PC candidates take aim at recent Tory policies

By James Wood And Chris Varcoe, Calgary Herald May 26, 2014

Tory leadership candidates attempted to regain ground from the opposition on key policy issues and reconnect with the party grassroots Monday in the race to become Alberta’s next premier.

Former Calgary alderman Ric McIver delivered his leadership nomination papers to the Progressive Conservative party, while former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice and Edmonton MLA Thomas Lukaszuk both offered up positions distancing them from recent Tory policies.

In a speech in Medicine Hat, Prentice said successive PC governments have “been less than careful about the protection of our property rights in this province.”

Taking aim at concerns that arose under former premier Ed Stelmach, Prentice promised that if he becomes premier, he would introduce a bill affirming the rights of property owners in cases where their land is taken for public purposes.

“That will make it abundantly clear that people have not been deprived of their property rights,” Prentice, a lawyer who specialized in property rights issues before becoming the MP for Calgary Centre-North, said in an interview.

“People are entitled both to be heard and to be fairly compensated.”

Prentice also said the new Alberta Energy Regulator — created under former premier Alison Redford — is not yet meeting the needs of either the energy industry or landowners.

The former federal environment minister said he would ensure farmers and ranchers directly and adversely affected by adjoining energy operations will have legal standing at hearings.

Keith Wilson, an Edmonton lawyer who has battled the Tory government over land rights issues for years, said he was “surprised and encouraged” by Prentice’s detailed promise to deal with the intervener issue, but believes a law affirming property rights doesn’t go far enough.

Redford resigned in March amid growing controversies over her travel bills and spending of taxpayers money, triggering the PC leadership contest.

Lukaszuk — who resigned as jobs minister last week to run for leader — called for additional oversight of the premier’s office by creating a separate legislative officer in charge of reviewing all government finances, mirroring an oversight position in Ottawa.

“Having a form of scrutiny over the expenditures and the budgetary processes, particularly some of the offices such as the premier’s office, would give Albertans a peace of mind. This is a bit of a sad situation, because actually historically … we never needed to put any measures in place,” said Lukaszuk.

Just days before Redford’s resignation, the government defeated a Wildrose private member’s bill that would have created an independent budget officer.

But Lukaszuk — who has hit Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Calgary since Sunday — said he would also empower backbench MLAs and opposition members by beefing up all-party legislative committees to take on roles such as vetting all new legislation.

He intends to file his candidacy before the party’s May 30 deadline, while Prentice is already the first official candidate in the contest, which culminates in a September vote of party members.

McIver, who will become the second candidate in the race once he’s registered with Elections Alberta, said his recent travels gave him a chance to hear varying concerns on a regional basis — including 24-hour health care in Cold Lake, land use in Medicine Hat and the fate of the Michener Centre in Red Deer.

He said his platform will be developed in a similar fashion.

“You’re going to see me go out, talk to Albertans, listen to them, find out what’s important and then you’re going to see me unveil policies on the key issues,” said the former infrastructure minister.

“If I do my job well, they’ll decide I’m the right person to lead.”

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