Disappointment for Red Deer businesses hoping for boost during UCP leadership review

Red Deer restaurants, hotels and other businesses watched their hopes for an economic boost evaporate on Wednesday when the United Conservative Party cancelled plans for an in-person leadership review meeting.

The party last reported that more than 15,000 members had registered to travel to Red Deer for an April 9 vote on Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership. 

The party’s board voted Tuesday night to move its planned special general meeting online and to conduct the leadership review vote by a mail-in ballot accessible to all members — an approach the party had initially dismissed.

“It’s so disappointing,” said Bobby Scott, a head server at It’s All Greek to Me, a Red Deer restaurant. The Gaetz Avenue business is a couple of blocks from the Cambridge Red Deer Hotel and Conference Centre, where the meeting was scheduled to be held.

A person who answered the phone at the Cambridge on Wednesday said they were not taking media questions.

Scott said at the restaurant, staff began to get excited when they heard 3,000 or more people would be coming to the city for the meeting.

She said thousands of people looking for a place to stay, eat lunch, or sip a beverage would have been a boon for the city and its hospitality industry.

After two years of on-again, off-again pandemic restrictions and worried diners staying home, local businesses needed a win.

“That amount of people at an actual physical gathering like that?” she said. “It would have been tremendous. I think we’re all trying to play catch up, financially, and it would have been … huge sales.”

Across the street, Las Palmeras restaurant owner Andre Lemus said he’s become accustomed to disappointment. As cases of COVID-19 rose and fell, and people planned, then cancelled, events, he counts on nothing.

Still, he had asked all staff to be available for the weekend of April 9, and was hoping for a bump in business from party members.

“It’s disheartening when you hear the potential, a lot of business coming through our town, but then it got cancelled,” he said.

Red Deer businesses also experienced that disappointment last December, when the International Ice Hockey Federation cancelled the World Junior Hockey Championship due to rising COVID-19 cases among players.

Lemus said he was also nervous about the planned gathering, knowing protesters may have also come to town. He said his business is still taking pandemic precautions, such as keeping tables further apart and doing extra cleaning. Lemus didn’t know how some patrons might react to that.

The UCP said more details are coming on how the online meeting and mail-in ballots will work.

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