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Parental rights, AHS and pension promises underline annual UCP gathering

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Parental rights -- and the admission of child safety -- took centre stage during the last day of the United Conservative Party's annual general meeting.

Premier Danielle Smith, in an afternoon speech to her party delegates, promised to fight the feds and build Alberta, but got the loudest applause when she promised to keep parents in control of their child’s education.

“I want every parent listening today to hear me loud and clear: Parents are the primary caregivers and educators of their children,” Smith said Saturday to a standing ovation from almost 3,800 delegates.

“We cannot have a successful province or a successful society without strong and nurturing families,” she added.

“And regardless of how often the extreme left undermines the role of parents, I want you to know that parental rights and choice in your child's education is -- and will continue to be -- a fundamental core principle of this party and this government. We will never apologize for it.”

PASSED POLICIES

Smith’s speech came prior to members debating and voting on 30 separate resolutions.

Such resolutions, if passed, are not binding on the government, but do reflect grassroots members' input on where they want public policy to go.

One resolution mandates parental consent if a child under the age of 16 wishes to use a different name or pronoun at school, mirroring legislation recently passed in Saskatchewan that has drawn harsh criticism from LGBTQ advocates.

Other resolutions include a proposal to protect an individual's right to refuse any medical procedure they disagree with, including therapy and vaccines, regardless of the "societal benefit," banning race-based admissions in post-secondary institutions, ending provincial funding of supervised drug consumption sites and refusing transgender women in women's correctional facilities.

TBA BACKED

Parental rights are a bedrock belief in the Take Back Alberta (TBA) movement, a coalition of UCP members that has gained influence within the party and its governing board.

The group exercised its clout over the weekend by showing up in large numbers.

Leader David Parker took the mic multiple times during policy debate.

Craig Hill, a Sherwood Park member, travelled to the AGM to partake in TBA-influenced voting.

"Take Back Alberta said we have people who will keep the premier accountable," Hill said. "I thought that sounds fun, so I'll come along."

He continued, "Over COVID, I noticed our rights and freedoms were a little limited."

Alberta's Forestry and Parks Minister Todd Loewen said he welcomes the extra perspectives under the big tent.

"Everyone should want to be involved in politics," he said. "Things (within the UCP) have changed, improved. We've got a really good direction now."

Of course, not everyone at the BMO Centre associated with TBA.

John Nibourg from Edmonton-McClung believes its views are too extreme for the party.

"They're a group mad about something," he said. "They're sure why they're mad. They want something to change, but they don't know how they're going to do it."

'DISAGGREGATING AHS'

In her speech, Smith also received a standing ovation for talk of decentralizing the province's health authority, Alberta Health Services (AHS).

"The term we're using is 'disaggregating AHS,'" she later told reporters. "Too many decisions happen at a province-wide level and it (ends) up creating a lot of frustration."

She said to expect to see a new process introduced soon that divides up health responsibility and leaves AHS to acute care facilities and distribution.

PENSION PROMISES

Smith is now off to Halifax, where she'll meet with other premiers this week.

She says Alberta's Pension Plan isn't on the speaking schedule, but she'll make a point to discuss it with her counterparts.

Smith claims she'll promise the other premiers a provincial exit won't leave the Canada Pension Plan "non-viable".

The UCP head says Alberta analysts have concluded an amicable exit that doesn't cripple the CPP is possible.

CONSERVATIVE VOTING

Political scientist Lori Williams said the resolutions, and how they play out, will be watched carefully.

"I think the eyes are going to (be) on what all that portends for party unity," Williams, with Mount Royal University, said in an interview.

Several of the resolutions seem to take "fringe-right positions," Williams added.

"It's certainly not the sort of thing that most Albertans are concerned about."

That was apparent outside of the BMO Centre Saturday morning, where protesters urged attendees to try to sway the party focus away from pensions and parents.

SMITH SPEAKS

The premier also touched on familiar topics and promised anew to fight federal rules to limit the province's energy and electricity industries.

“Albertans will have access to affordable and reliable electricity no matter the season, the weather, or the time of day, and we will not permit the federal government to risk the safety and prosperity of Albertans,” said Smith.

“We will hold firm to the knowledge that the world needs more Alberta energy and technology -- not less of it.”

With oil and gas prices returning billions of dollars to Alberta’s coffers in recent years, Smith promised to continue to reduce taxes, balance budgets, pay off debt, deliver more money to savings, increase the housing stock, reduce high power and auto insurance bills and eventually build a high-speed rail link between Edmonton and Calgary.

“We will build because that is what Albertans have always done. But we will do so with fiscal discipline,” said Smith.

This was the first meeting since Smith and the UCP defeated the NDP in the May election.

With files from the Canadian Press  

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