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Budget at top of list as candidates prep for May 5 election

As Premier Jim Prentice dropped the writ last Tuesday, candidates hastened to open local campaign offices, talk with constituents and gear up for the election to be held on May 5.

As Premier Jim Prentice dropped the writ last Tuesday, candidates hastened to open local campaign offices, talk with constituents and gear up for the election to be held on May 5.

Darrell Younghans, the Progressive Conservative candidate, has spent years on the party's organizational side. The farmer and previous school board chair stepped down from his position as constituency association president to win the March 14 nomination in a tight race that required three rounds of runoff ballot ranking.

As he kicked off campaigning, he noted that there was one big topic of conversation that kept on coming up.

“The budget, of course, seems to be the biggest thing on people's minds right now — and the effect that it has on them personally,&” he said. Alberta's latest budget introduced an increase to Alberta's 10 per cent flat tax, with those people earning more than $100,000 to $250,000 facing an increasing tax rate over the next three years. The budget also brought in a new health care levy for those earning over $50,000, a fuel tax increase of four cents, an extra 10 per cent liquor mark-up, a hike to the tobacco tax, increases on insurance premiums, traffic offences fines and several other user fee increases.

“When it's broken down, I think people are going to see that it's one of those budgets that had to happen. Nobody ever wants to put a budget out there where you increase any kind of taxes, but in the economic times we're facing, it's something that had to be done. It's something that takes strong leadership to go out there and do that,&” said Younghans.

One St. Paul resident attending Younghans' campaign office opening last Thursday in St. Paul was philosophical about the proposed changes.

“The budget is what the budget is,&” said St. Paul resident Henry Thomson, as he talked to Younghans. “There's bills to be paid - the money has to come from somewhere.&”

However, he still had questions about the province's directions in several areas, including emergency medical services, on training and recruiting doctors, and specifics on the proposed health care levy.

Younghans said he recalled a time when health care levies were as high as $80 to 90 a month, before they were cancelled in 2009. This new levy will be less onerous, he said; the maximum amount people pay will rise with income, starting at $200 a year for people earning below $70,000, rising to $1,000 for people earning more than $130,000. “It's pretty minimal.&”

Younghans was also asked about the timing of the election, which was called a year before the government's own fixed election date. He said the government had to get a mandate after introducing a difficult budget; as to the fairness to other parties that might be struggling to organize in rapid order, he said he had seen opposition parties with more signs out there than the PCs themselves.

He noted that as someone who has not been part of the PC caucus before, he has not been personally involved in government decision-making, and could neither take credit for the good or bad decisions of previous administrations.

“If I'm successful, I'm going back in to vote on the budget,&” he said, adding that will involve taking into consideration the wishes of his constituents.

Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw, who has represented the area for the past term after wresting the riding from long-time PC MLA Ray Danyluk, has decided to step down. St. Paul County resident David Hanson was recently tapped to replace Saskiw in this year's election.

Hanson, who has lived in the St. Paul area for the better part of 22 years, and worked in the oil and construction industries for a combined 36 years, is also making his first foray into the political arena, and said he is feeling good as the campaign gets underway.

“I'm pretty pumped and ready to go,&” he said, adding that he thinks the Wildrose has a good chance to bounce back from a tough session that saw 11 of 16 Wildrose MLAs cross the floor to the PCs. “The more people I talk to, the more excited everybody is that there's a chance of a real Wildrose opposition again.&”

Like Younghans, Hanson said the biggest issue is the budget. However, Hanson doesn't think Prentice's consumer tax increases were inevitable. According to him, the election platform for the Wildrose is rather simple.

“The Wildrose Party's platform is to repeal that tax increase that has been announced,&” he said. “We'll have to get elected first.&”

New Wildrose leader Brian Jean introduced the party's fiscal plan last week, that would involve running two deficit budgets before posting a surplus in 2017, by cutting 3,200 civil service jobs, deferring infrastructure projects. and reducing spending by $2.2 billion this year.

The Alberta NDP has named Catherine Harder as their candidate for the constituency.

Harder, a university student studying music in Camrose, says it's been awhile since she's been in the area, but she wanted to provide an NDP option on the ballot.

"In the absence of a candidate from this area, I think it's really important every constituency, every riding in Alberta has the option to choose [Alberta NDP leader] Rachel Notley as their representative," Harder said.

Harder said she's been to the Lac La Biche and Lakeland Provincial Park area in past years for camping and hiking trips. She said it was “a little hard&” for her to say what important local issues are, given how long it's been since she's visited the region. But she listed health care, education and seniors' care as issues that should matter to all Albertans, and top priorities for the NDP.

“Alberta families are paying for [the PCs'] mistakes, and that's just not right,&” Harder said. “We want to protect and improve our healthcare, education and seniors' care — that means not cutting it, but putting more towards it. We want to end the big corporate tax breaks and get fair tax reforms from companies, and we want to fight for fair value and more upgraded jobs from our resources.&”

The NDP has introduced an $89 million plan to create 27,000 jobs this year and is aiming to introduce a royalty structure that would reward companies for creating jobs in Alberta to refine and upgrade bitumen at home rather than having producers ship its raw bitumen to the U.S.

The Alberta Liberal Party, the Alberta Party and the Green Party had, as of last week, yet to announce candidates to run in the riding.