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Orman grilled on seniors housing

Seniors housing shortages was the hot topic at the Seniors' Drop-In Centre Sunday afternoon as Progressive Conservative (PC) leadership candidate Rick Orman visited the area to share his platform.
PC leadership candidate Rick Orman addresses a crowd at the Seniors’ Drop-In Centre in Bonnyville Sunday afternoon.
PC leadership candidate Rick Orman addresses a crowd at the Seniors’ Drop-In Centre in Bonnyville Sunday afternoon.

Seniors housing shortages was the hot topic at the Seniors' Drop-In Centre Sunday afternoon as Progressive Conservative (PC) leadership candidate Rick Orman visited the area to share his platform.

Lakeland Lodge and Housing Foundation chair Ray Prevost briefed Orman on the need for seniors housing in the area and how long the waiting lists are. Under the current funding formula, the municipality and the provincial government would split the cost of a new facility in half. Citing other projects such as a regional waterline the province would fund 90 per cent of, Prevost asked Orman if he would change the funding formula for seniors housing so the province would pay 90 per cent.

He didn't commit to change it, but Orman said he would be prepared to look at the formula. He proposed a plan that would see unused land belonging to the government be used for extended care facilities and said it would cut construction costs in half. He also said government must help facilitate families who want to care for elderly or ill people in their homes.

“It's an obligation of the government to make sure that we make our seniors comfortable,” he told reporters. “They built this province and to marginalize and ignore them is absolutely wrong.”

Orman served in government from 1986-93 when he took on the roles of minister of employment, labour and energy, and now returns to the political scene after taking an 18-year break.

Dressed in a light blue checked shirt and jeans, he spoke without notes to a crowd of about 20 away from the podium, close to where people were seated.

“I've always had this attitude that service to government is like service to community – it's a privilege and it's also a responsibility,” he said.

“It's an obligation and it's a responsibility... I am not a fan of career politicians.”

Orman's three priorities are accessible health care, excellence in education and safe communities.

He would hire people from both the private and public sectors to conduct an organizational review of the health care system to find the operational “fat,” where things aren't working and how to improve. He said privatizing the system is a “chicken's way out” and out of respect for taxpayers, government must find a way to spend efficiently before considering privatization.

Orman cited issues with accessibility in the system. He believes it should be easier for foreign-trained doctors to practise and he would work to implement a national strategy.

People who are elderly, chronically or terminally ill use up needed hospital beds, he said, and believes his idea to use government land to construct extended care facilities would help alleviate the issue.

With education, Orman said teachers must have resources in classrooms and noted how the government should not have frozen teachers' salaries while under a labour agreement.

Under his safe communities platform, he outlined a program dealing with more than just increased police presence. Orman said he learned from a discussion with Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson, half of the city's criminals have addictions or mental health issues.

“There's actually a real concrete area of dealing with it rather than giving police more tasers or giving them more weapons and that isn't what they want.”

He would construct a special facility for offenders with those issues to try and break the cycle of addiction, homelessness and crime, before the cycle becomes repetitive.

“We want to be able to capture them and get them into treatment because I'm absolutely convinced that if we get them into alcohol and drug addictions treatment and deal with some of the mental issues, we have the potential for breaking that cycle.”

Orman said he would spend money on youth programs and referenced a study on how youths end up in those patterns of crime. He said the opportunity for youths to get into trouble was after school before their parents were home. Eighty per cent of people who end up in a pattern of crime never played team sports, he said.

“My dad used to tell me, hanging around with my friends, he says, ‘You know, why don't you guys go and play baseball? I don't want you to go stealing hub caps.'”

When asked if this approach could conflict with the federal government's tough-on-crime approach, Orman said it might, but he supports what Hanson believes is needed.

“He said that this is not about more boots on the ground,” Orman told reporters. “This is not about that, this is about treating people differently that get caught up in this trap.”

Orman is the only candidate to come out and say he would repeal the controversial Land Stewardship Act (Bill 36).

“I've never in all of my life since I've been a member of this party found so many people upset around one piece of legislation than I have Bill 36,” he told the crowd.

He said the government's intention when looking for ways to deal with Crown land such as grazing and oilsands leases was appropriate, but the execution was not.

“I get the intent, but the execution was terrible. And I know the execution was terrible because everybody's mad about it. So as a consequence, I have made the decision that Bill 36 must be repealed. I cannot see a way in which we can successfully convince Albertans that some sort of modification to what we have is the answer.”

Orman noted how every former cabinet minister would have at some point voted for the bill, while now some leadership candidates say the legislation should be reviewed.

With oilsands development, he said the provincial and federal government would need to discuss the issues, as federal environmental legislation would trump provincial legislation, but the federal government needs to understand Alberta has jurisdiction over its resources.

“We have to develop in a way that Albertans find it acceptable, not Washington, not Ottawa,” he told reporters.

He said he promised a First Nations chief in the Fort McMurray area he would consult with him and his band before approving new activity.

Orman also believes the oilsands infrastructure needs to be updated and is three years behind when it should be two years ahead.

He said one of his campaign members drove to Fort McMurray and questioned “Why is the path to the pot of the gold a two-lane highway?”

The PCs will elect their leader Sept. 17. Advanced polls will be held Sept. 13.

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