By Greg Price
On the political scene, 2014 will go down as one of the more interesting ones for rural Alberta.
One of the biggest is both of the MLAs from local ridings in the Vauxhall/Taber area crossing the floor from the garden of the Wildrose caucus to join the governing Progressive Conservatives in Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan and Cardston-Taber MLA Gary Bikman.
Donovan has had politics in his blood since he was 19 years old when he was first elected in 1995 to office as a councillor in Vulcan County, a political career there that included two years as reeve.
He was elected as the Wildrose MLA for Little Bow 2012 with more than half the popular vote and the longtime grain farmer was quickly named the party’s critic for agriculture and rural development.
Donovan had plenty to be critical about pre-Premier Jim Prentice that saw his political blood boil. He criticized the planned closure of a home for seniors with dementia in his riding and slammed the Tories for introducing a budget in 2013 that cut agricultural funding by a third. But according to Donovan, he began to see a philosophical shift from the stewardship of Premier Jim Prentice from the leadership of former Premier Alison Redford, who resigned under spending scandals.
“I crossed the floor on Nov. 24 (along with MLA Kerry Towle), being about three weeks ahead of the other (Wildrose) MLA crowd there. As I said at the time, Danielle’s (Smith) leadership wasn’t what I saw was needed in my riding for my constituents,” said Donovan. “When Premier Prentice came in, his integrity is very high and when you sit there and watch him in the house, he has the leadership skills and that’s something we are going to need going forward in the next five years because I think we are going to have some financial challenges.”
Those financial challenges have included the price of oil taking a nose dive at the end of 2014. In a mere six-month span, the cost of oil plummeted 40 per cent from $115 a barrel to below $70 in early December. The freefall has continued as oil was trading at $48.71 as of Wednesday morning.
“Oil at $75 is bad, when you creep below $50 a barrel with these economic drivers that’s a problem. If I knew that (where the price of oil will go in the future), I’d be making a lot of money on the market,” said Donovan.
“As a farmer, it’s a part of life that as these things go up and down with oil and gas, commodity prices and everything. As an ag producer that has watched canola bounce around from $14-$15 a bushel to $8 a bushel in a two-year calendar, I too know what it’s like when prices change with oil which is such a high revenue generator in this province.”
It will have an adverse affect on the Alberta treasury, but Donovan remains optimistic.
“Whatever goes down, must come up. It’s just a matter of when and for how long. Your guess is as good as mine on what oil prices will do going forward. Personally, at some point it’s going to come up but in the meantime we have to get our financial matters in order,” said Donovan. “If that means going into a three-year budgeting cycle, I know on my own farm, when there is a downturn, you can’t cease operating, but you have to learn to budget your money better. if it means going on a three-year cycle to get your books balanced, I know that’s what the economists are talking about and would like the province to go to for fear of a recession if they don’t because of the volatile swings.”
The M.D. of Taber continued to fight the good fight with Alberta Transportation over bridge issues with the infrastructure being critical in the agriculture industry bringing their bounty to their respective ports.
“The bridges alone, in my riding alone I think I have 18 per cent of the bridges in the whole province just do to all the irrigation from the County of Lethbridge to the M.D. of Taber that is in my riding,” said Donovan. “The premier put that in the throne speech and we will find out at budget time. He is committed towards getting back adequate bridge funding. In the province of Alberta, just for the bridge funding alone, I think we need $75 million a year for the next 10 years to keep the infrastructure together. To me, It’s not something where we can just say ‘oh drive three miles to the next bridge’ and we will just shut down every other bridge. That’s not an option, especially in the irrigation districts. I am optimistic the funding will be going forward with that in the next budget.”
Other transportation issues in 2014 came to the forefront as well including rail car and pipelines.
“The world wants our products. We have high-end quality on so many different products. The ability to get them to port so we can ship them is sometimes the challenge,” said Donovan, adding the political unrest in the United States over proposed projects like the Keystone XL pipeline will hopefully be resolved soon. “The President saying he would still veto it, I would hope with new congressmen coming in, in January, with some many new faces we can have a reasonable debate and figure out it’s definitely a good thing for both countries.”
According to Donovan, there seemed to be no accountability when it came to spending under the stewardship of former premier, Alison Redford with management skills, in which the ship has turned its sails under the eye of Premier Jim Prentice which had Donovan crossing the floor in late 2014.
“Accountability and transparency is key to him showing people where money is being spent. The misuse of the government jets was definitely one of the downfalls of Premier Redford. Property rights is a big thing in my riding. We got rid of Bill 19, which was Bill 1 when we were in the house this fall. Property rights in rural Alberta is key and being a property rights lawyers, he (Prentice) understands that,” said Donovan.
“When I crossed the floor, at the time I felt the Wildrose had served its purpose to trying to find solutions with the premier which I have been trying for, for two-and-a-half years with every premier I’ve worked with. The leadership of Premier Prentice is where I felt this province needs to have and 10 other MLAs felt the same later on. At the end of the day, we need to have some stability and some positive solutions to move forward and keep this province running in the way it is accustomed to.”