When Lisa Sygutek went to cast her ballot in the United Conservative Party’s Livingstone-Macleod nomination vote, she said voters in the Crowsnest Pass were greeted with confusion and hostility.
“It was packed out the door. (Voters) didn’t have the proper identification because they didn’t get the proper information and they were told to leave,” Sygutek said.
“They were just told to leave in an incredibly harassing, inappropriate way… told to get out of the building.”
A post to the Livingstone-Macleod UCP constituency association’s Facebook page did show voting requirements, but Sygutek says individual UCP members did not receive direct instructions.
“You need to email, do a proper communication strategy,” Sygutek said.
“To say they put it on Facebook is a cop out.”
On Saturday, the UCP pushed back on Sygutek’s criticisms surrounding the communication.
“All UCP members are notified of the nomination meeting via email in accordance with our Candidate Selection Rules which includes details on identification required to vote,” UCP director of communications Dave Prisco said in an email to Global News on Saturday, after the story aired.
“In Livingstone-Macleod, emails were sent on Feb. 15 and a reminder on March 8 to all eligible voters.”
A statement posted on the constituency association’s Facebook page from chairman of the local candidate nomination committee Ken Braat does not address voting requirement concerns or staff actions, instead answering questions about polling stations.
“I can inform the public that voting locations and hours were selected and secured prior to our first candidates interviews. At those interviews all candidates were informed of the cutoff date to sell memberships, and the locations of voting stations and hours,” the statement reads in part.
“All nominees were informed Claresholm would have the longest hours to accommodate any member who missed the poll in there area and still wanted to vote.”
Request for further comment from the constituency association by Global News was not returned.
Sygutek is the owner and publisher of the Crowsnest Pass Herald and a sitting Crowsnest Pass councillor.
Speaking not as a member of the media or on behalf of her municipality but simply as a voter, Sygutek wrote an editorial in her paper about the experience where she raised additional concerns.
“There’s part of that constituency association that’s comprised of that Take Back Alberta faction,” Sygutek said.
Take Back Alberta (TBA) is a conservative third-party advertiser, described on its website as a grassroots movement “built to advance freedom and transfer power” to the people of Alberta.
The website also says the organization “led the fight to remove Premier Jason Kenney from power” and “has its sights set on stopping the NDP.”
“They have made it quite known that what they’ve been doing is trying to stack constituency elections, the boards, the ridings and get their people involved,” said political sociologist Trevor Harrison.
“Once you have control of the riding, then it becomes much more easy to also control who is going to be the person who gets the nomination.”
According to Harrison, Take Back Alberta members have been joining the UCP and the group’s ideals are disenfranchising some within the party.
“It’s really sad situation for many of us who are moderate conservatives and I feel that I’m at a loss,” Sygutek said.
“I feel like I’m in the desert and have nowhere to go.”
“Over time it looks like maybe a lot of conservative voters are starting to feel fairly homeless,” Harrison said. “They can’t find a party.
“They don’t want to vote NDP particularly, but the version of UCP that is emerging is one that is too extreme and those people — what are they going to do come election time? Because there is no natural party out there for them at the moment.”
Fort Macleod town councillor and prominent voice during the Coutts border blockade, Marco Van Huigenbos, is TBA’s CFO and the vice-president of fundraising and events for the Livingstone-Macleod UCP constituency association’s board.
“TBA is an advocacy organization that looks to educate and promote political involvement,” Van Huigenbos told Global News in a statement.
“TBA plays no role on the (constituency association) board and the concerns raised by UCP members are based on assumptions and misinformation.”
Global News also reached out to Chelsae Petrovic, the winner of the nomination race and current mayor of Claresholm, but our request for comment was not returned.