How to Take Back Alberta and Influence People
The far-right group taking Alberta by storm is hosting a series of online seminars on convincing people to vote UCP in the upcoming election. I attended one.
Take Back Alberta (TBA), the far-right insurgency developed out of the Coutts blockade that helped propel Danielle Smith to power, is hosting weekly online seminars instructing supporters how to convince people to vote UCP.
These events, hosted every Sunday night on Zoom until election eve, are open to anyone who registers, and so the TBA leaders acted accordingly.
The spiritual warfare rhetoric that characterizes the organizers’ appearances on far-right media was absent at the May 7 seminar I attended.
Still, the event provided an interesting glimpse into TBA’s arms-length organizing strategy.
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I’m on the record as thinking there are lessons for the left to learn from right-wing insurgents like TBA, who know what they want and aren’t afraid to seize power to push for it, as I wrote in a Jacobin piece published yesterday. The policies they advocate are dangerous, but their strategies for forcing them onto the public agenda are sound. So we should be paying close attention.
Sunday’s event was co-facilitated by TBA Edmonton regional captain Benita Pedersen, who according to her Twitter bio is a DJ and karaoke host, Calgary regional captain Roy Beyer, who mobilized the religious right in support of Stockwell Day’s 2000 Canadian Alliance leadership campaign, and Parker, TBA’s Jim Jones.
The speakers tried their hardest to sound non-partisan, despite the very reason everyone was in attendance being explicitly partisan. At least three times Parker emphasized that TBA cannot legally co-ordinate with the UCP. But it’s a very fine line when your explicit aim is to get one party in power and defeat the other.
It was undeniably the David Parker Show.
Sunday’s seminar occurred with the backdrop of the wildfires roaring across rural Alberta, which have displaced 29,000 people as of writing.
On the one hand, Parker urged attendees not to politicize the fires. At the same time, there’s an election campaign underway, so Parker instructed the TBA faithful how to circle back to their talking points in the event people they’re trying to convince to vote UCP point to the party’s well-documented cuts to fire prevention.
“When when we're confronting things like this, we want a government that is robust and well-funded,” Parker said. The problem, he added, was “there was no money” in 2019, when the UCP cut the budget.
If only there were ways for governments to get more money. Oh well.
“We need to find better ways to manage our forests and our fires. We need to be always striving to be the best we can now in this moment,” Parker said — whatever that means. Private firefighting militias, anyone?
Contrast that view with the Calgary organizer’s perspective on the $1.2-billion arena deal the city entered with the province and Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC). A quarter of the costs are being paid by the provincial government.
Previously, the city had a $550-million deal with CSEC, in which they split the costs 50-50, but CSEC threw a temper tantrum and pulled out of it in December 2021 over increasing costs that the city wasn’t willing to pay for.
“It's too bad they didn't do the other deal, because it was way less expensive. But then, on the other end, if they didn't get it done now, we might have lost the Flames,” Beyer said. “I think mostly it's seen as a positive here in Calgary. And I think that it's going to help with the election as well.”
In this warped view, public money is essential for keeping a hockey team in town, but for fighting devastating wildfires, not so much.
While it would be easy to dismiss this as conservative hypocrisy, it’s not. The state’s capacities must be cut to the bone while the big bucks are spent on spectacle, forging a sense of common identity outside the material realm.
It might be morally bankrupt, but it’s ideologically consistent.
Pedersen emphasized the importance of positive messaging when it comes to swaying how people vote.
Those who believe Smith actually thinks what she’s been consistently saying over the past 25 years are being “misled” by the mainstream press, she said, suggesting TBA supporters guide them to the UCP’s website to read their platform, which, as of writing, consists of five policies.
Smith announced last week that she won’t be running on Alberta sovereignty, a provincial police force and provincial pension plan, because she’s “waiting for a couple of reports.” Those issues, which Smith hasn’t shut up about for the past year, aren’t going to be in the UCP platform.
Pedersen said it also helps to acknowledge the UCP’s flaws. “I will just openly admit to people and say, ‘You know, I notice the United Conservative Party is not perfect, but I can clearly see that in this case, they are the better choice,’” she said. “Sometimes a bridging statement like that is better. And it's less confrontational than some of the more aggressive statements.”
With conservatives who simply don’t like their leader, Beyer said that while his inclination is to explain to “why Danielle Smith is fantastic,” the conversation should focus on contrasting UCP and NDP policies, leaving questions about Smith’s character out of the equation.
“Leaders do come and go,” he said in a ringing endorsement. “We hope Danielle Smith does really well and we hope that she sticks around, but that’s not what we should focus on.”
Pedersen said she tries to “validate” concerns about Smith by acknowledging “she’s made some mistakes in the past” as a means of “trying to connect with people” before pivoting.
“When someone expresses concerns about Daniel Smith, I first hear them and then I spin it to what I think is great,” she said, citing a slight reduction in ambulance wait times.
Ever the empath, Pedersen suggested attendees “connect with people at a feeling level.”
“I look at every adversary as a potential ally,” she said. “NDP supporters … are not actually my adversary. They're just not a conservative supporter yet.”
Parker highlighted the importance of finding which issues resonate with the person you’re trying to convince.
“People don't vote because of what you care about in politics. People vote because of what they care about in politics,” he said.
Ben Shapiro, the far-right U.S. media personality who’s no doubt popular with the crowd in attendance Sunday, is fond of saying in his high-pitched whine, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”
“But here at Take Back Alberta,” Parker said, “we’re much more aligned with ‘feelings don’t care about your facts.’”
This reveals a key truth about the fundamental irrationality of politics, one which Parker and TBA no doubt embody.
“The most important thing is to understand that people vote based on their feelings primarily and you don't want to try to bash them over the head with facts and try to convince them,” Parker said.
He inadvertently provided a great example of this immediately afterwards, when he complained people are being “pre-programmed” by the millions of dollars the NDP is spending on advertising to believe Smith is crazy, citing the conception that Smith wants to make people pay for doctor visits.
You could point out that Smith mused about user fees for doctor visits as recently as two years ago, or that the UCP is also spending money on attack ads, but that just proves Parker’s point. None of this shit matters to people.
The question, for the left, is how to make it matter.
Parker correctly questioned why the NDP was spending so much of its electoral efforts attacking Smith.
He’s identifying a real tactical error on the NDP’s part, but the conclusion he naturally draws is that it’s all part of the grand socialist conspiracy.
“All Rachel Notley is talking about is Danielle Smith and pensions and health care. She's not talking about her record. If her record was so good, why isn't she campaigning on it,” he said.
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