As a political show of force, the founding convention of Alberta’s United Conservative Party in Red Deer this past weekend was a triumph. But below the surface sheen of solidarity in pursuit of a shared goal – recapturing government – there were troubling undercurrents.
Among them was the passage of a resolution to “reinstate parental opt-in consent” for teens who want to join extracurricular clubs like, say, a school’s gay-straight alliance. In effect, it calls on teachers to out children to their parents.
That’s a bad idea put forward by social conservatives who have a keener taste for culture wars than individual freedoms. It was also adopted over the objections of UCP Leader Jason Kenney and his allies – as was another resolution requiring parental approval for “invasive” medical procedures involving children (read “abortion and vaccines”).
The grassroots of political parties often pass resolutions that are anathema to the party elite, and Mr. Kenney wouldn’t be the first leader to tell his membership he won’t put their more extreme ideas into his election platform.
He did, however, run for the party’s leadership on a promise to never impose policy from the top down – a promise he reneged on over the weekend.
“I will take the resolutions adopted today as important input, but I hold the pen on the platform,” Mr. Kenney said at the end of the convention.
He can get away with that now – polls suggest his party will romp to power next year. Rebuffing the grassroots on controversial social issues carries few consequences at this point.
But it will be interesting to see how Mr. Kenney copes with having to say no when the polls are closer, or during a tighter-than-expected election.
We will also learn whether he can keep the UCP grassroots in check and prevent spurned members from providing ammunition to his political opponents in the form of contradictory and controversial statements on social issues.
What the UCP’s founding convention suggests is that, while his most serious political challenger is incumbent NDP Premier Rachel Notley, Mr. Kenney can also expect trouble from within his own ranks.