The Taber Times has interviewed each of the candidates for the upcoming provincial election on April 16 to help give readers a more informed vote when they go to the polls. Candidates are presented in alphabetical order.
With Taber-Warner voters now headed to the polls in less than a fortnight and the hustings heating up with withering fire from respective political camps, the 2019 Alberta election is proving to be anything but dull.
In 2015, Albertans saw the fall of a 44-year political dynasty with the ousting of Peter Lougheed’s once-mighty PCs in favour of an experiment with the democratic-socialist NDP of Rachel Notley, a party that had never formed government in the province’s history. In the interim, Alberta’s two major Conservative movements — PC and Wildrose — hitched their wagons together to become the United Conservative Party, with the professed aim of eliminating a split among right-of-centre voters.
More fringe organizations like the Alberta Party, Freedom Conservative Party, or even the Alberta Liberal Party no doubt intend to make inroads into this latter dynamic shaping up across the province’s political landscape, but in the view of almost every analyst, the UCP – NDP showdown will be where most voters will be hedging their bets.
In Taber-Warner, created from the remnants of three former provincial ridings, Cardston-Taber-Warner, Little Bow, and Cypress-Medicine Hat, voters on April 16 will have a choice between four candidates: Jason Beekman for the Alberta Party, Grant Hunter for the United Conservative Party, Laura Ross-Giroux for the New Democratic Party, and Amy Yates for the Alberta Liberal Party.
This Friday, April 5 at Central School, Horizon School Division students are hosting their own election forum through the federal Student Vote program with all candidates confirmed to participate. The forum will be open to the public and starts at 9:15 a.m.
Taber’s All Candidates Forum will be hosted at the Heritage Inn on Monday, April 8 at 7 p.m. with all candidates confirmed to participate. The forum is organized by the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce and will be moderated by the Sugar Town Sweet Talkers.
To confirm if you are registered to vote, log on to http://www.elections.ab.ca and click on the register to vote link.
Alberta Party – Jason Beekman
By Cole Parkinson
Jason Beekman has put his name forward for the Taber-Warner riding as part of the Alberta Party for the upcoming election.
Beekman, who hails from Lethbridge and currently resides in Coaldale, is making his first political push after years of seeing how things work from the other side of the ballot.
While there were many different parties to choose from when he began looking to make a run, he says the easiest fit in terms of his political ideals was with the Alberta Party.
Even with many people seeing the political landscape as a battle between left and right, Beekman hopes voters see the benefit of electing the Alberta Party which brings the best from both sides.
“The Alberta Party represents everything that I believe in terms of social moderation and fiscal responsibility. I have spent years not knowing where I belonged in the political landscape of Alberta simply because the left was too left and the right was too right. I agree with certain things from the right and I agree with certain things from the left but I always felt that no matter who I voted for, I was sacrificing some of my core beliefs. The Alberta Party offers the best of both sides. We have a better fiscal plan than the UCP and a more progressive social plan than the NDP. I believe The Alberta Party truly offers the best outlook for Alberta moving forward,” explained Beekman.
Even though this is Beekman’s first foray into the political landscape, his background in small business and volunteering with numerous organization will help Beekman bring a lot to the table for voters.
Plenty of issues have been brought up in the lead up to April 16 and Beekman says he and the Alberta Party will be focusing on making sure voter’s voices are heard long after they head to the polls.
“Representation. Many voters don’t feel we are being properly represented and fought for in the legislature. Jobs are a key concern. More and more people are finding it harder to find work, or to keep their small business afloat with the current system. The agri-food industry has also suffered a massive blow with China’s decision to block Canadian canola imports and we need a representative that will fight for the farmers of southern Alberta. People are also concerned with the possible direction of education, as progressive and well-funded education is vital for our future,” he said.
With the writ dropped on March 19, Beekman has been hitting the streets across the riding to find out what voters believe to be the biggest issues facing Taber-Warner leading up to the election.
Stemming from those conversations, voters have highlighted a handful of issues they hope to see addressed by the Alberta Party if elected.
“I would say jobs are one of the biggest issues people want addressed and that has many facets. Helping rebuild the oil and gas industry is a major priority as that alone would create thousands of jobs for Albertans. Lightening the restrictions on farms, and fighting to remove the canola import block will help create more jobs. Helping out small and medium businesses by removing the red tape and enabling them to grow and prosper, will create more jobs. Better funding for inclusive education will create more jobs. There are many areas of this province that need help, all of which will get Alberta working again,” continued Beekman.
With door knocking and a number of candidate forums on the slate for the Taber-Warner riding, Beekman is hoping to make his point to voters before they cast their ballot.
In terms of what he hopes people will remember about the Alberta Party when they do make their vote, he hopes voters do their research about the candidates and parties to make an educated choice.
He also hopes people reach out to their respective candidates to get answers to concerns they have in order to fully form opinions about their future MLA.
“Don’t fall into the schoolyard fight that has erupted between the NDP and UCP. Take the time to read the parties platforms. Reach out to your candidates for answers on questions that are important to you. We are auditioning for the opportunity to represent you. It is our duty to be able to address your concerns when you want them addressed,” said Beekman. “This shouldn’t be a vote that is centred around fear. We are a great province with endless possibilities and we should be focusing on our positive future.”
United Conservative Party – Grant Hunter
By Trevor Busch
United Conservative Party candidate Grant Hunter is challenging voters to choose a party which intends to put the province back on track and advertise Alberta as open for business.
With decision day approaching on April 16, Hunter outlined what he sees as the problems facing the province in early 2019.
“It’s pretty clear that the major issues are jobs and the economy. Albertans are not used to having such high unemployment, and so everywhere I go — and I’ve had the opportunity to be able talk to lots of people throughout the province — they’re saying we need to get people back to work, to start bringing back that foreign investment. According to the Conference Board of Canada, two years ago there was $36 billion in foreign investment that had fled this province.”
Citing more statistics, this time from the C.D. Howe Institute, Hunter pointed to another $100 billion in foreign investment that has left Canada in the past two years.
“When those foreign investors leave, it equates to a loss of jobs. The things that we’re hearing is that they are concerned about the corporate tax increases, and that’s why we’ve talked about decreasing corporate taxes from 12 per cent to eight per cent, which would make us very competitive with those foreign jurisdictions and hopefully be able to bring back that foreign investment into our provinces again.”
Hearkening back to a cherished slogan from the days of Progressive Conservative governments, Hunter intends to help engineer a return to a formula for growth that he contends holds the key to future prosperity.
“The ‘Alberta Advantage’ was lower marginal tax rates from other jurisdictions — and again, that’s making sure that people will come here, making sure that investors will come here. By bringing that corporate tax rate down to eight per cent makes us competitive with the top seven jurisdictions in North America. So you’ve got a low marginal tax rate, a sustainable government, and then a lower regulatory burden, or red tape as we often call it. So those three things, if you do those right you can jump-start your economy.”
Touting the Alberta economy’s success in the early 2000’s, Hunter outlined some of the success stories that the UCP hopes to emulate.
“If you take a look at the 10 year period between 1997 and 2007, Alberta was hopping. We were doing very, very well here, because we had applied those three parts to the ‘Alberta Advantage.’ In that period of time, we saw huge growth in the province of people moving in, we had almost 100,000 people moving in every year for a 10 year period. We had 150 corporate head offices move to this province. They did because they saw the tax advantage, they brought their resources, they hired more people here, and that was a big boon to our province. During that 10 year period, we had more foreign investment coming in to Alberta than Quebec and Ontario combined. That is valuable. That equates to jobs. Each party in this election is going to talk about their vision to get Albertans back to work. We’re trying to explain to Albertans that we have a comprehensive strategy. Not just ‘this is what we think is going to happen.’ We’ve seen how it’s worked in the past, we’ve seen how it’s worked in other jurisdictions, and we’re going to apply those things here so we can actually get people back to work.”
The NDP’s drift into increasing deficit throughout their four years in office is a financial freight train of poor indicators, according to Hunter.
“In terms of sustainable government, right now, we’re just not sustainable. We have anywhere between $8 and $14 billion deficits every year. Unfortunately, if we all ran our finances like that, we’d be bankrupt. You cannot do that in perpetuity. I recognize that there is a time when governments will deficit spend for capital projects. But right now we have a deficit spend on operational, and that’s why it’s unsustainable.”
While a plan to help staunch the fiscal hemorrhage is an integral aspect of the UCP’s platform, Hunter argues this won’t mean a forest of pink slips for nurses and teachers in the first days after an election victory.
“We have to be able to be more effective at our delivery of services. I know the NDP have attacked us on these issues. It’s important to realize that we do not have to fire front-line staff to be able to get back to balance. The NDP have indicated they’re going to get back to balance, and we’ve indicated we’re going to get back to balance, but the NDP say somehow we’re going to do it worse than they are. How are they going to get back to balance? What’s their strategy? If they can do it without firing front-line nurses and teachers, why can’t we do the same thing? This is something I think the NDP’s messaging is very flawed in. We will not be firing front line staff, because in the trenches is where we need the people. Where we’re going to look for efficiencies is in middle management.”
Hunter has red tape reduction in his sights, and the UCP intend to create an entire ministry to deal with this problem for Alberta’s job creators and municipalities with a goal of reducing red tape by one third in four years.
“For the last three and half years, I’ve studied models throughout the world where they actually address this regulatory burden, or red tape burden, on our job creators. Even places like Taber, smaller communities, large communities, what is that regulatory burden, those hoops that you have to jump through to be able to get a road built, or wastewater treatment plant built, or whatever it is — if we can streamline that so that they don’t have to spend so much of their resources and time working on that, I think it will help decrease the cost for our municipalities as well.”
As door-knocking campaigns intensify and candidates meet more and more of their potential voters, Hunter is hearing a consistent complaint from citizens of Taber-Warner.
“Probably the biggest thing I hear is they don’t like the carbon tax. They’re very upset about the carbon tax. Especially senior citizens, fixed income earners, they feel like they’ve been hit on this thing terribly, and everything seems to have gone up because of it.”
With Alberta’s unemployment problem reaching troubling proportions — an estimated 180,000 people are out of work in the province in 2019 — Hunter is confident his party’s policies will be an effective solution.
“Southern Alberta here has an 8.8 per cent unemployment rate, the highest in Alberta. A United Conservative government is going to be hyper-focused on making sure that Albertans get back to work. We’re going to be hyper-focused on making sure that Albertans can have the dignity of a full-paying job again.”
New Democratic Party – Laura Ross-Giroux
By Cole Parkinson
Laura Ross-Giroux is hoping to see the Taber-Warner riding painted orange come April 16.
Her decision to run as the NDP candidate for Taber-Warner stems from the former Taber town councillor remembering a message instilled in her by her grandparents.
“I was out camping with my grandparents and when getting ready to leave we would always clean the campsite and my job was to stack the firewood and pick up the garbage. One time I even caught my grandma sweeping the dirt around the fire pit. I asked her ‘why are you doing that?’ And she said ‘you always leave a place better than you found it.’ That has been my motto ever since,” she said. “I also believe there should always be a choice and I am happy to add NDP into the mix here. I truly believe in their platform and what they have done for Alberta since they were elected four years ago.”
No stranger to politics and volunteering, Ross-Giroux got her start in the late 1980s and now her focus has shifted to the provincial level.
“It actually started back in Carseland where I first moved to when I left Calgary in 1988. Carseland was an unincorporated hamlet and it was ran by what was called the Community Association and Agricultural Society. I got involved volunteering there and I was elected the first woman president since its inception in the early 1900s,” she explained. “When I came to Taber, the first thing I got involved with was I heard they were building a new library and libraries are my passion. So I began volunteering there. When I realized there had not been a woman on Taber town council in nine years, I figured that had to change.”
Coming off being on Taber town council, she plans to use that experience gained in her MLA bid.
“Having a really good understanding of how municipalities work as well as MSI funding, and how important it is to communities. Keeping families in the community, you see a lot of small towns where the younger people have to leave because there is no opportunities. If we can create jobs and have continued access to health care and education, we can keep them in the community and help them raise their families.”
As far as focuses for the riding, two things spring to her mind — agriculture and oil and gas.
“We have to play to our two strengths and the biggest issues, of course, are agriculture and oil and gas. By creating diversity in both sectors, I think we can address both. We need to get more involved with the plant protein industry, we need to build these pipelines, we need to in some ways reduce our reliance on the boom and bust of the oil and gas industry.”
Another issue that has gotten plenty of play since the writ was dropped is the Alberta carbon tax which was implemented on Jan. 1, 2017.
“I know the carbon tax is an issue, and you know no one likes a tax but knowing those dollars are being kept in Alberta and being returned to Albertans, in one way or another. Sixty per cent of households in Alberta get a carbon tax rebate, there are also grants available to small businesses,” said Ross-Giroux. “I would rather have the made in Alberta solution than a federal carbon tax imposed on us from Ottawa where we don’t know where those dollars are actually going.”
Seniors, education and healthcare are just a handful of other topics the NDP are focusing on.
“I’ve been told we have done wonders for seniors and seniors services. It is nice to keep seniors in the community and of course the increase in long-term beds for seniors. Schools are another big issue. Class sizes, Rachel with her government, they have been able to add 4,000 new teachers to the Alberta school system since (2015). If re-elected, they will upgrade their annual funding for schools. So when we have this addition of 15,000 new students next year, we will have the teachers to accommodate that and hopefully accommodate lower class sizes,” said Ross-Giroux. “Health and health care access, of course. Chinook Regional Hospital, for example, was able to add over 203 nurses since the Notley government has come in.”
Ross-Giroux hopes voters see the NDP as the party that can continue to take Alberta in a positive direction.
“The economy under the Notley government has grown over the past four years, every year. There have been no real backwards steps. Rachel basically inherited a broken government and a deficit already in place. I think she has done tremendously well in helping Alberta survive this terrible recession we were thrown into,” said Ross-Giroux.
“I think if Jason Kenney were elected, we would be taking huge steps backwards. We need to keep moving forward to provide a future for our children and their children.”
Alberta Liberal Party – Amy Yates
By Trevor Busch
Alberta Liberal Party candidate Amy Yates is focused on education issues and the economy as she attempts to secure the favour of Taber-Warner voters.
As eyes begin to centre on an April 16 election date, Coaldale resident Yates views education as a key issue, targeting overall classroom sizes.
“Provincially and in the riding, we need that cap on classroom sizes. We need more money to go into education.”
Yates has lived in Alberta for most of her life, and is married to a retired member of the Canadian military. While admitting she hasn’t had a lot of political experience, she is ready for the challenge of a provincial election.
“We need small businesses to have those tax cuts to get them up and going, to help the economies in all our small communities.”
Returning to the education file, Yates argues that classroom sizes and lack of staff are leading to a deterioration in the quality of education that is being delivered to students.
“I have kids in school right now, and I watch them go through things, and they’re all kind of talking about what’s going on at school. The classroom sizes are getting big. My youngest is struggling a little bit, but she’s getting pushed forward because there’s just not enough time for the teachers to focus and give that extra help.”
Yates wants parents to have more control over the delivery of education, and more input into decisions that are made in the schools.
“And not only that, right now with our schools, I don’t feel like I have the power to do anything. If someone is being bullied, for example, the best thing they’re going to do is suspend them, or make them leave the school, instead of doing something to help them. While we’re doing that, we’ll also be making it a better working environment for the teachers, so if they have additional support, they’ll be able to do these things.”
On the infrastructure front, Yates wants to see more dollars flowing to improve the province’s neglected blacktop.
“Infrastructure, we do need a lot of that. Our roads, especially going out to Milk River and Raymond, they could all use being updated because I’m sure they’ve been neglected for many years. Not only that, but there are other issues with the grain elevators starting to come down. They’re a part of our history.”
More schools are also in desperate need in many communities, contends Yates.
“We definitely need more schools. I know there’s one going up here in Coaldale, which is going to be a great addition. But we do need more than that.”
Another area that needs to see wholesale improvement is in health care, reducing wait times, and other critical needs.
“Health care, right now, we have so many health care issues in our area,” said Yates. “We need more support. We need to put more into that instead of taking it away. That’s not going to be good for anybody.”
Employing a traditionally-progressive viewpoint, Yates believes the province needs to be on the cusp of emerging trends and issues if it hopes to be able to contend with the problems of tomorrow.
“We need to look to the future, to see what’s going to be happen in the future. We need to be able to take those little steps to get there, and not to support anything that’s going to take us backwards.”