Both of Alberta’s major political parties will meet over the weekend to set the stage ahead of the provincial election scheduled for the end of May.
“I know that a lot of the conversation will be on matters of addressing the affordability crisis,” Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley said of her party’s plans for the weekend.
Notley will give a 30-minute speech at what she says will likely be the largest convention her the NDP has held in the province, at the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Calgary.
The party will debate multiple resolutions, including one which would see it support “implementing legal protections for transgender and non-binary athletes to participate in competitive sports leagues of their choice.”
Another, proposed by the New Democratic Youth of Alberta, would support lowering the provincial voting age to 16.
The party’s belief that Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) should be indexed is also being voted on with a resolution that would see it support increasing and indexing the benefit. The program is designed to provide benefits to those with permanent medical issues that prevent them from working.
Meanwhile, the UCP’s convention will be Premier Danielle Smith’s first address to her party members since they elected her leader on Oct. 6.
She will take the stage Saturday at the River Cree Resort and Casino just west of Edmonton with a dinner that night, slated as an “election 2023 kick-off.”
In between, the party will vote on several of its own policies, some of which are proving controversial.
One, proposed by the Edmonton West Henday constituency, would “halt the practice of any student being taught that by reason of their ethnic heritage they are privileged, they are inherently racist or they bear historic guilt due to said ethnic heritage or that all of society is a racist system.”
It goes on to say “any differential treatment practiced by any educator due to said ethnic heritage will be halted. Instruction of these concepts will not take place whether it is advanced under the title of so-called critical race theory, intersectionality, anti-racism, diversity and inclusion or some other name.”
University of Alberta international relations professor Andy Knight says that resolution is extremely concerning.
“Even at the university level, I don’t see us teaching systematically critical race theory in the way that they try to frame this is a bit of a red herring, I think,” Knight said.
Knight told Global News the critical race theory referenced in the proposed policy is actually meant to look at history, while acknowledging racism experienced during major events.
He fears teachers could be punished for even discussing current events like the death of George Floyd: a Black man who was pinned to the pavement outside a Minneapolis corner store for more than nine minutes and died, sparking protests worldwide in a reckoning over police brutality and racism.
“We need to educate people about what the history is all about. And not sort of hold on to the sort of very skewed and very limited view of history that was written by Europeans,” Knight added.
He also pointed out the resolution does not reference what kind of schools, ages or programs would be affected, arguing students at certain ages are asking about the subject.
“It’s really an attempt to push back against diversity and inclusion.”
When asked about the resolution Friday, Notley urged the UCP to vote against the idea.
“If they fail to, then I think that sends a very clear message to Albertans that this UCP is very interested in the extreme views of a very small group of Albertans,” she added.
A separate proposal brought forward by the Airdrie East constituency would strengthen a parent’s right to deny their child’s gender identity.
“…uphold the rights of parents and caregivers so as not to require them to affirm or socially condition a child in a gender identity that is incongruent with the child’s birth sex,” resolution 17 reads.
If the policies do pass, they do not hold any immediate legal authority. But, they do signal a direction the party is going ahead of the spring election and what laws could be enacted going forward.
“I think a lot of people are going to be watching for what kind of vision for the future the parties and the leaders stand for,” Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams said Friday.
“There’s an opportunity here to start a conversation with Albertans, try to respond to the concerns that that Albertans have. But it’s just a beginning.”
She said that it appears many of the UCP policy proposals do not match up to the issues voters are currently interested in.
“Most Albertans are worried about health care, they’re worried about affordability, they’re worried about education. And that doesn’t look like it’s showing up as a priority,” Williams said.
Both annual general meetings run Friday through Sunday.