BARRHEAD/WESTLOCK – Take Back Alberta, a grassroots movement that takes credit for removing former Premier Jason Kenney from power, hosted two recruitment meetings in Barrhead and Westlock on March 31 and April 1 as they prepare for the upcoming provincial election.
During the meetings hosted at the Barrhead Senior’s Drop-in Centre and Westlock and District Community Hall, the two main speakers — Take Back Alberta captain Mitch Sylvestre and founder David Parker — warned that if the New Democratic Party (NDP) win the May 29 election, Alberta will no longer resemble the province it once was.
“If we don’t win this election, we’re in for a world of hurt,” said Sylvestre, suggesting that the NDP want to squash oil and gas production to make people easier to control.
“They actively are attacking our (energy) industry, the industry that makes us one of the most prosperous places on Earth, and they’re not democratic,” added Parker.
During the meeting in Westlock, which ran for approximately an hour and a half, both Sylvestre and Parker talked about their background in politics and how they came to be part of the movement.
Sylvestre, who operates a sporting goods store in Bonnyville, said he was initially not political at all, but the COVID-19 lockdown prompted him to start attending meetings organized by other concerned citizens.
Eventually, a small group of himself and a few others decided that the only way to effect change was to take over the United Conservative Party (UCP).
“Those people in that room, a lot of them were not political. A lot of them wanted the whole system to blow up. They didn’t want anything to do with the UCP, they didn’t trust the UCP, the UCP had rained all that crap on top of their heads for a year and a half,” he said.
He connected with Parker, and in time, he and others began taking over UCP constituency associations until they reached a point where they were able to call for a leadership vote.
The end result was that, despite taking a 51.4 per cent majority in a leadership review vote in May 2022, Kenney resigned as Premier and then as the MLA for Calgary-Lougheed.
“That was the first time anybody’s ever fired a sitting Premier … in Canada,” Sylvestre said. “I think that was a big accomplishment.”
Sylvestre noted that he initially supported Brian Jean for the new leader, but switched to Danielle Smith upon recognizing that Jean’s pledge to open the Constitution was unfeasible and her plan to introduce a Sovereignty Act was a better idea.
Parker’s more lengthy speech basically covered the entirety of his career working for both the provincial and federal Conservative parties, as well as the UCP, from a young age.
He frequently expounded about his grievances against various politicians, such as former Premier Alison Redford for pushing to have home schoolers teach the same curriculum as public schools, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for being a “radical environmentalist” and, of course, Kenney for supporting pandemic restrictions.
He claimed to have denied career advancement on repeated occasions over his beliefs. For instance, he said he worked as the national field director of operations for Erin O’Toole before some texts were published online where he characterized himself as a political assassin who took down former Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer.
“I worked 16-hour days for months to get that man elected, and I wasn’t even invited to show up (at his victory party),” he said.
After being disenchanted with politics for a time, Parker said he “declared war” on Kenney on April 7, 2021, the same day that Alberta Health Services (AHS) established barricades around GraceLife Church in Edmonton after pastor James Coates was jailed for holding in-person worship services.
He proudly elaborated on how electing Danielle Smith had resulted in changes such as the termination of the entire AHS board of directors, the removal of Dr. Deena Hinshaw as the chief medical officer of health and the passing of the Sovereignty Act.
In addition to railing against the NDP, Parker and Sylvestre also spoke at length over various societal developments such as the climate change movement, which they decried as “anti-human” and an attempt to deprive Albertans of their wealth; the establishment of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs), which Sylvestre claimed were a back-door effort to create national parks to prevent energy development; and finally, the philosophy of inclusion being taught in schools.
“What is being taught is that, ultimately, your value to society is how much of a victim you are,” Parker said.
Towards the end of the Westlock meeting — which Parker noted was among 100 such community meetings they were organizing around the province — Take Back Alberta’s plan for keeping the UCP in power this spring was laid out.
“We’re trying to convince people that if they get involved, if they actually do something, if they start to show up, things can change,” Parker said.
Parker said they need 3,000 people to accumulate 10 “points” through various actions, such as convincing someone between the ages of 18 to 22 to vote in the spring election.
Another two points can be accumulated by convincing an NDP supporter to instead vote for the UCP, which he admitted was a considerable challenge.
Finally, points could be accumulated by convincing someone who doesn’t care about provincial politics at all to cast a ballot.
He noted that they are particularly targeting constituencies like Morinville-St. Alberta and Leduc-Beaumont, explaining that the NDP effectively have Edmonton locked down but there were potential openings for a UCP victory in certain seats orbiting the city.
Parker also called on 1,000 supporters to chip in $100 each, which would cover expenses such as gas to travel to meetings, phone calls and e-mail servers.