Barnes: The Grassroots Is Demanding Principled Representation. Give It To Them!

Written By Drew Barnes, Posted on August 9, 2022

Over the past several years, Albertans have been forced to sit and watch as the United Conservative government lost its way. 

Under Premier Jason Kenney, the party wandered away from the principles supported by the mainstream conservative movement. The shared values that allowed the merger between the former PC and Wildrose parties – things like smaller government, economic freedom, and grassroots democracy – were effectively abandoned. 

As a direct result, Albertans began to walk, then run, away from the UCP. The party that was elected in 2019 with a historic majority began to crater in the polls, began losing thousands of members including provincial and local board members, and is being consistently out-fundraised by Rachel Notley and the NDP. 

I chose to speak up, and I was punished for this decision as Kenney’s inner circle successfully fought to orchestrate my removal from the UCP caucus. 

I certainly do not regret my decision to put the thoughts and concerns of my constituents ahead of partisan entrenchment. It likely would have been easier to acquiesce to the Premier’s demands for absolute loyalty, but in Alberta, we don’t do things because they are easy; we do things because they are right. 

Ultimately, Kenney struggled in his leadership review and was forced to announce his forthcoming resignation. With the race to replace him now underway, I have been receiving questions regarding my future. Will I seek the leadership of another political party? Will I seek re-election under a party banner, or as an Independent? Is there room to work with a new leader within the UCP? 

As I have repeatedly stated since becoming an Independent, any decision in this regard will be driven by the wishes of my constituents, the folks of Cypress-Medicine Hat. My first promise upon being elected in 2012 was to always put our families and communities first, and I see no reason to change this approach. Indeed, that is how our political system is supposed to work. 

With this in mind, I have been working closely with the Cypress Medicine Hat Independent Constituency Association to draft a list of 16 guiding principles. You can read the list in its entirety at: 

Unlike the increasingly watered-down policies pursued by the UCP’s establishment wing, this list is much more than an optional grab bag of talking points. Rather, it is a reflection of the core values and principles shared by the grassroots of the wider conservative movement. I see these guiding principles as marching orders delivered to me by my bosses, the people whom I proudly represent inside and outside the Legislature. 

There has been a concerted effort from atop of the UCP to demand party unity at all costs. This approach has predictably backfired because by its very nature unity cannot be imposed; it must be cultivated and nurtured around the principles and values we share. 

As conservatives, we believe in things like economic freedom, individual opportunity, civil liberty, and grassroots democracy. We elect representatives to fight for our principles, not trade them away in backroom negotiations with Eastern Canadian and foreign interests. 

A truly conservative party cannot remain united solely around political convenience or the desire for electoral victory. The shared disdain for the disastrous policies of Justin Trudeau or Rachel Notley, while easy to communicate, is not a recipe for lasting success. Nor is the leader-centric politics that brought us the likes of Jason Kenney and Erin O’Toole. The grassroots conservative base, not to mention the average voter, demands better. 

If the growing rift between the conservative base and the political party establishment is to be healed, it must be around the values and principles we share. Yes, this requires listening. Yes, this requires work. For this, I sincerely want to thank the members of the Cypress Medicine Hat Independent Constituency Association for their concerted efforts in drafting our 16 guiding principles, and for speaking up for the values that we share. 

My best advice to every other sitting MLA and MP is to open your doors and reconnect with the grassroots. Now, more than ever, these folks are demanding principled representation. Check your ego and your partisanship at the door, and give it to them. 

The best part about this approach is that, if we let our principles be our brand, when we are re-elected it will be because voters recognize the real deal when they see it.

Drew Barnes

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