The long-anticipated call for an early provincial election was brought from speculation to a reality April 7, with much of the focus from opposition parties honing in on the recent budget announcement.
As each of the opposition leaders takes a swing at the PCs — criticizing the 44-year dominant party for taking advantage of Albertans by imposing some 59 new/increased taxes while not holding their own party accountable for the mismanagement of funds, Banff-Cochrane MLA candidates get ready for the countdown until the May 5 election day.
“The Wildrose Party’s stance is to roll back those tax increases…there’s an ample bloat in the bureaucracy,” said local Wildrose candidate, Scott Wagner, from his campaign headquarters located at 10 Railway Street, noting how angry this constituency has been since the budget announcement two weeks ago.
“Frontline workers are doing a great job…we need to focus on delivery of services without bureaucracy.”
Wagner’s team is welcoming capable volunteers to step up to help out. Wildrose supporters can show their support by stopping by the Cochrane headquarters, knocking on doors and putting up signs.
“We have 20,000-plus voters to contact within 28 days,” said an enthusiastic Wagner, joined by his core campaign team including his wife, Marsha, on the day of the announcement.
Wagner is confident in newly selected party leader, Brian Jean, who he refers to as ‘a great, decisive leader with a plan’.
Learn more at wagner4mla.com.
Wagner is not the only enthusiastic candidate vying for representation of the Banff-Cochrane constituency.
Bragg Creek’s Cameron Westhead is running as the local NDP candidate and has a positive outlook that the province is ready for a change from the ‘Tory dynasty, with a premier asking people to pay more and get less’.
In place of a plan that Westhead feels is gouging an already struggling middle class, the NDP solution is a ‘true progressive income tax’, as top-end earners have ‘more room to chip in’.
He also maintains that the PC notion of zero increases for corporate taxes simply isn’t feasible when corporate profits are at a nearly three-decade high.
“We can still be competitive and have the lowest tax rate in Canada (if there was a slight increase in the corporate tax rate).”
The 37-year-old practicing registered nurse doesn’t believe Albertans are ready to forgive former premier Alison Redford’s progressive promises-turned betrayal.
A leader such as the NDP’s Rachel Notley is a ‘dynamic leader who listens to people and stands up for the working family’, and is someone Westhead feels can best relate to the average Albertan.
With fixes to the health care system in mind, Westhead feels funding cutbacks aren’t the issue and that the problem lies in creating better efficiencies within the system — including more long-term care beds (seniors) and cutting back on overtime with better staffing and scheduling.
Westhead and his team are currently looking for volunteers to help cover ground by door knocking and sign posting.
“The NDP does not accept corporate donations, so that we can be free of corporate influence when making decisions – unlike every other party…We are a movement driven by people who share our values of fairness and equality and we rely on donations from individuals to fund our campaigns.”
Westhead can be contacted at email@example.com.
With a provincial election officially underway as of April 7, it looks like Banff-Cochrane constituents will have three candidates to choose from on May 5.
Incumbent Ron Casey returns for his second election for the Progressive Conservative Party, while Scott Wagner is running for the Wildrose and Cam Westhead for the New Democrats. So far there are no candidates for the Liberals, Alberta Party or Greens in the riding.
Casey said he thinks an election is necessary at this time because Premier Jim Prentice has put forward a multi-year plan to lessen Alberta’s reliance on non-renewable resources.
“I think if it was a one year budget it wouldn’t be as critical,” he said about the March 26 budget announcement. “But what we have is a one year budget that forms part of a three year plan and really what the premier is looking for is a mandate for that.”
Changing Alberta’s reliance on fossil fuels, Casey added, cannot be done in just one year and this election will set the direction for the province over the next term and longer.
Casey said the fact that the budget is looking at the longer term for the Alberta economy is one of its strengths and something Albertans want to see.
“At the end of the day it is less reliant on non-renewable resource revenue than we have in the past and that is what people have been saying; they want to take this roller coaster ride out of the Alberta economy.”
In terms of budget particulars, he said municipalities and lower income Albertans benefit from the budget put forward. For communities the Municipal Sustainability Initiative grant funds remained virtually the same, library funding went up and FCSS funding remained the same.
“That is good news in a budget that saw reductions in a lot of areas,” he said. “I think one of the things that seems to be a hot topic is the health care levy and the one piece I think is not getting across very well is the fact that anyone that makes under $50,000 of taxable income really that they pay nothing.”
As for income tax changes, Casey said they affect those making over $100,000 of taxable income, those making netting under $100,000 won’t see any changes. He pointed to the new program for low income families that will see funding go to them if they earn under $40,000 a year.
“That actually is a good program, so when the premier talks about looking after the most vulnerable that program is helping with that,” he said, adding the Alberta working family supplement will also help. “That will but $85 million into lower income working families in Alberta.”
When it comes to increasing corporate taxes, he supported the government’s stance to not increase those rates at this time, as it would have a significant negative economic impact for the province.
“What also factored into that decision is the fact that we are so close to the line economically that any kind of negative thrust into business side of Alberta would be really detrimental to everyone at this point,” he said, adding the province’s triple A credit rating is important to maintain. “If we want to maintain the Alberta advantage as far as business and taxation goes, we really need to leave it where it is.”
Looking at the last three and a half years, Casey said he has worked hard on several initiatives across the constituency including flood mitigation, new schools and funding for seniors housing. But it is the area of tourism that he feels he has more work to do in Edmonton.
“We have a tourism strategy in place, but what we don’t have is a really clear implementation plan,” he said. “I think the strategy was a really good start to that but what we need to work on very clearly is an implementation plan.”
Part of the challenge, he added, is that tourism despite employing 135,000 Albertans and contributing $7.6 billion a year to the economy is not recognized as an industry the same way agriculture, forestry and fossil fuels are. “That is something that needs continued work and we have started down that road,” he said.