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Taking Back Alberta? Questions surround right-wing group and its political power

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If you're not yet familiar with Take Back Alberta, you likely will be soon.

The group, commonly referred to as TBA, is a registered third-party advertiser and bills itself as a way to get people involved in democracy. 

Political watchers say its reach extends much further than that.

"They really are the power behind the throne of the UCP and I think that'll become more apparent once the election is over, if the UCP are victorious,” alleged Duane Bratt, political scientist at Mount Royal University. "Instead of trying to start a third party, they are taking over from within."

TBA was started last year by long-time right-wing activist David Parker. It began as a way to push back against COVID-19 measures, but has since drastically grown.

It now takes credit for removing Jason Kenney from his post as premier and electing Danielle Smith. 

Members have ties to the Coutts border blockade and the Ottawa convoy. 

The self-proclaimed "freedom loving" group has also taken over other grassroots organizations and parts of the United Conservative Party.

Leaders say they currently occupy half of all UCP board positions, and the group is expected to put forth its own right-leaning candidates in Alberta's next election.

"They are willing to put in the time and effort to show up to nomination meetings," Bratt said. "They are putting in the time and effort to take over constituency boards and take over the UCP executive. And the several million Albertans who are going to vote on May 29 are not doing these types of things."

JUST 'EDUCATIONAL,' SAYS LEADER

TBA's executive director tells CTV News his group is easier to define.

"(We're) an educational organization that teaches people how their political system works and how they can get engaged with it," Parker said. 

He says TBA is only mobilizing voters, not influencing sitting politicians.

"There's not any direct connection with the government, we just encourage people to get involved with the government," Parker said. "I don't think there's any evidence that I'm pulling any puppet strings. I'm advocating very loudly and publicly for policy positions: that's what democracy is."

Some have linked the group to plans for privately delivered health care and education.

Parker wouldn't elaborate. 

And there is an air of secrecy around how exactly the organization works. 

The executive director wouldn't say how many members Take Back Alberta has, but it could be as high as tens of thousands: the majority believed to be rural.  

Its financials -- which can't be used to advertise but can indirectly help conservative campaigns -- are also unknown. 

"(The fundraising) is to make sure things work properly, to make sure David has gas in his truck to move from meeting to meeting, (because) gas isn't cheap," Marco Van Huigenbos, TBA CFO, said. "I would say 99 per cent of all donations are the $10 to $100 donations. People care enough to give."

Political watchers dispute that claim, even tying TBA to large out-of-province donors. 

Van Huigenbos says he doesn't understand why. 

"The biggest name connected to this is David Parker."

Van Huigenbos was a Coutts border protester and Fort Macleod town councillor. He's one of three individuals charged with mischief over $5,000 in connection to the blockade.

'MYSTERIOUS' ORGANIZATION

Bratt isn't alone in calling Take Back Alberta "mysterious."

Despite claims from Parker that "anyone is welcome to come," CTV News was denied entrance into two Wednesday night meetings.

That meant no answers to questions about how TBA will utilize its base -- believed to be in the thousands -- in the lead-up to May's election. 

Literature handed out to attendees asked for help door knocking, making calls, posting signs and even praying.

The largest goal? Stopping Rachel Notley and her so-called "socialist agenda."

"There's a lot that we don't know, and a lot of this stuff isn't going to come out until after the election," Bratt said.

"A lot of Albertans don't really know what's at stake here."

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