With what could be one of the most competitive provincial elections in more than a generation, Albertans will be headed to the polls on April 23 to decide if Premier Alison Redford’s PC government will continue to plot the political destiny of the province.
After Monday’s announcement the campaign is now fully underway, with the front-running Tory old guard under Redford squaring off against the Wildrose Alliance Party under 40-year-old former journalist Danielle Smith. Charging from the rear will be the Alberta Liberal Party led by disgruntled former PC MLA Raj Sherman as well as the NDP under Brian Mason, which has been riding a ripple of increased support in the province considered to be a spin-off from last spring’s federal election results. Also on the ballot will be the newly-minted Alberta Party under leader Glenn Taylor, a centrist entity which has arisen since the 2008 election.
Of the three parties currently trailing the PCs and Wildrose Alliance, only the NDP is currently fielding a full slate of nominated candidates, and is expected to add to its current caucus total of two MLAs.
In the Little Bow constituency, which sees the departure of veteran PC MLA Barry McFarland, the new PC challenger is candidate John Kolk. Throwing down the gauntlet for the Wildrose Alliance Party is Mossleigh-area resident Ian Donovan, while Bev Muendel-Atherstone is campaigning for the NDP. The Alberta Liberal Party candidate is Picture Butte-area resident Everett Tanis.
Kolk announced his priorities for the riding and the campaign and pledged to effectively represent the people of Little Bow constituency.
“I’d like to be able to bring my experience and my get-out-and-do-it attitude to representing all of the communities here in Little Bow,” said Kolk shortly after Monday’s election announcement. “I’ll make sure to take the issues forward that are of particular concern to our rural constituency and present them effectively, both in government, and in the legislature.”
Donovan was to the point.
“My platform is to listen to the people of the riding — their thoughts and their concerns.”
Tanis added his intentions for seeking the MLA position are simple.
“I’m running because of a decline in democracy. When Raj Sherman stood up and wanted to straighten out the health controversy, he was removed from his position. That means no freedom to speak. No freedom of speech, no change. When there is no freedom of speech, who decides the truth? The other issue is the new land-use laws that have passed, energy costs, and the health care system — which is one of the most important things.”
Muendel-Atherstone pointed to protecting public health care as a hinge issue for this election.
“We’re really pleased that the election was called, after all of the boondoggles that have happened in the last six weeks with the Conservative government. We know that Albertans want a change, and Albertans want to be listened to. And the NDP is listening, and not just listening, but we’re actually working on behalf of Albertans, and working to ensure that our universal public health care system is not privatized, because Albertans do not want an American-style health care system.”
Even before the writ was dropped, the campaign has been promising to be a dirty political battle, complete with attack ads appearing targeting both leading parties and their leaders, with the Wildrose Alliance especially attempting to paint Redford as a leader with liberal sympathies.
Kolk outlined some of the issues he considers will be important to voters in the constituency throughout the election campaign.
“At the end of the day, we need a good place to be able to work, live and play. Little Bow has got a lot of good advantages and hard-working people, and we need to make sure we continue to get investment into our roads, our supports services in Little Bow — because that is the backbone of Alberta’s economy, agriculture, gas and oil. We need to make sure that the rural communities continue to have the opportunity to take advantage of the great future we’re looking at here in Alberta.”
Donovan identified what voters in the riding have been telling him are the issues of concern for Little Bow and the province in general.
“The Land-use Framework (Bill 36), the Electric Statutes Amendment Act (Bill 50), and the amendments to the education act (Bill 2) that died on the table before the election — but I'm sure the PCs would like to bring it back to the floor after the election. And health care and ambulance service in rural Alberta.”
Tanis said the Liberals would tackle the issue of a lack of doctors in rural communities in the riding.
“It’s difficult to obtain a doctor, and it seems no one at the top is interested in getting doctors in the smaller communities, like Picture Butte or Vulcan. The top-down rule, it’s hard to get to the top. And we can’t leave it to the people on top, you have to look after yourself, to a point.”
High electrical costs and a focus on education tops Muendal-Atherstone’s list of NDP priorities for Little Bow.
“We’re working to make sure that electricity is affordable for ordinary Albertans, for their families, and their small businesses. Because they’ve seen huge increases in their electrical bills, which of course will be lowered during the election campaign, but will increase again if the Conservatives get back in power. We are against the two big power lines that the government wants to put in, that would simply be an overbuild and cost the consumers, but would ultimately belong to the electric companies — we feel this is unfair. And of course as an educator, I want to make sure that we have predictable, consistent funding for education for our children, who are our future. They’re the ones who are going to continue to contribute to our province, and we want to give them the chance to contribute fully through a good education.”
Both Redford and Smith will be claiming the high road in asking for the confidence of the voters of Alberta, but a laundry list of controversies and political scandals plaguing the ruling PCs in recent weeks is likely to call into question the ethical vitality of the party.
Redford, a 47-year-old former human rights lawyer, will be asserting exactly the opposite. Positioning herself as a centre-right reformer who since her unexpected ascension to the party leadership last October has now largely purged the PC party of much of the ancient regime, Redford is now promising a new vision for the province.
Kolk is confident a revitalized PC party is poised to tackle any perceived shortcomings head-on during the present campaign.
“I think we face an important choice in Alberta. We’ve built a solid province, and we’ve made good use of a lot of our advantages, and we’re being asked nationally and internationally to step up and provide leadership, because we’ve got a lot of blessings and lot of a responsibilities. We do have the opportunity to start providing that. I think the choice we face in Alberta here is a choice between going backwards or moving forwards as a responsible leader among provinces.”
Tanis views health care and questions surrounding the PC land bills with be key issues voters when they head to the polls on April 23.
“Probably health care, and an inquiry into the intimidation of doctors and staff. That would be an issue, because it seems to be covered up all of the time. First they’re going to have it, and then they’re not going to have it. And if people would understand these land-use laws, and what they imply, they would wipe out the PC government. But most of them don’t want to know about it.”
For Donovan, the key issue will be something he asserts the PC government lost long ago.
“I think trust will be the biggest concern. Who does Alberta’s citizens trust? The last two years hasn't been a good track record. I think Albertans are ready for a change.”
Muendel-Atherstone countered that in Little Bow riding, protecting one of the area’s integral resources will be of paramount concern.
“One of the big concerns in Little Bow is water, and of course we want good use of our water, not thowing it down oil wells and contaminating it with poisonous fracking chemicals and taking it away from our farmers. We want to ensure that our watershed is maintained by not supporting clear-cutting of the Castle. Albertans want a party that listens to them, and that is honest with them. The so-called public forums on health care and the Property Rights Task Force — those were simply a sham. Albertans want someone who actually listens to what they say, and acts on it, because property rights and health care are huge issues, and Albertans do not want their property rights taken away and big government getting in the way of landowners. A lot of people say that the NDP wants big government, but what I’m seeing is the current government is interfering in Albertans’ lives.”