UCP members pack Red Deer hotel for start of founding convention

More than 2,500 United Conservative Party members are packing a Red Deer hotel, even spilling into the parking lot, as the party starts its inaugural annual general meeting.

New party will set policy this weekend

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer greets United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney prior to his speech at the UPC annual general meeting Friday night. (CBC)

More than 2,500 United Conservative Party (UCP) members are packing a Red Deer hotel, even spilling into the parking lot, as the party starts its inaugural annual general meeting— the largest in Alberta history. 

​This weekend's AGM has exceeded the party's expectations. Organizers originally planned for 1,000 people.

The event is now so large the party has booked overflow rooms at the Red Deer Sheraton and will serve lunches under tents set up in the parking lot. 

​Extra parking spaces have been freed up at nearby Red Deer College, with buses shuttling delegates to the hotel. 

"This weekend is a testament to the success of the unity vision," UCP Leader Jason Kenney told reporters at a news conference Friday afternoon.

The three-day event is the first meeting of party membership since the UCP formed last summer when the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties agreed to merge.

The focus of the weekend is on setting policy and governance for the party. 

Members submitted 1,400 policy resolutions which have been whittled down to 250 after surveys and regional conferences.

Parental notification for GSAs

Many of the policies that made the final cut echo traditional conservative principles like small government, low taxes and fiscal responsibility.

Not surprisingly, a policy to repeal the province's carbon tax is near the top of the list. Another proposal would allow the creation of "privately-funded, privately delivered health care services to address excessive wait times" while another supports "universal access to high-quality, timely, publicly funded health care."

Some socially conservative policies made it to the final list. Anti-abortion groups are supporting a proposal to defund procedures that are not "medically necessary."

Another group of proposals rebuts a law passed by the NDP government last fall that prohibit teachers from informing parents if their child joins a gay-straight alliance.

One proposal aims to "reinstate parental opt-in consent for any subjects of a religious or sexual nature." That includes extracurricular activities and clubs.

Kenney said he has purposely been hands-off throughout the policy development process so the process could be driven by the grassroots.

"We're building a big-tent coalition here," he said. "You don't build a big-tent coalition by some telling some people that their input is not welcome.

"The more people who are engaged, the more likely it is that the result will reflect mainstream Alberta values."

The UCP paid tribute to former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean as the conference opened Friday evening. Jean, who left provincial politics in March, was given his chair from the Alberta legislature. 

The tribute was followed by a speech from federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

Scheer praised Kenney for his success in uniting Alberta conservatives. He also took aim at both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta's NDP government. 

"Stand with me, stand with Jason," Scheer said. "Stand for a free prosperous, better future for everyone in Canada.

"It starts by making sure that here in Canada, we make Justin Trudeau a one-term prime minister and in Alberta, Rachel Notley a one-term premier."


Michelle Bellefontaine

Provincial affairs reporter

Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature for CBC News in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada. You can reach her at Michelle.Bellefontaine@cbc.ca.