For some local conservatives the United Conservative Party Annual General Meeting made them feel excited about the momentum of the new party. For others, it left them questioning their future with the provincial party.
St. Albert UCP member Dana Popadynetz, who has bounced between the PC and Wildrose parties for around 15 years, said the decision the grassroots made around GSAs was "utterly infuriating.”
The issue of parental rights overshadowed the weekend and one controversial resolution surrounding gay-straight alliances (GSAs) drew ire from progressive factions within the party. The policy would have parents notified when their child is involved with any extracurricular groups of a religious or sexual nature, including gay-straight alliances.
“People will say it's about parental rights and education. It's not. It’s really clearly an anti-GSA resolution,” Popadynetz said.
Popadynetz said he was also very unhappy with another policy at the convention, which again focused around parental rights. The policy would require parental consent for all invasive medical procedures on children, which some members, including Popadynetz, see as “clearly an anti-abortion bill."
It was no surprise to Popadynetz to see social conservatism within the new conservative party, but he said it was “utterly astounding” to see the policy resolutions make it to the floor and then get enough votes to pass.
The party rank-and-file butted heads with the sitting MLAs in the party when the debate over GSAs came up. Three current MLAs spoke against the motion, unsuccessfully asking the grassroots not to pass the resolution. In the end the vote was passed with 57 per cent, 562 in favour of the motion and 429 against.
Although Popadynetz still has a UCP membership, he will not be supporting the party overall moving forward into the next election. He said he will likely vote in the UCP nomination to select the local candidate but he will make his decision in the 2019 election based on the candidates that are put forward, not throw his loyal support behind the conservative party.
Neil Korotash, who spent around five years with the Progressive Conservative Party and is now the current president of the Alberta Party St. Albert Constituency Association, said that after watching the votes on GSAs this weekend it reaffirmed his decision to leave the united conservative movement.
Ryan Hastman, a 20-year Conservative party member who ping-ponged between both the former Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties, attended the convention and said that he was excited by the turnout and the direction of the party but was "perhaps disappointed" with the GSA resolution. Hastman said that he was lined up at the microphone to speak against the resolution.
“You have spent 72 hours doing positive things and then one or two things happen that are not totally ideal and you end up focusing on that,” Hastman said.
Hastman, who is a St. Albert UCP board member, travelled down to Red Deer for the weekend convention with around 10 to 15 other St. Albertans. Hastman said that the atmosphere at the convention was “giddy” and the experience was “overwhelmingly positive.”
Overall, Hastman said he was pleased with the weekend and the direction the party is going on economic and energy policy.
More than 2,000 conservatives attended the meeting over the weekend when the party voted for the first time on policy resolutions. The meeting came only two years after Jason Kenney began the movement to merge the conservative legacy parties.
Hastman knew going into the weekend that there would be a large diversity of opinions and disagreements after spending time in both of the legacy parties.
“The nature of a big tent is that we can handle that. If I wanted everyone in the movement to agree with me then we would end up with a party of one,” Hastman said.
On Sunday, Kenney spoke with reporters and said that he would not have voted for the GSA resolution if he was on the floor and that his party does not support the mandatory notification of parents when their children join GSAs.