With interest in the upcoming provincial election building, each of the three men in the running to replace incumbent MLA Genia Leskiw stepped into the line of fire last week, discussing their platforms and taking a series of questions in the region's first all candidates forum.
PC candidate Craig Copeland, Wildrose representative Scott Cyr and Alberta Party hopeful Rob Fox each staked their claim to become the constituency's voice in Legislature, addressing a number of hot-button local and provincial issues at the forum, held at the Lakeland Inn in Cold Lake.
Taking the stand first, Fox told a crowd of well over 100 locals that Alberta's political landscape was eroding, pointing out a change in direction and leadership is needed to lead the province out of “this hole it has found itself in.”
“One of the biggest concerns we as a party have right now is the belief that the current government puts far too much emphasis on the here and now. There's no real proof of any long-term vision for the future of this province, and that's very concerning,” Fox said. “This province needs to find a way out of this hole, we believe the best way (to do that) is to listen.”
He added, “The corner stone of the Alberta Party is that our MLA's will not be spokespeople for the party. Instead, we will rely on our constituency to bring concerns and issues forward. By our party's (regulations), we as candidates have to side with our communities – what better (representation can you ask for).”
With a platform that includes the introduction of a progressive tax system to counteract a near $7 billion provincial deficit; making changes to the Alberta health care system, which would see the party put a priority on funding primary care centres across the province; repealing Bill C36 in order to recognize Albertans as the stewards of their own land and committing to expanding homecare, kin care and continuing care across Alberta so that seniors can continue living in their own home for as long as possible, Fox believes the Alberta Party is the “right choice” for the province moving forward.
After standing by what initially appeared to be a party on its deathbed after former leader Danielle Smith led eight fellow MLA's across the floor to join the PCs in December, local Wildrose candidate Scott Cyr believes the party is back in good shape, hailing new leader Brian Jean as the man capable of bringing about “much-needed” change in Alberta.
“If it's one thing I've noticed throughout my years as an accountant, it's that you need good, solid and steady leadership to be successful,” Cyr said. “The PC party has failed remarkable on that front over the past decade. Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford and now Jim Prentice have each displayed very poor leadership, which has in turn left the province in the predicament (it is in today).”
He added, “Alberta was once the envy of the country. We kept a tight rein on taxes and spending and, even when the price of oil dropped in 1988, we were okay. We were still able to balance the budget. I believe in the ‘Alberta advantage', but it has never been about geography or oil, it's been about good government. Prentice's recent budget is the final installment in a ten-year slide for the PCs.”
Taking exception to the 2015 PC budget, Cyr promised that the Wildrose would balance the books by 2017 without raising taxes and without cutting front line workers should they be successful in the upcoming May 5 election.
He also committed the party to eliminating 3,200 “unnecessary” upper-level government management positions, bringing an end to the annual ‘March Madness' spending frenzy, stopping what he described as corporate welfare, while also implementing legislation to prevent MLA's voted in to represent one party crossing the floor to join another.
He noted that the Wildrose would also pass a motion to entrench property rights of all Albertans into the Canadian constitution.
“The Wildrose party will re-establish the priorities that initially created the Alberta advantage,” he concluded.
Having the spent the best part of the last decade rooted in the local municipal scene, current Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland professed his belief that the PC party was “under new management” with new Premier Jim Prentice, promising the dawn of a new era should the public keep the faith on May 5.
“Unlike (in recent times), I strongly believe that our party has a very focused, business oriented leader in Jim Prentice, a leader who I believe is capable of bringing us out of the tough times we're seeing right now here in the Lakeland, and everywhere else in the province,” Copeland said. “Our party has a very specific plan in place to slowly reduce our reliance on oil revenues. The key right now is to weather the storm then, through our three and 10-year capital plans, the PC's (will help rebuild this province).”
Having spent so long fighting for the City of Cold Lake over the past several years, locals from other parts of the constituency have raised concerns over Copeland's ability to fairly represent the entire region should he be elected. Copeland himself addressed those concerns during his opening speech.
“As MLA, I would be working for everyone within this constituency. I would bring the same energy, passion, commitment and relationship-building skills that served me so successfully as Mayor of Cold Lake,” Copeland said. “People in Bonnyville and Glendon (have nothing to worry about). Should I (be successful in my bid and become MLA), I will fight just as hard for them as I will (for Cold Lake.)”
Along with addressing several of the PC party's key provincial issues, Copeland said he would fight to ensure there's further funding for Highway 28 in future years, while also working hard to bring about change to local health care, specifically in increasing the level of service and operating dollars for both the Bonnyville and Cold Lake hospitals.
He also spoke about the importance of expanding senior housing facilities within the constituency, implementing long-term education plans and priorities with local school boards before finally addressing what he called “the rather large elephant in the room” – the regional waterline.
“Right now, as I'm sure almost everyone is aware, the regional waterline is an unfunded capital project, that really, at the moment, isn't (on the provincial government's radar),” Copeland said. “So we're going to need to bring forward plans and ideas regarding how best to form partnerships and find the money needed to complete the project.”
At last count, the waterline, which would ship Cold Lake water to Cold Lake First Nations, Bonnyville and eventually Glendon, is expected to cost anywhere between $80 and $100 million.
In closing, each of the candidates simply asked that the public take up their democratic right to vote on May 5.
“This is probably one of (the biggest) provincial election's in a while – come out and vote for the person and party that you feel will best represent your needs in legislate, that's all we can ask for,” Copeland said.
Advanced voting will take place all this week at the Centennial Centre, before the final vote on May 5.