Off to the races — local MLA incumbents agree it’s full speed ahead for next four weeks

By Mabell, Dave on April 8, 2015.

Dave Mabell


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They’re off and running, following Tuesday’s provincial election announcement. Three southern Alberta members of the legislature seeking re-election agree on one thing: it’s full speed ahead for the next four weeks.

Beyond that, their responses differ. For Lethbridge West MLA Greg Weadick, the election campaign is about the province’s finances.

“We’ve got to get our financial house in order,” and some budget cuts are required to make that possible, the Progressive Conservative member says. Albertans were expecting that, he suggests.

The province’s education budget has been trimmed, for example.

“The schools have been working to prepare for this,” Weadick says.

At the post-secondary level, Weadick says the loss of operating cash is less than 1.5 per cent. What’s important, he adds, is the government’s confirmation that funding will be available for the new science building at the University of Lethbridge – though a year later than expected.

“That huge project has been spared.”

For Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier, the region’s only remaining Wildrose member, the campaign is about debt and taxes.

“We are the only party that stands up for Albertans and advocates no new taxes,” he says.

The Prentice government, he points out, has ordered no fewer than 57 tax hikes – higher fees for everything from birth to death certificates.

“The government wants to tax every Albertan more,” and Wildrose officials estimate that could amount to $2,000 or as much as $2,500 a year for many families.

“We would look at cutting wasteful spending and corporate subsidies,” Stier says.

One of the latest examples of waste, he points out, is the Conservatives’ decision to pay $5.4 million to a golf course operator with Tory connections – and likely $15 million more to rebuild the Kananaskis links – in the wake of flooding in 2013.

Stier has called for an official investigation by Auditor General Merwan Saher. While the Tories are anxious to repair the government-built course, he says, many High River residents are still waiting to have their disaster recovery claims settled.

Water is also one of the issues for Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan, one of a dozen Wildrose MLAs who left the party last fall. Wildrose had no policy about irrigation system improvements, he says. And there wasn’t much of a focus on agriculture — the mainstay of the Little Bow economy.

“That was one of the challenges,” he says now. “It was hard to look constituents in the eye.”

But the Tories have earmarked money for irrigation system upgrades, he adds.

“Agriculture is the most important renewable resource we have in this province,” he maintains.

Health care spending remains an election issue as well, Donovan says, and the new budget includes plans to cut more of the fat out of the Alberta Health Services bureaucracy.

“There are 1,700 (vacant) positions at AHS that won’t be filled,” he says.

Instead, more health spending decisions will be made at the local level.

Donovan says it was also local-level consultation that led to recently announced plans for safety improvements at two critical highway intersections. Government officials recently confirmed plans for a traffic circle at the Highway 23 junction with Highway 519 near Nobleford, and for extended acceleration and deceleration lanes at the Highway 3 access to Coalhurst.

Two of the region’s current MLAs will be watching this election from the sidelines. Bridget Pastoor, who’s represented Lethbridge East for three terms, will be retiring from political life. And Gary Bikman, one of nine Wildrose MLAs who bolted to the Conservatives in December, was not nominated to run for the governing party in the Cardston-Taber-Warner constituency.