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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Interview with Livingstone-Macleod NDP candidate Aileen Burke

Aileen Burke in Pincher Creek
T. Lucas photos
Chris Davis

Background:*

New Democrat Party of Alberta candidate for Livingstone-Macleod Aileen Burke (29) graduated in 2013 from the University of Lethbridge with a BA in Political Science. Her political history includes a two and a half year term as CFO for the Lethbridge-East Provincial Electoral District Association, she was a youth representative and member at large for the Lethbridge NDP Federal Executive as their youth representative for a total of three years. She served as treasurer and co-chair of the New Democratic Youth of Alberta, ran municipally for the Lethbridge Public School Board, and ran federally in the 2014 election. She has run municipally for Public School Board and federally in the 2014 by-election. She has also been involved in her community as a sitting board member on the Lethbridge Housing Authority and a volunteer for Read-On Lethbridge. She is currently a Territory Manager for Shoppers Home Health Care (a division of Shoppers Drug Mart), a Network Facilitator with high functioning disabled individuals, and is the step-mother of three children.

Interview with Aileen Burke:

Aileen Burke was in Pincher Creek last week as part of an organizing jaunt through communities west of Lethbridge in the Livingstone-Macleod electoral district. I spoke with her at a private home while she met with with local NDP supporters, a group that included Garth Turcott.  Turcott won a by-election in the now defunct electoral district of Pincher Creek-Crowsnest in October of 1966, becoming the first member of the NDP to be elected in Alberta.  A brief interview with him is also included below.

When asked why people should vote for her, Burke said "I would tell people that if change is what they are looking for, positive change, NDP is what you have to vote. Otherwise you will not see any change that you want to see."

"We are the only party that offers an opportunity for positive change."

Burke said an NDP  government would implement "an actual progressive tax system", including increasing corporate taxes by 2%, "A job creation program that no other party has proposed," and would also focus on diversification. 

"No other party has as well of a thought out plan as we have."

"I think people are legitimately disgruntled now. They have finally hit that breaking point."

I asked her if a 2% increase in corporate taxes might cost the province employers and jobs.  According to Burke "It still gives us a competitive advantage. Studies have been done that show that it is not going to throw away jobs, like everyone is afraid of. With our proposal of increasing the minimum wage as well, and with our job creation program, the two will counteract each other if any jobs were to be lost from a corporate tax increase."  Burke said the NDP would increase wind and solar energy diversification and encourage small business creation, and would "help fund 10% of the salary up to $50,000. So that will help the small businesses, the local businesses, pay for these new employees, without going bankrupt."

Big money influencing elections and governance are also concerns for Burke.  She said that Alberta has the largest donation limits and the loosest electoral donation laws in Canada. "We have a very unique position, where corporations are able to put a lot of money into campaigns, which influences where policy goes. It's not supposed to, but you know it does."

"It's not going to happen overnight, it's going to be a progression of small changes that you make throughout."  Burke said an NDP government would work to ban union and corporate donations.

According to Burke, running for Livingstone-Macleod in this provincial election has been different from her fairly recent run for the federal Macleod riding. "I got 4.7% of the vote in 2014, in the federal by-election. It was a scary time to be knocking on doors at that time." She said that public support has changed dramatically. "I didn't expect that that many people would come forward, it's been super encouraging. The sheer amount of people that I have communicated with on a personal level is astounding to me."

"Is it the NDP's time now?" I asked her.  "It was our time, a long time ago," she replied.  

"There's a heck of a lot of support coming out from this area that nobody expected."
Campaigning has been a bit hectic, she said.   "I work two jobs, it's busy."
What does she think of her chances and her party's chances in the election?  "It is one of the hardest ridings in Canada, federally. I am not sure where we stand provincially, but statistically, we don't do very well in this riding, at all. Obviously, we are in it to win it, but we are also realistic individuals." 

"This is a critical part where we are building an EDA (Electoral District Association), we are building a volunteer base, we have memberships that we are building, that makes all the difference."

"Lethbridge is phenomenal. We have got a good shot both Lethbridge East and Lethbridge West."

"Twenty eight days is a really short campaign period. Really short. Federally it's a minimum 40 days."

How would the NDP deal with contentious issues?  "You have to find a compromise that works for everybody. You are always going to have people who are not happy with the decisions you are going to make, but if it's for the greater good, then that's the path you take."

"If you are making things better for the majority of the population, than that's the correct course of action."

"You cannot pander your policy to a specific 'Not in my backyard group'. If you pander your policy to that group you will never see change, because you are too busy worrying about what toes to not step on and what eggshells you are going to break."

What happens if there's a minority government? "The NDP is committed to working with their partners to accomplish as much as they can. So if it comes to the point where we have a NDP/Wildrose minority,.."

Burke said the NDP would like to see refineries built here in Alberta. "It's important to note, too, that we're not against pipelines, either. We are against how environmentally unsafe they are."

"Pipelines are safer than trains, they're safer than trucks."

Asked what issues were nearest and dearest to her heart Burke said "I come from a health care and education background, so those are my pet-peeve points. I have worked with the vulnerable community for 15 years now, in various scopes."
"We have the highest gap between rich and poor in all of Canada, Alberta does, and it just keeps getting worse."
"We are increasing progressive taxes for those make more than $125,000 and increasing the corporate taxes to 12%.  The impact is legitimately in the top 10% of the population."

"The plan that we have laid out... has built it out in such a way that people will see the results very quickly."

"We don't expect to change the system overnight, we'd expect that it will take longer than a year to accomplish, but changes will be happening consistently throughout the timeline of 4 years."

"How did you become active in the party?" I asked. "I have always been politically minded," she replied.  "As soon as I was allowed to vote, I was voting NDP." 

"I think I was asked to volunteer on the campaign, and it just stemmed from there." She said she was inspired by Edmonton-Calder NDP MLA David Eggen. 

According to Burke the NDP appeals to a younger demographic "Our job creation program is huge, obviously, our focus on freezing post secondary tuition rates is incentive, but 14 of the 87 candidates are young people. We lead by example."

Interview with Garth Turcott:

Former Pincher Creek- Crowsnest MLA Garth Turcott
Former NDP MLA Garth Turcott was present during the organizing meet in Pincher Creek.  He expressed understandable delight at the NDP surge in the polls this election.  "I've been waiting 50 years. I was elected 49 years ago as the first New Democrat in the province, in 1966." Of the government of the time he said "It was run by God, or at least by his deputy, Mr. Manning."
How did you make it over the fence?  I asked.  "It was with the help of Grant Notley, who was the Secretary of the party at the time." Turcott said the Crowsnest Pass was broke at the time "And that is where my support came from."

"I have been waiting for almost half a century for the NDP to have a shot at this province, that certainly could use them." 

 "Maybe our time is coming, I certainly hope so. I think Grant Notley would certainly be a fabulous Premier. Maybe his daughter is going to do the job that he would have done, if he had lived long enough."

Of his time in the Legislature Turcott said "It was God awful, to be honest with you. I was the only one there and I made the mistake of insulting Michael Maccagno (interim Liberal leader at that time) by saying that the leader of the NDP was the real opposition in the province. I didn't mean to insult him, but I did."

"The Province was almost as bad as it is now, with the Conservatives, with the Social Credit." Turcott said his support came largely from the Crowsnest Pass. "They were miners, they were union people."

To put things in perspective, Turcott related an anecdote from his time as MLA. "Friday, it had been a long day in the Legislature." Then NDP leader Grant Notley had asked Turcott  to join him for a meeting, in a small town ("No restaurant, no hotel"). When they arrived the door was locked. "Finally, nine people showed up. Grant was ecstatic. 'Last time was here there was only 4 people and now it has more than doubled!' "

"Grant was probably the most knowledgeable politician in Alberta at that time.  Grant did his homework. I think that's what Rachel is doing too, her homework."

Turcott and Burke

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Candidate profiles:
Wildrose Pat Stier


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