Toews and Schulz cancel UCP leadership forum co-hosted by pro-independence group
Former finance minister Travis Toews and former children’s services minister Rebecca Schulz have backtracked and canceled their participation in a United Conservative leadership forum co-hosted by an independence group.
Toews’ campaign co-chair told CBC News on Friday that the Toews team has failed to achieve what the Alberta Prosperity Project (APP) advocates, despite the front page of its website stating: « The path of freedom and prosperity comes through independence. »
A spokeswoman for Schulz confirmed to CBC News that she would also be forgoing the debate after previously committing to attend.
The advocacy group is to host a leadership forum with several top candidates on Aug. 25 in Edmonton, co-hosted by Rebel News, a right-wing media group.
Danielle Smith, Brian Jean and Todd Loewen are also announced as participants. All three confirmed their participation in the event on Friday.
In a joint statement, Toews and Schulz said they weren’t in attendance because this is a fundraising event « in support of a third-party advocacy group that supports an independent Alberta. »
They also expressed concern over a plan featured on the APP’s website which they said would create a political party competing with constituency associations.
“We hope that other candidates will reconsider their positions in favor of separatism,” added Toews and Schulz.
In a statement, APP chief executive Dennis Modry said Toews and Shulz’s decision not to participate is a sign that they « do not represent all Albertans. »
“Their refusal to engage in political dialogue sends a message to thousands of APP members and Albertans who follow our organization,” Modry wrote to CBC News.
« Political dialogue is a sign of a progressive society, and by not engaging is a clear indication that they don’t care about all Albertans. It also shows that they don’t want to respond to tough questions. »
Chris Warkentin, co-chair of the Toews leadership bid, says his campaign was disappointed to learn that the APP was using the event to raise money for itself. It sells dinner tickets at $150 each and VIP tickets at $350 that offer special access to contestants.
Information about the band’s goals and ticket prices had been on the band’s website and social media since early August, but Warkentin says it wasn’t until the last few days that Toews organizers realized it. .
Warkentin takes the blame.
« I haven’t done my due diligence on this, » said the campaign co-chair, a Conservative MP from northwestern Alberta.
Supporters have guaranteed the APP’s credibility, Warkentin says.
« I should have done what normal people would do, and google this band, » Warkentin said.
Toews’ decision to step down from the independence group’s fundraising comes a day after CBC News inquired about his involvement. Several hours later, Schulz informed CBC that she would also step down from the debate.
In an emailed statement on Friday, Danielle Smith said « of course » she was still attending the event.
“Why on earth would we marginalize this group and its thousands of followers by removing ourselves from their forum? They are just regular, hard-working Albertans extremely frustrated with Ottawa. I think most Albertans understand that frustration. .
« I would remind Travis that we need to go talk to these Albertans and convince them that Canada can still work if Alberta leads the way in ensuring that our Constitution is upheld and our provincial rights are reaffirmed and protected, and their explain how we plan on doing this. »
She added that she hopes Toews will reconsider her decision not to attend.
Positions on independence
None of the UCP leadership candidates advocate outright independence for Alberta, although several take positions that would change the province’s relationship with Canada.
However, Smith said her Day 1 priority as premier would be to initiate a bill called the Alberta Sovereignty Act. This would allegedly allow the province to stop enforcing federal laws that it unilaterally deems against Alberta’s interests or infringes on its jurisdiction.
Jean said he would largely fight for Alberta’s ‘self-reliance’, while other candidates except Loewen criticized Smith’s ‘sovereignty’ game as unconstitutional, chaotic and harmful Alberta’s business investment climate.
The APP is not a political party but an organization launched in January. Its leaders toured the province holding conferences and barbecues to promote their vision of an independent republic of Alberta.
Toews’ initial plans to join an event co-hosted by Rebel News were at odds with Jason Kenney’s past decision to disassociate himself from Ezra Levant’s often incendiary and activist digital operation, which the outgoing prime minister said in 2017 that he took « alt-right editorial direction ».
UCP cabinet ministers have largely avoided Rebel News, although Jean and Smith have recently done interviews.
Lori Williams, an associate professor of political studies at Mount Royal University, says she’s not surprised candidates are pulling out of this forum.
« I’m not surprised that there are people wondering if they want to participate in this event because of the organizations involved. You’re definitely far from the mainstream, » she said.
However, she added, this could have been an opportunity for more moderate candidates to ask Danielle Smith about her Alberta sovereignty bill.
« But it might flirt too much with the fringe…and be more of a liability than a benefit, » Williams said.
« I was frankly surprised that any of the contestants, other than Danielle Smith, Todd Loewen and Brian Jean, were involved in this. It fits their traditional position, sort of, more to the right on the spectrum. »