LAKELAND – While voters have their eyes focused on political forums and debates between party leaders, another form of politicking is happening in small groups around the province.
Take Back Alberta is a grassroots movement that is seeking new members to mobilize through organized and targeted political involvement. The founder of Take Back Alberta, David Parker, says the organization is fundamentally an educational society that is helping people take back control of local politics.
One of the organization’s captains is Mitch Sylvestre of Bonnyville. Sylvestre has also recently become the president of the Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul UCP Constituency Association.
Parker, along with Sylvestre, spoke in Barrhead and Westlock March 31 and April 1 in anticipation of the upcoming provincial election. Sylvestre most recently held a Take Back Alberta recruitment meeting at the Athabasca Seniors Centre on May 11.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that if the NDP win this election, they’re going to take away our rights and freedoms,” Sylvestre told the crowd of about 21 people.
While Sylvestre continues promoting the grassroots movement, he is also on the campaign trail with Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul UCP candidate Scott Cyr.
When asked by Lakeland This Week, what his affiliation is with the Take Back Alberta movement, Cyr said, “I'm not a member and I haven't been to any of their meetings before my nomination.”
After winning the nomination race, he approached Sylvestre to be his campaign manager, Cyr told Lakeland This Week.
“I've got a clear respect for any group that is trying to advocate for greater transparency and democracy, but no group that I'm aware of is taking over our UCP party,” said Cyr said, last Thursday.
He maintained that when it comes to other affiliations his volunteers and the constituency association’s board may have, they have to separate themselves from their other duties and commitments.
Cyr reaffirmed that he has not seen Take Back Alberta “infused” in the local UCP constituency board.
“We had gone through an AGM and we've elected people from the floor. These are all highly regarded citizens from our local area. They are very passionate about conservatism. I don't know how we could strike that up as being anything but a real positive for our local region,” Cyr said.
“These boards have very good upstanding citizens, and they may have passions outside of the UCP, but at no point am I seeing a coordinated attempt to take over our party,” Cyr said, adding that he adheres to all UCP policies and that each UCP membership holder gets only one vote.
When asked about his campaign manager’s comments that if the NDP were to win the election they would remove Albertan’s rights and freedoms, Cyr said, “Clearly my campaign manager is showing some passion.”
The UCP candidate acknowledged that the upcoming election is a polarizing one but that does not lend itself to productivity.
Asked by Lakeland This Week if his roles with the UCP party and the Take Back Alberta movement were a conflict, Sylvestre said, “No, not at all. The values of both groups are exactly the same.”
Sylvestre continued, “We are all people that have started out with a goal in mind. Our goal is to get people to participate in our democracy. I think that we need to stand up for ourselves. We need to make sure that we're heard, and we need to make sure that we're well represented in government.”
When asked if Take Back Alberta is co-opting or “taking over” the UCP party through local UCP constituency associations, Sylvestre noted, “I don't think participating is taking over.”
Sylvestre began getting involved with politics roughly two years ago, not long after Jason Kenney was elected. Dissatisfied with a government that operated in a top-down manner, Sylvestre and others began to mobilize, he said.
“We were basically five people... try[ing] to get people to passionately participate in democracy. That's what we’re doing. We have no power – we have nothing but the fact that we can organize people and put them to work,” said Sylvestre.
Take Back Alberta is a registered third-party advertiser in the upcoming Alberta election.
According to Elections Alberta, “A third party advertiser (TPA) is an individual person, corporation, trade union or group who advertises to promote or oppose a registered political participant.”