It took more than five years, two leadership races and one ongoing RCMP investigation, but there’s finally a clear winner in the 2017 merger between the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. With Finance Minister Travis Toews announcing he won’t run in this May’s election and Danielle Smith ensconced as premier, the Wildrose faction has emerged as the dominant partner — one that’s set to push the party even further to the right.

Toews is just the latest Kenney-era cabinet minister who’s decided to step aside. Rajan Sawney, minister of trade, immigration and multiculturalism, announced in February that she also won’t be running in the next provincial election. Leela Aheer, former minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women (and the de facto moderate in the United Conservative Party leadership race), conceded to reality and announced she wouldn’t run after it became clear she wouldn’t even be able to win her own party’s nomination. Doug Schweitzer, former minister of jobs, economy and innovation, got out ahead of the results of the leadership race last August by announcing his own resignation from cabinet. And as Radio-Canada’s Jean-Emmanuel Fortier tweeted, Environment Minister and former energy minister Sonya Savage isn’t expected to run in the next election, either.

Some amount of turnover is expected in any government, especially one that’s been through a period as bruising as the last few years. But this degree of churn among senior government ministers is noteworthy, especially when it turns what was once a nominally united conservative party into one dominated by a small and mostly rural faction within its midst. And while it’s former Wildrose MLAs like Smith and Rob Anderson (Smith’s executive director) who are in charge of the UCP for now, they may soon answer to a group called “Take Back Alberta” (TBA) — one that promises to push the party even further to the right.

Founded in 2022 by right-wing activist David Parker, its leadership team also includes CFO Marco Van Huigenbos, a Fort Macleod town councillor who was one of the anti-government protesters charged last year with participating in the Coutts border crossing blockade. After playing an important role in helping Smith become leader, TBA has since set its sights on local nomination races and internal party executive votes — including trying to force out former cabinet minister and Kenney loyalist Jason Nixon.

As Crowsnest Pass Herald publisher Lisa Sygutek noted in a recent column, the group isn’t shy about throwing its weight around. “What I experienced,” she wrote, “was basically a takeover by the ‘Take Back Alberta’ faction.” Sygutek, a self-described “card-carrying conservative my entire adult life,” said the recent election of candidates for the board of directors on her local constituency association “felt like a coup.” As Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt told CTV, “They really are the power behind the throne of the UCP… Instead of trying to start a third party, they are taking over from within.”

So far, it seems, they’ve been wildly successful. Witness the new nominee for Calgary-Lougheed, the riding held by former premier Jason Kenney from 2017 to 2022. Eric Bouchard, the local entrepreneur who defeated four other candidates to win the nomination, is openly hostile to the COVID-19 mandates Kenney implemented while premier.

Then there’s Torry Tanner, the UCP candidate for Lethbridge-West who participated in an unsuccessful lawsuit against former chief medical officer of health Deena Hinshaw — and who apparently believes “kids, even those attending kindergarten, are being exposed to pornographic materials, or worse yet, having teachers help them change their gender identity with absolutely no parental consent or knowledge whatsoever.”

Albertans probably need to update their understanding of what the UCP stands for, and what it stands against. This is no longer the pro-business, big-tent conservative movement Kenney spent the better part of two years building, one that drew many of its best candidates from Alberta’s major cities. This is not a party that is promising “jobs, economy, pipelines” the way Kenney did so successfully.

Instead, it’s an increasingly paranoid and populist party that leans heavily towards the rural worldview, one that is inherently skeptical of anything resembling progress and is deeply invested in relitigating the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s one that will push Alberta further to the right than it’s ever been. And it promises to challenge any number of established norms, from interfering with the administration of justice to overturning the polluter pays principle.

Danielle Smith may be the premier of Alberta, but it's a small group of far-right activists that are calling the shots in her party right now. @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver

Albertans are welcome to vote for that, of course. But they should know what they’re actually voting for — and what they’ll actually get if they do. Kenney’s aborted term as premier was bad for many Albertans, but the next four years could be much, much worse.

I’m thrilled to announce that my new newsletter is joining Canada’s National Observer’s roster. You can expect my signature, no-nonsense opinion writing delivered to your inbox in a personalized newsletter format each week. Subscribe here and never miss one of my articles.

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While i rarely agreed with Jason Kenney on many issues he was right in his view that the UCP is now being run by those on the lunatic fringe

The far Right is taking over Conservative parties globally. Nothing like this has happened on the Left that I am aware of since the Bolsheviks. ‘Decent’ conservatives need to take note. I held my nose and voted conservative federally and provincially when it meant defeating some far right imposters. No regrets.

If you take a minute to ponder what firing all the gatekeepers means it contemplates the centralization of power beyond anything we have ever experienced in this country. Couple that with privatizing everything, including H2O, and you are looking at a further concentration of wealth and power. That is not good for democracy nor humanity. We need competent gatekeepers. Unchecked the post modern capitalist state will destroy the planet. That is math not hyperbole.

As I write this I am agonizing over cancelling my order for the two stroke conversion kit for a mountain bike and drooling over a vintage motorcycle for sale. We are all part of the problem and we all gotta fix it. We can start by keeping these nutjobs out of power.

If you must go motorized into the woods, why not an e-mountain bike? Or an electric conversion kit for your vintage motor cycle? Change is local, no?

Yeah, ABC. Anything but conservatives. "Decent, commonsense conservatives" are no more, people like Robert Stanfield, and it's taking everyone, but especially adherents and affiliates WAY too long to recognize that, itself an indicator of a WAY too tribal attachment to a mere iteration of a political party.
Being tribal NDP or "card-carrying" anything isn't good at this juncture; it's just too "closed" and not unlike religious "faith." Coincidentally only conservatives have people like "pro-lifer" Leslie Lewis who feels comfortable enough leading with that particular identifier to run with it on the national stage! The religious still claim to simply "want in" just like the "West" 30 years ago, which they supposedly accomplished via the Reform Party which ALSO happens to be very religious. At this point don't we need to recognize that true believers are like the convoy in that they don't actually just want to be "heard," as Justin said, they want to be obeyed.
And the liberal-to-a fault (there is a point here) left wing, maybe a tad too preoccupied with the expanding acronym of what constitutres a human being while completely nullifying the negative component somehow gets lumped in as having parity with the other guys trying to take down democracy itself. They're not exempt historically but this particular freedumb, post-truth nightmare still originated, grew and thrived under the auspices of the right, and has thrived at first by hiding its political aspiration in plain sight like religion, along with religion, and now "coming out," guns blazing. As usual, women are first in their sights.

I'm old enough to remember PC MP Flora MacDonald. She was branded a Red Tory, which is kinda like a Blue Liberal. No matter the colour, it's just one of the many moving parts in the Great Canadian Centre. Flora was a notable humanitarian and one of the first women to occupy a senior federal cabinet post as Canada's Foreign Affairs minister. There was a time when being conservative had intellectual value and worked for the common good.

The Centre is disappearing -- more like buried alive -- in Alberta. It's fascinating, actually phenomenal, how some politicos are hypnotized by small minded radical right wing ideology to the point that they actively work towards shrinking their world. But take average Albertans to task for tolerating and accommodating political braggadocio, hubris and chronic whining about confederation by asking them to choose between some backward rural rump state or giving up their Canadian citizenship, my guess as a former Albertan is that the vast majority will not be giving up their Canadian passports anytime soon for something very tiny by comparison.

If this assumption were to hold true in multiple independent opinion polls or better yet, an actual referendum, then one can legitimately question the veracity of Alberta's claims to unfair treatment under confederation. Being a chronic complainer and a loudmouth doesn't make you right or any less susceptible to being purchased by private interests to do their bidding. In fact, anti-federal rhetoric acts to distract the scrutiny of this provincial reality.

well put. But the Alberta issue still remains. I strongly feel our Federal Government should stop subsidizing big oil companies with our tax payer dollars. We also need to make they pay for the pollution the rest of Canada has to put up with by both big oil and some of their politicians.

I'm a bit confused as to your meanings Tris.....or the direction of your argument. I hear you on the pro-lifer, religious impetus to ignore modern problems and issues (like covid, like climate change) but where are you going with 'liberal to a fault"???

It often seems to me that we are in the mess we're in because too many of us still harbour fears of change....sure liberals have been talking about the value of diversity for a few years now........but if you look closely at any of our political gatherings you should easily see who 'THE FIGURES IN DOMINANCE' are.

I capitalize that terminology, which I gleaned from graduate school a few decades ago.....because it refers to white men in suits. I rather suspect that said suits (Jordan Peterson comes to mind) are trying to scare us with BS about transgender, and other diversity fears. Yes.

It has always been the right that leads the dog whistles about the "OTHER"....but that kaka works more often than not.......distracting us from real issues, like the report on the mass murder of 22Canadians in Nova Scotia three years ago. What the commission said about endemic domestic violence and how it was exacerbated by the pandemic is important.
BUT THESE ALT RIGHT MOSTLY WHITE COUNTRY BOYS ARE GOING TO MAKE SURE THAT PRIVATIZED VIOLENCE IS NEVER GOING TO BE THE ISSUE...I can hardly wait for the blowback about the commissions recommendation that men found guilty of domestic violence should have their gun licenses revoked!!!

I'm with you Mary, was just thrilled with that emphasis on the violence against women. And Jordan Peterson is just another religious nut job who's found a button to push with his pale, limp wrist. The token "intellectual" for the anti-intellectuals.
When I say liberal to a fault I'm calling out the "holier-than-thou" stuff, like us progressives acting disingenuously like we don't even know what "hate" is, and that we can even somehow legislate AGAINST it, lumping it in with common aversion or dislike for gawd's sake! So "virtue signalling" is the one thing the right has a point on.
I think we fostered this ourselves after 9-11 when the fanaticism of Islam showed up "over here," and everyone kind of weirdly started to try and "out-tolerate" each other when it came to the poor, maligned Muslims who after all did NOT personally fly those planes. But where was THEIR mass exodus from the appallingly misogynous death cult that is Islam? As if the gender apartheid of women at the hands of the Taliban and ISIS wasn't enough already? At what point does one consider their affiliations?
So I'm thinking of the whole "Islamophobia" charade where we in Canada pretend that the doctrines of Islam AREN'T still horrifying us all regularly, most recently AGAIN in Afghanistan, and then there's the good old evil kingdom of Saudi Arabia where women are just recently "allowed" to I'm deeply progressive, but DO perceive more hypocrisy and church lady-ness among the left than makes sense. It also manifests with the LGBTQ etc. stuff which I watch with interest, I really like the expanding definition of humans beyond gender, but honestly think it needs to dial back the acronym now; it's starting to look ridiculous. And the pronouns are probably too much and will just alienate people. I saw a Katie Couric special a few years ago when the trans idea was getting started and she pointed out, quite rightly I thought, that it was, after all, a "steep learning curve." And bottom line? When it comes to the current clamouring for rights and/or recognition, everyone truly needs to get in line BEHIND women because we've been here longest and are still waiting in most of the world actually where male-centric religion rules. Those guys in robes make the men in suits look positively benign and kind of ineffectual.
But we also have dibs simply because we're half of humanity.

I would be very interested in hearing about how much money Take Back Alberta has gotten from US sources.

Modern journalism doesn't "follow the money" nearly enough. Although the National Observer is better than most.

well its time to accept the fact that many Albertans do not care about the economy, pollution or belonging and working with the rest of Canada. Smith will be controversial with the Federal Government and this will get us all in nowhere land and see no improvements in the relationship. If only we could put up a wall to stop the polluted air from politicians and big oil that would make me happy. Alberta is part of Canada whether they like it or not. I really hope that the Federal Government will stop giving billions of our Canadian tax dollars to Alberta and the oil companies.