'Like a coup': Concern mounts over growing influence of 'Take Back Alberta'
Some have speculated it's already "the power behind the throne" of the UCP, but a controversial right wing group appears to be grabbing even more influence ahead of Alberta's May election.
Conservative Lisa Sygutek says a mid-March Livingstone-Macleod meeting was "packed" with people who identified as Take Back Alberta (TBA) members.
It was an event she won't soon forget.
"There was a sense of hostility in the building," she told CTV News. "I've never seen anything like it."
The meetings, according to Sygutek, typically involve some light debate, conversation about issues in the riding, and then a vote for new board members. She says every other similar association event she's attended has had a handful of new candidates and some slight turnover.
March's meeting was different.
"A couple people were saying, 'I'm a member of Take Back Alberta,'" she said, "and that's when it started to tweak on me that things were getting a little bit too aggressive and extremist for my liking."
Livingstone-Macleod's vote ended with a massive overhaul, and Sygutek estimates 80 per cent of the new leadership has TBA connections.
"It actually felt like a coup," she said. "It was a charged meeting."
'TAKING OVER THE ASYLUM'
Registered third party advertiser Take Back Alberta has allegedly inserted members into at least two other conservative constituency associations in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake and Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre.
Nine of the UCP board member candidates the group endorsed now hold leadership positions in the party, and many believe two other ridings have TBA-backed candidates.
Recently-removed Lethbridge-West candidate Torry Tanner is also alleged to have been involved with TBA, according to political scientist Lori Williams.
Tanner left her post this week after blowback from her claims that "kids, even those attending kindergarten, are being exposed to pornographic materials or, worse yet, having teachers help them change their gender identity with absolutely no parental consent or knowledge whatsoever."
Torry Tanner resigned Thursday as a UCP candidate for Lethbridge West
Williams believes there are similar "extreme" views in the group.
"These are the people that Jason Kenney said were the inmates taking over the asylum."
Williams believes TBA is pushing the conservatives towards private health care and education, and eventually, towards Alberta police, pension and separation.
"It's not a one-person-one-vote equal representation in a democracy," she said. "Here's a few people that are very well organized and motivated to try to move the party and the government in the direction that they want it to move."
NO RESPONSE, LIMITED INFORMATION
CTV News reached out to TBA for comment on this story Saturday and another on Friday.
We haven't received a response.
Sygutek believes the lack of information isn't attractive as a voter.
"You can't get anything off their website," she said. "You can't really get what their policies and procedures are, and that should be apparent."
We do know Take Back Alberta is a registered third-party advertiser created last year.
Right-wing activist David Parker is the executive director, and Marco Van Huigenbos is the CFO. The latter is the Fort Macleod town councillor who was charged for participating in the Coutts border blockade.
Fort Macleod town councillor Marco Van Huigenbos
Parker began the group as a way to push back against COVID-19 measures, but it now has a wider scope.
TBA takes credit for removing Jason Kenney from his post as premier and electing Danielle Smith.
Parker wouldn't tell CTV News last week how many members TBA has, but when asked about the group Friday, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen said "there's a lot of them across the province."
Dreeshen didn't deny some of those members now hold the majority of positions within his constituency association.
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