An active member of the Conservative Party her entire adult life, a municipal councillor and long-time newspaper publisher, Lisa Sygutek considers herself relatively savvy when it comes to politics.
That’s why she was taken aback by her lack of familiarity with Take Back Alberta (TBA) until a Livingstone-Macleod Constituency Association meeting in mid-March. That experience and further inquiry into the movement has Sygutek questioning her voting strategy in next month’s provincial election, while urging others to ensure any votes cast are informed ones.
“I think when you go in to vote you need to go in to vote with your eyes wide open,” she says. “And there might be a very strong section of the (United Conservative Party) that agrees with the philosophy of Take Back Alberta, but my guess is there’s a lot who don’t even know what they are.”
Take Back Alberta was founded in 2022 and is registered as a third-party advertiser, which Elections Alberta defines as an individual person, corporation, trade union or group who advertises to promote or oppose a registered political participant.
On its official website, the TBA is billed as a “grassroots movement built to advance freedom and transfer power from the ruling elite to the people of Alberta” with the support of a vast, volunteer network of “freedom-loving Albertans from all walks of life.”
Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, says TBA represents the right flank of the UCP party, closer to that same position in the Wildrose Party, than they are to the former Progressive Conservative party.
“They don’t represent moderate conservatism and their policies are offset with a lot of Albertans, based on the polling we’ve seen,” she says, adding the TBA shows greater concern with asserting Alberta’s independence and, in some case, with separation, than the greater populace.
The movement has supported the Coutts border blockade and convoy protests in Ottawa, says Williams, and was strongly opposed to vaccines or restrictions during the height of the COVID pandemic, while favouring privatization of elements of health care, a provincial police force and an Alberta pension plan.
“If they are more radical or further to the right than most Albertans, that ought to be something Albertans are aware of so they can use that information to inform the vote that they cast in the next election,” she says.
Take Back Alberta boasts of successfully leading the fight to remove then Premier Jason Kenney from power and electing Danielle Smith as leader of the UPC. Williams says it represent a very well-organized effort on the board level and constituency level to install candidates sympathetic with its views, in some cases candidates who had been rejected by the UCP as too radical.
Sygutek is no stranger to constituency association meetings and board elections. After joining a lengthy lineup for last month’s Livingstone-Macleod meeting she says she heard a lot of “vitriol,” including angry comments about the retiring MLA and how things would be better once the TBA took control of the board.
“I didn’t know what Take Back Alberta was. I brought out my phone and did a search and said: ‘Oh, holy cow, this is what’s going on,’ ” recalls Sygutek.
She was subsequently surprised by the vast sea of hands that went up during nominations for board members, which screamed of an “overhaul” to her, as well as the lack of representation afforded to the differing communities within the constituency.
The atmosphere of the entire meeting was “charged,” says Sygutek, adding when nominees stood up and provided a brief synopsis of who they are, it was all: “I don’t like vaccinations. I don’t like government overreach. I don’t like, I don’t like, I don’t like…”
She wrote of her experience at that meeting and subsequent concerns in an editorial in the Crowsnest Pass Herald. The weekly publication typically sells about 2,000 copies, and averages 200 website hits each edition. That particular publication had more than 11,000 hits, and when combined with comments provided through social media, she believes the subject resonated with her readers.
Sygutek reached out following the meeting to inquire about the subsequent turnover in board members but wasn’t provided with a specific number. Neither has she been successful in learning much about the TBA through its website.
“What’s your policy on recalling MLAs? What’s your policy on controlling MLAs? Where do you stand on these issues I’m hearing third-hand?” she asks of Take Back Alberta. “If you are worried about a segment of the population who is scared about voting for the UCP because you are so involved in it, you need to be clear and open about what your policies are, so people like me don’t feel frightened.”
An informed electorate is always key leading up to the vote. Williams says, however, it isn’t just a matter of looking at individual candidates and deciding whether one agrees with them or not. Voters may want to consider the level of influence Take Back Alberta is having on the election as well as the direction the United Conservative Party is going.
“If they have the information and decide this isn’t the direction, (that) they don’t want to give power to folks who are exercising it in this way, then they have some decisions to make as they go to the polls,” she says. “The impact of that vote is likely to be much different than simply voting for a party because of the very – in some cases – extreme views held by some of these people who are activating to try and get their people installed in positions of power.”
By Craig Albrecht, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on May 04, 2023