UCP's challenge: appeal to Albertans who are not socially conservative, political scientists say

Political watchers who followed the United Conservative Party’s convention in Red Deer this weekend say the task ahead for the UCP is clear: appeal to the Albertans who are not socially conservative.

Convention delegates were socially conservative, but majority of Albertans are not, U of A prof says

UCP Leader Jason Kenney told reporters in Red Deer on Sunday it will fall to him to interpret the resolutions passed at the convention and decide their relevance to party policy. (CBC)

Political watchers who followed the United Conservative Party's convention in Red Deer this weekend say the party's task ahead is clear: appeal to the Albertans who are not socially conservative.

During the convention, a majority of UCP members passed a motion that would support parents' rights to be informed if their children join gay-straight alliances. Three MLAs urged members to vote against it, but the motion passed with 57 per cent support.

"We see that a majority of the delegates to this policy convention were socially conservative and we know that a majority of Albertans are not, so that's the task ahead," said Jared Wesley, a political science professor at the University of Alberta.

Wesley joined Melanee Thomas, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Monday for a discussion about UCP policy and branding.

How well did the UCP manage its "brand image" at its first convention? We'll talk to two political analysts about the directions party members gave Jason Kenney's at the weekend's AGM. 8:20

'Albertans are moderate if not progressive'

Thomas was an advisor for a team that conducted a random survey of 1,200 Albertans for CBC News earlier this spring. The Trend Research poll, under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research, used a hybrid method of telephone and online surveys and had a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Data from that poll revealed strong support for the UCP but also strong support for reducing the gender pay gap. Half of people surveyed said they believe everyone benefits when businesses make a lot of money and 78 per cent said more should be done to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.

"When we look at values and beliefs, most Albertans are moderate if not progressive," Thomas said. "A socially conservative party simply cannot be a big tent in Alberta, because Albertans are not socially conservative."

Questioning Kenney's 'Grassroots Guarantee'

UCP Leader Jason Kenney launched his unity campaign with a promise that party policies would be developed democratically by members, not imposed by its leader.

"We've had enough arrogant, top-down leadership," he wrote in August.

But Kenney said Sunday that policy passed by members will not necessarily appear in the final election platform.

"Guess what, I'm the leader. I get to interpret the resolution and its relevance to party policy," he said.

Politicians can't have it both ways, Thomas said on Monday.

"You can't have a super-majority of delegates say that they support a particular issue in a particular direction on the one hand, but then the party leader nullifies it," she said.

UCP member says he supports motion and not outing gay kids

Tom Olsen, a party member seeking the UCP nomination in the Calgary-Buffalo riding, said he was comfortable with the motion and committed to not outing gay children.

He called the motion "poorly worded" and said it was designed to enshrine parents' right to hear from schools when children are taught anything about sex or religion.

"There's room for me in the big tent," he said Monday on CBC Radio's Calgary Eyeopener.

We speak to party member Tom Olsen about some of the key moments from UCP convention that took place in Red Deer on the weekend. 7:11

Harrison Fleming, a co-ordinator with the conservative organization LGBTory, said he was discouraged by the vote but did not think the motion would become a part of Kenney's platform.

"The platform document that the UCP will be bringing forward is something that's not only going to represent the party members, but it's going to be something that represents the values of Albertans as a whole," he said Sunday.

Prof predicts economics will trump social issues during campaign

Crafting policy that appeals to party members and a wider base of voters is a challenge that all political parties face, the political scientists said.

"Remember back in 2005, when the Harper conservatives had a big policy convention and there were a bunch of things on their plate that didn't make it into their final platform," Wesley said.

Thomas predicted Kenney's election campaign will focus "almost exclusively" on economic issues.

"He won't be campaigning on things like the gay-straight alliances or any of these other authoritarian type issues that have come up from the convention floor," she said.