Sunday, May 3, 2015

Interview with Livingstone-Macleod Progressive Conservative candidate Evan Berger

Evan Berger in Pincher Creek
T. Lucas photo
Chris Davis


Former Progressive Conservative MLA Evan Berger (55) spent nearly 16 years as a member of council for the Municipal District of Willow Creek, including 9 years as Reeve and 6 years as Chair of the Municipal Planning Commission and the Agricultural Service Board. He then served in the Alberta Legislature as MLA for the electoral district of Livingstone-Macleod from 2008 to 2012. He was defeated in the 2012 election by current incumbent Pat Stier. In the intervening period since then he has been serving as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Sustainable Resource Development while also sitting on the Cabinet Policy Committee on Resources and the Environment and chairing the Land-use Framework MLA Committee. Prior to this election he was also a member of the Standing Committee on Resource and Environment, the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections - Standing Orders and Printing, and the First Nations/Metis/Inuit Workforce Action Plan MLA Committee.


I conducted the following interview with Livingstone-Macleod Progressive Conservative candidate Evan Berger via telephone last week.

I began by asking him what his vision for Livingstone-Macleod was, a question he said he gets a lot but one that doesn't have one simple answer. "I think for Livingstone-Macleod the opportunity for us here is to build on our strengths. Each community have visions of their own, and I think we have to work with them to help facilitate that."

"We have abundant natural beauty, and a wonderfully productive landscape, and a great climate, and I think all of those are working to the different communities' ideas of what their vision should be. And that's what I would want to help with, because I don't believe that anybody has one vision, the one that takes in everything, in a broad and diverse constituency like this."

"Some of the big things we can be doing is continuing the development of our value added agriculture, and promoting our spectacular tourist opportunities."

"What's the biggest challenge for Livingstone-Macleod?" I asked.  "Jobs. (That's) common from Priddis all the down to the very south tip." Berger explained that there are a lot of people involved in the oil industry, which has been hit hard by falling prices recently. "Second to that has been, in a lot of areas, is infrastructure renewal and replacement in our towns. There's pipes, and waste-water systems, and plants that are either reaching their life's end, or needing improvement. That's probably the second most talked about in different areas."

"Protection of our natural beauty, of course comes up quite often, there's concern on that, and seniors housing is one of the other ones that has come up. It's dependent on where you are."

Berger was point man for the  South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) , the draft form of which became a contentious issue last election.  It was approved by Cabinet on July 23, 2014.  Berger says the continued development of the regulations "to fine tune the plan at the ground level as to what can and will happen in different areas as far as development is what's taking place as we go forward right now. The importance of that being in, and in place, cannot be over-stressed."

According to Berger he's hearing good things from potential constituents as he campaigns throughout the electoral district.  "Feedback has been very positive, and looking at Alberta and saying that we definitely are needing to get off the 'boom or bust' cycle, so to speak, and level that out in the big picture. There is plenty of concern around in Canada there is no one thing that will fix everything. There is many, many different pieces of that puzzle."

I asked Berger what he saw as some of the big concerns in Livingstone-Macleod.

He said that transfer payments to the federal government remain a concern to citizens here and in the rest of Alberta.  "We may have seen a slight shortfall, but we have already sent 22 billion dollars out before we do our budget."

"There were definitely comments about that."

"People are looking at their health and education of course, and making sure that those stay in good shape in their areas."

"It has been kind of a variety, depending, because it is such a broad and diverse region I get a lot of different feedback in a lot of different places."

Berger said the recent short ski season and the impact of that on area businesses has been raised as a concern here in the Pincher Creek area.  "The community businesses that have suffered greatly because we had such a short season. Is there a way that as a MLA you can get involved and help them with further development of snow making abilities so they can lengthen that season and it will make a big difference to everyone right down the line, as well as keeping those dollars at home that are now evaporating to BC."   Berger said he believes affected area businesses need help in that regard.

"What differentiates you from other candidates?" I asked. "I look at myself, and I want to work for, and with the people of Livingstone-Macleod, and to do that I think you have to be out and about all the time, you have to be engaged with people, you have to be approachable and available." He said he has experienced people talking to him in a one-on-one way at events and other day-to-day situations who may never speak out at a public meeting. "I'm known throughout the whole area pretty much as fitting that bill, and I think that being the only candidate that actually lives in the constituency, that makes a huge difference to that, because it doesn't matter which way I go in the morning, I'm in the constituency."

"The bonus of that is that everything in-between is on the way."

I asked him if he missed serving Livingstone-Macleod as MLA.  "I miss it. I miss the people mostly, because you build relationships, and that's what I always said as an MLA - being engaged with the people on the ground level, you then become friends and acquaintances.   When you have an issue that may rear up from the distance, and you can call from Edmonton and say 'Okay, I know Bill over here, I'll just give him a call and I can get the ground story'."

As to what differentiates him from the other candidates for Livingstone-Macleod he said "I don't know if it differentiates me, but something I possess is a work ethic. I think you take a job, it's your job to be out there and be available, and it's not at your convenience most of the time, it's at the people's convenience."

"For me it's never been adversarial. Everybody has opinions, everybody has their ideas and ideals, and the reality is that I don't pick on any of those. My idea is get out there, go to work for the people, that's the job. See what they're thinking, see how you can help facilitate that. Is there roadblocks you need to get our of their way, or is there issues that are being overlooked and not heard from?"

I asked Berger if the strong NDP showing in the polls is a concern. "The NDP is surging, and they have their platform, and I look at where they're surging, is that a concern? Of course it's a concern. I think that the more that we split our vote over on the right side of things the more fractured things become and there's bigger opportunity for the NDP, or the Liberals."

Windmills and transmission lines are of course a controversial issue in the Pincher Creek area, so I asked Berger for his thoughts on the subject.  "It's a difficult issue. We all remember that eight to ten  years ago everybody was seeking more wind development, and the economic drivers at the time would have been the $8 to $12 (price of) a gigajoule of gas, making wind very competitive as far as generation. It was fairly well know that if you had the generation you would have to have the capacity to carry that generation to a market, because there are no cities at the bottom of the tower."

"With the $2-$3 gas, is it still competitive?"  I asked.  "That needs assessment was 2007, that's really close to ten years ago. Is it still as relevant now as it was then?  It's probably prudent to have a review of that,"  he replied.

Asked how the current provincial budget crisis may affect his potential constituents Berger said "The employment aspect is big, I think overall. In the big scheme of the budget we have a lot of opportunity to continue to value-add in other capacities."  He mentioned agriculture and tourism as areas of potential growth.  "This oil hiccup helps to make sure that we're recognizing those capabilities in other industries."

"When I left, I think we were at 11 billion dollars for the income stream from agriculture to the province, and I believe last year when I looked at it it was 17 billion." Berger said that increase came partially from cattle price increases, offset by rising grain prices.
"We have a climate here that is second to none in the world, and I never knew this until I was touring a micro distillery in Turner Valley."  Berger explained that business, the Eau Claire Distillery, makes sense to locate in Alberta because the fine scotches and whiskeys produced in Scotland use Alberta barley. "They want our barley because of the climate specifications. It meets everything they need."

"One of the things that was always a hold up was some antiquated laws that goes back to prohibition days, on how much an actual distillery had to produce to qualify as a distillery."
"A barrel of whiskey is worth $20,000, the same size barrel as a barrel of oil.  That's the high end whiskey."

Berger said one of the places where real opportunities present themselves is through U.S. legislation, as well as the North American Free Trade agreement.

"Both hemp and fleabane are legislatively impossible to grow in the U.S. yet, but here we are experimenting with the fleabane and we are successfully growing lots of hemp and supplying their seeds to North America, basically." 

"Those opportunities exist to make sure that we are well situated in that market, and then they probably won't compete, and we will be the supplier of the fibre and the seed for their health food markets, and everything else."

"A lot of that production is possible here."

Of incumbent Pat Stier Berger said  "Everyone does the job differently, and it's been his job to do the last three years, and I think it's a difficult job in any case. It's probably more difficult when you're not located in and amongst the people you're trying to represent. I believe to be very effective I need to be living in the constituency, because you are already at work everywhere you go."

"You have to be on the road a lot, and you have to be taking that time."

Related links/sources:

Evan Berger website
Evan Berger wikipedia page *(biography source)

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