Premier Redford tries to lure back southern Albertans – Progressive Conservative party office announced for Lethbridge

By Kelly Cryderman, Calgary Herald October 19, 2012

LETHBRIDGE — In a city surrounded by Wildrose MLAs, Premier Alison Redford tried Thursday to make the case for southern Albertans to come back into the Tory fold.

Speaking at the Alberta Progressive Conservative leader’s dinner, the premier recalled a conversation with former premier Peter Lougheed, who in 1971 headed a government largely locked out of southern Alberta — a situation Redford finds herself in now.

“I asked him what he did in 1971 to ensure continued success and how he changed the map,” she told the fundraiser audience of more than 400.

Following the April election this year, the legendary Alberta leader advised Redford to work for the best of the whole province, no matter what the electoral map looked like.

“We live by that example,” she said, praising the late premier. “We are committed to ensuring that we will govern for all Albertans.”

Redford used the Lethbridge speech to outline the more than 100 trips her MLAs have in recent months taken to southern Alberta, “truly one of the best parts of our province.”

She announced a new party office in the Lethbridge area — the first outside of Edmonton and Calgary, and one which party officials say should be up and running within six months.

But Lethbridge is a lonely Progressive Conservative island. Its two Tory backbenchers are surrounded by a sea of Wildrose MLAs. Dissatisfaction in southern Alberta over a number of Redford government decisions, including the cancellation of a police college in Fort Macleod and the closure of a long-term care centre for seniors with dementia in the aging community of Carmangay, hasn’t been forgotten.

“We used to be a strong PC area,” Carmangay Mayor Kym Nichols said in an interview Thursday.

“There still was a lot of PC supporters, but the fact that (Redford) never, ever acknowledged it, what was going on here — and she still hasn’t acknowledged it — kind of feels like a slap in the face,” said Nichols, who still holds out hope the Little Bow Continuing Care Centre will be reopened.

Livingstone-Macleod Wildrose MLA Pat Stier, one of 17 members of the official Opposition party, described the suggestion that PCs could once again take southern Alberta “more than presumptuous.”

Earlier in the day, at an announcement on the expansion of the Chinook Regional Hospital, Redford addressed another simmering issue. She said her government is in talks with the town of Fort Macleod over the police college project her government cancelled in August.

She said she wants to make sure the municipality is covered for the money it had already sunk into infrastructure for the $122-million project, which had been long promised by the province.

“We’re working very closely with them to make sure that they’re not out of pocket,” the premier said.

Fort Macleod Mayor Shawn Patience wouldn’t speak about the issue on Thursday, citing the ongoing negotiations with the province, but wrote a letter to a local paper this week stating: “We have made every effort to have the training centre reconsidered, but unfortunately none of those efforts have been effective.”

Despite a number of decisions that continue to be perceived as missteps in southern Alberta, hope springs eternal for the long-governing PCs.

Greg Weadick, one of the two Lethbridge Tory MLAs, said the premier has made efforts to meet with everyone from southern Alberta hospital officials to beef producers.

He feels certain that with some special attention to the issues close to southern Albertans’ hearts, such as an improvement in ambulance dispatch services, the party can improve its political fortunes.

“There are some issues that they would like to see resolved and many of them are about health care,” Weadick said.

John Kolk, the failed PC candidate in Little Bow in last April’s election, said the party will “redouble its efforts” in the region to prove to southern Albertans that the party represents their long-term interests. He insists the Wildrose party’s domination in southern Alberta is temporary.

“The wave is changing,” Kolk said at the Lethbridge dinner Thursday night. “Most prairie fires only burn for so long.”

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