Alberta premier promises to protect parents' rights during speech to UCP convention

CALGARY — Premier Danielle Smith, in a speech to her party delegates, promised to fight the feds and build Alberta, but got the loudest applause when she promised to keep parents in control of their child’s education.

“I want every parent listening today to hear me loud and clear: parents are the primary caregivers and educators of their children,” Smith said Saturday to sustained applause from almost 3,800 delegates at the United Conservative party’s annual meeting in Calgary.

“We cannot have a successful province or a successful society without strong and nurturing families,” she added.

“And regardless of how often the extreme left undermines the role of parents, I want you to know that parental rights and choice in your child's education is and will continue to be a fundamental core principle of this party and this government and we will never apologize for it.”

Smith’s speech came prior to delegates debating and voting on about 30 resolutions.

They overwhelmingly passed a motion requiring parental consent if a child under the age of 16 wishes to use a different name or pronoun at school, mirroring legislation recently passed in Saskatchewan that has drawn harsh criticism from LGBTQ+ advocates.

Such resolutions are not binding on the government, but do reflect grassroots input on where they want public policy to go.

Other resolutions include a proposal to protect an individual's right to refuse any medical procedure they disagree with, including therapy and vaccines, regardless of the "societal benefit," banning race-based admissions in post-secondary institutions, ending provincial funding of supervised drug consumption sites and refusing transgender women in women's correctional facilities.

Parental rights are a bedrock belief in the Take Back Alberta movement, a coalition of UCP members that has gained influence within the party and its governing board, exercising clout by showing up in large numbers to speak and vote.

The unofficial debate over the resolutions began earlier in the day.

As a long line of cars made their way to the Calgary Stampede grounds for the convention, about 200 protesters chanting "Hands off our CPP" took up a full block right across the street.

Smith's government has proposed Alberta leave the Canada Pension Plan on the grounds Alberta's young population and economy could deliver better results on its own.

Other signs carried by protesters included "Why be so mean" and "Leave Queer Kids Alone."

Prior to the resolutions being debated, Smith told reporters her government is closely watching the pronouns-in-schools debate.She said regardless of how the resolution plays out, her caucus will consider the results but must ultimately govern in the best interests of all Albertans.

“I don't think it matters whether you're a straight couple or a gay couple or whether you're a trans individual, you want to know what's going on with your kids,” said Smith.

“I don't think it needs to be polarizing ... We have to make sure that we're respecting the rights of parents but also making sure kids feel protected and supported, so that's what we're attempting to navigate.”

Political scientist Lori Williams said the resolutions, and how they play out, will be watched carefully.

"I think the eyes are going to (be) on what all that portends for party unity," Williams, with Mount Royal University in Calgary, said in an interview.

Several of the resolutions seem to take "fringe-right positions," Williams added.

"It's certainly not the sort of thing that most Albertans are concerned about."

Smith, in her speech at the BMO Centre, also touched on familiar topics and promised anew to fight federal rules to limit Alberta’s energy and electricity industries.

“Albertans will have access to affordable and reliable electricity no matter the season, the weather, or the time of day, and we will not permit the federal government to risk the safety and prosperity of Albertans,” said Smith.

“We will hold firm to the knowledge that the world needs more Alberta energy and technology -- not less of it.”

With oil and gas prices returning billions of dollars to Alberta’s coffers in recent years, Smith promised to continue to reduce taxes, balance budgets, pay off debt, deliver more money to savings, increase the housing stock, reduce high power and auto insurance bills and eventually build a high-speed rail link between Edmonton and Calgary.

“We will build because that is what Albertans have always done. But we will do so with fiscal discipline,” said Smith.

This was the first meeting since Smith and the UCP defeated the NDP in the May election.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2023.

— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press