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Party members applaud Alberta Premier Danielle Smith at the United Conservative Party AGM in Edmonton, on Oct. 22, 2022.AMBER BRACKEN/CP

A dispute in the United Conservative Party is brewing in central Alberta, with a crop of local directors wanting to redo a constituency’s nomination contest despite the provincial board insisting that is not possible.

The new UCP board for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre met last week and were joined by the party’s executive director on Zoom. The directors, who were elected by roughly 500 local members at the constituency association’s annual meeting two weeks ago, pressed the party on whether the riding’s nomination contest can be reopened. Last March, UCP MLA Jason Nixon secured the nomination after the party disqualified his only challenger, leaving scores of UCP members angry and alleging interference.

The clash puts another one of Premier Danielle Smith’s leadership campaign promises at risk of going unfulfilled and could fuel discord on the party’s provincial board. During the UCP leadership race, Ms. Smith promised to reopen nomination contests in ridings where members felt party officials overstepped by disqualifying candidates. But since assuming power, she has either walked back or dropped a number of promises that were designed to attract support from members on the UCP’s right flank.

Aryn Werezak, the new president for the UCP’s constituency association (CA) in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, said in an interview that the board last week had a “positive and robust” discussion about reopening the nomination race. The group, she said, invited the party’s executive director, Dustin van Vugt, to the meeting so they could seek clarification. The issue, she said, is not settled, and the local directors are examining their options.

“We, as a board, are doing our due diligence to get answers,” she said. Ms. Werezak, who served on the previous CA board, declined to say whether Mr. van Vugt told the board whether there was a path available to reopen the contest.

UCP spokesperson Dave Prisco said in a statement prior to the CA’s meeting last week that Mr. Nixon’s candidacy cannot be unravelled: “There is no mechanism for a CA to reopen a completed nomination.”

The UCP’s rules governing the commencement of a nomination contest state the executive director has the authority to open a race after consulting with the relevant regional directors. It is unclear if this applies to reopening a completed nomination.

The party did not respond to questions about the CA’s continuing exploration of its options.

The battle could also drive division among the UCP’s 18 provincial directors, who include Ms. Smith. Nine new directors were elected last October and are generally aligned with the party’s right flank, which also rallied to elect the new slate of local board members in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre.

Alberta’s governing party last March disqualified Tim Hoven from the riding’s nomination contest, alongside another would-be candidate in a southern constituency, alleging inappropriate activity on social media. Then-premier Jason Kenney defended the party’s screening process, arguing the UCP would not tolerate “extreme” or “hateful” views. Some of Mr. Hoven’s supporters, however, believe Mr. Kenney stepped in to protect Mr. Nixon from a tight race. The CA board election earlier this month was largely treated as a proxy contest on Mr. Hoven’s candidacy, with the winners leaning toward reopening the nomination.

Mr. Hoven in an interview declined to say whether he would put his name forward if the UCP reopens the race, although he said he expects his supporters would press him to do so: “The No. 1 priority is for this party, the UCP, to get united and come back with a majority in May.”

The Premier’s office directed questions to the UCP’s provincial operation. During last year’s leadership race, Ms. Smith told supporters that if she won, she would reopen nominations in places such as Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre and Cardston-Siksika in the south.

“I will pledge to you as well, if any of the local ridings wants some of those ridings reopened because they don’t believe that they’ve been fair or they believe the candidates have been disqualified inappropriately, we will address that when I’m elected,” she said at a rally in July.

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