Last year was a big year for the Wildrose party.
In addition to the election last May that saw the party becoming the official opposition with 21 seats – and the results of a later Calgary by-election that saw them gain another seat – in which the party sit the most seats it had ever held in the legislator, there was also some high profile cases, such as the minimum wage increase and, probably the most controversial bill he’ll encounter for a while, Bill 6.
For a fresh MLA like Little Bow’s David Schneider, it has been quite the privilege and an experience.
“The Bill 6 issue; it’s one of those things that only comes along once in a while, from a political standpoint,” said Schneider.
“I would think that there are present members and many that aren’t in the house anymore that haven’t seen a backlash to proposed legislation in their careers like the one that came alive when Bill 6 was introduced. This is my first term as an MLA, but it was a bit of a shock and an absolute honour to speak on behalf of people from all across Alberta that emailed me or called about this piece of legislation… It gave a new MLA like myself an opportunity to speak for a broad range of Albertans that had actually contacted me with their concerns. An opportunity like that doesn’t come along very often.”
Bill 6 made headlines as farmers across the province began protesting it at almost the moment of its announcement. While an amendment for family farms was added to it, many are still raising some very vocal opposition to the bill, for requiring farmers and ranchers to have Worker’s Compensation and for supposedly killing the small family-run farm.
“People just couldn’t believe that government would try to legislate such dramatic changes to their operations and their lifestyles without any consultations. I don’t think the NDP expected near the backlash they got, because of this proposed law. It would be one thing if the bill was solely about safety on farms and ranches, but the NDP created a bill that brought three pieces of legislation along with safety. Under the umbrella of Bill 6; it included OHS, employment standards and labour relations.”
During the weeks it was being debated, Schneider received many phone calls and correspondence from Albertans both from and outside his region, bringing up concerns about the controversial bill. He is proud to be able to talk to them and relay their concerns, saying that callers from outside his region had claimed that they couldn’t get their MLA to talk about it or listen to them, and asked if he could bring it to his party’s attention.
“They were very disappointed they weren’t receiving anything back from their emails or their phone calls, so they had to turn somewhere. They turned to people that were standing up for Albertans, and they just happened to be anyone that wasn’t on the NDP side of the house,” said Schneider.
He says that the Wildrose offered up many amendments during the debate, to change how it affected family farms, which were turned down.
“The NDP did not handle this piece of legislation very well, and I would say that was one of our stronger points for the year; we stood up for Albertans across the province, even those who didn’t elect us or vote for us. So we felt pretty good about that one.”
While Bill 6 has passed, there is still plenty for the opposition to spar over with the NDP government in 2016.
“I guess we knew that life under the NDP would be a change, but no one knew, I don’t think, how ideological it would become so quickly,” said Schneider. “I would say the NDP and official oppositions are exactly opposites.”
The minimum wage increase will continue to be a topic in 2016, and the Wildrose is expected to continue arguing against the increase.
“These are not environment friendly choices, these are not business welcoming decisions by the government,” said Schneider.
“Minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage. I don’t think it is going to see the effect the NDP wants it to be.”
The results of the royalty review will be released at the end of January, something Alberta is waiting on with baited breath. Schneider is unsure of its contents, so he cannot comment much about it, but the Wildrose Party will oppose anything that may harm the oil industry, and they are consulting with stakeholders over what the potential outcome may be. The carbon tax is going to be another hotly debated issue for 2016.
“At the end of the day, it’s clear that this tax will cost Alberta families upwards of $1,000 extra in taxes per year,” said Schneider. “This is basically a tax grab.”
He says that while the NDP claim that it will be “revenue neutral”, it actually won’t be. Unlike B.C., where their carbon tax is offset by tax decreases elsewhere, effectively encouraging taxpayers to lower their carbon emissions, he says that right now, that isn’t the case in Alberta and the party will continue to hold the NDP accountable throughout the year.
Also coming up is another by-election, although under more remorseful circumstances. PC Calgary-Greenway MLA Manmeet Bhullar died last November, in a vehicle collision on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway north of Red Deer.
“This was a tragic event, and I would say that the outpouring of support that followed clearly showed that Manmeet Bhullar was a well-respected MLA.”
All in all, it will be a busy year for the Wildrose.
“We will do our best holding the government’s seat to the fire, and making sure that they are accountable,” said Schneider.
“It’s a lot that’s been shoved down Albertans throats in a very short time.”
He would also like to see some work done on Highway 3. Schneider sits on the Highway 3 Committee, and is hoping that some much needed improvements will be done this year, such as twinning certain sections.
Calling the highway a “regional issue”, the committee will be working with the Alberta transportation minister, Brian Mason, in order to secure federal funding for the project.
But as for himself personally, Schneider did not have a New Year’s Resolution. Instead, he sets small ones throughout the year.
“I don’t have a smoking habit, I’m not over weight, all those things that are usually New Year’s Resolutions. So I don’t worry about that kind of stuff, other then being the best at what I’m doing.”