

The group’s ascension was fuelled in large part by resentment from COVID public-health measures, such as lockdowns, mask mandates and church shutdowns, that helped drive Mr. Kenney from office.

UCP members will elect nine of the party’s 18 voting board members at the AGM. Two spots will be filled by acclamation: Sonia Egey-Samu, who previously served as a TBA regional captain in Edmonton, is the incoming vice-president of fundraising; and Vicki Kozmak-LeFrense, who shares some of TBA’s values but did not hold a title within the network, will become a northern director.

Only two incumbents are running for re-election, although one was elected last year with TBA’s blessing and has the organization’s approval this year, as well. The other half of the board’s seats are not on the ballot: One is held by the UCP Leader – Ms. Smith – and the other eight directors were voted in at last year’s AGM, after TBA endorsed them.

The UCP board is designed to be about governance rather than policy. Directors are supposed to make sure the party operates smoothly, has viable candidates and energized volunteers teed up for elections, and has money in the bank.

But Mr. Parker’s political tutorials have swaths of members believing that the provincial board, as well as constituency associations, direct the leader and MLAs, similar to how corporate boards oversee executives and employees.

While it is unclear how this dynamic will affect the future board’s influence over elected officials, aspiring directors emphasize their desire to reflect – or at the very least, convey – the will of the membership.

It is unlikely that the disharmony that dogged the UCP under Mr. Kenney will infect this year’s AGM. About 3,200 people purchased tickets to attend by last week, according to data obtained by The Globe and Mail. Of those, roughly 1,900 are from communities outside Calgary and Edmonton. When Mr. Parker asked the Lethbridge crowd how many planned to attend the AGM, most raised their hands.

It is expected to be the largest political meeting in Alberta’s history, ahead of the UCP’s founding convention that attracted around 2,500 people motivated to oust the then-ruling New Democratic Party.

Party leaders can usually count on friendly crowds at their AGMs, but this audience will be especially receptive to Ms. Smith’s brand of politics. The government, in its Throne Speech on Monday, railed against Ottawa and pledged to defend Alberta against an intrusive federal government by deploying Ms. Smith’s signature Sovereignty Act.

The legislation, which experts argue is constitutionally questionable, is a crowd favourite among the right wing of the party. Her campaign for Alberta to leave the Canada Pension Plan – and take more than half of the fund’s assets with it – is also popular among those who want to cut ties with Ottawa.

Ms. Smith’s spokesman did not return multiple messages requesting an interview with the Premier about the AGM.

Rick Orman, among those running for UCP president, is a former Progressive Conservative minister and two-time failed Tory leadership candidate. In Lethbridge, he stressed that he voted for the Wildrose Party in the past three elections, a nod to the TBA crowd, which is skeptical of his PC roots and status as an oil and gas chief executive.

His campaign is grounded in fostering partywide loyalty for Ms. Smith. “She can’t be charging up the hill and fighting the feds on electricity rates or climate change or all the other things she’s fighting, if she feels behind her, that the party is divided,” he said.

TBA will not officially endorse any of the candidates for president, Mr. Parker said. But, in a TBA Zoom meeting late Thursday evening, he said he will vote for Rob Smith for president. Mr. Smith is the constituency association president for Olds–Didsbury–Three Hills and was involved in pushing out Mr. Kenney. Mr. Parker told the 450 Zoom attendees that it is time the conservative party has a president from outside Calgary, to reflect the rise of rural Alberta.

Mr. Parker, confident the incoming UCP board shares his political perspective, issued a warning Thursday on social media.

“After this AGM, the grassroots of the UCP will be in charge,” he wrote on X. “Those who do not listen to the grassroots or attempt to thwart their involvement in the decision making process, will be removed from power.”

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