Alberta political parties go virtual for annual meetings

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing Alberta political parties to move their annual general meetings from packed hotel ballrooms and hospitality suites to the internet. 

Overcoming 'Zoom fatigue' a challenge, organizer says

Premier Jason Kenney and members of his cabinet took questions from United Conservative Party members at the party's annual general meeting in Calgary last December. This year, the UCP AGM is moving online due to COVID-19. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC )

The COVID-19 pandemic is prompting Alberta political parties to move their annual general meetings from packed hotel ballrooms and hospitality suites to the Internet. 

The Alberta Party is having its AGM via the popular Zoom videoconferencing app on Saturday. 

The governing United Conservative Party is holding its AGM over two weekends in October. Policy and governance debates on Oct. 16 and 17, and speeches on Oct. 24. 

Cynthia Moore, the chair of the UCP Virtual AGM, said the party decided in April to move the convention online, a big change from last December, when the UCP took over an entire hotel in Calgary for the 2019 event. 

The 2020 AGM will be held via video conferencing with policy votes conducted with the help of an outside voting company. Speeches will be taped or delivered live from a studio. Speakers will include party leader and Premier Jason Kenney and other guests who will be announced at a later date.  

While the virtual setup presents challenges, there are also opportunities. 

Moore said the party can have speakers who may not have been available that weekend or can't travel to Alberta.

Members who are intimidated about speaking in front of 1,500 people may feel more comfortable participating in an  online policy discussion, she said. 

Moore says the main goal is to make the event as interesting as possible.

"Let's face it, there's a bit of Zoom fatigue going on and we know that," she said.

"We're working very hard to make this as visually interesting for our members as possible so they want to be part of it."

'Dipping our toes'

The Alberta Party is holding its AGM on Saturday via Zoom. Party president Conrad Guay says Saturday's event will be a stripped-down event allowing members to deal with necessary party business as well as participate in a policy debate. Voting will be conducted through a third-party app the party has used before. 

The virtual AGM will be an experiment for larger events down the road.  Guay says the party will likely be heading into a leadership race in the next year so this AGM can help lay the groundwork.

"Depending on how COVID goes, we may have to go for online style campaigning and voting," he said. 

"So this is us dipping our toes into it, making sure we got the bare essentials figured out and then just growing and expanding from that."

The other challenge facing organizers is how to make the event fun for members. Political conventions are social and networking events, with members frequenting hospitality suites into the early hours. 

The Alberta Party tried taking that into consideration with its planning. Guay said the party is sending out packages to registrants and making party swag available for purchase. 

"Even if it's just a boiled-down AGM where it's just the business of the party, we still want people coming away from it feeling good about it," he said. "Feeling like it was worth it, feeling like they were a part of something important." 

Both parties will have tech support available for people who aren't as familiar with video conferencing.  

Moore says a lack of broadband internet could be challenging for members in more remote parts of the province. The party will encourage people in those areas to get together in smaller groups to watch the convention while respecting masking and social distancing protocols, she said.