|Wildrose leader Brian Jean and MLA Pat Stier|
T. Lucas photo
Wildrose Party leader and Fort McMurray-Conklin MLA Brian Jean stopped in Pincher Creek on August 19 and met with members of the region's press at the Heritage Inn. Jean was accompanied by Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier and two staff members.
Jean said he was on an information gathering tour. "Truly, this tour is all about listening to Albertans and finding out about what their priorities are," he said.
"This is the second week of the tour, so we did central Alberta the first week."
This leg of the tour included Lethbridge, Fort MacLeod, Pincher Creek, Crowsnest Pass, Nanton, Claresholm, Taber, Medicine Hat, Chestermere, and Langdon. After that he moved on to Calgary Foothills. He plans to tour most of Alberta. Along the way he's been meeting many people, including citizens, MLAs, reeves, mayors, and councillors.
MLA Pat Stier had a dark teatime of the soul when then Wildrose leader Danielle Smith defected from the party ahead of the expected election that did indeed follow. He decided to remain with the Wildrose Party, risking being the last man standing, risking political suicide. His endorsement of Jean was perhaps inevitable, but it also seemed heartfelt. "I'm so happy to have him here today, so he can show us what he's all about."
Of working with the new NDP government Jean said "At first we thought we got some really good signals, we thought we were pretty excited, because they said they wanted to reach out, they wanted to work with us, they wanted to work with the opposition. We were very excited. Then they adopted our policy to eliminate corporate union donations, then they allowed unions to continue to pay for union members to go out to door knock. So, we're trying to remain optimistic, but it's hard to do that."
"One side of them says they are going to work with us, the other side, they just don't."
"We're trying to remain optimistic, and we're trying to work with them as much as we can, and find common ground where we can to serve Albertans."
"It's hard when they're so far over there (in the political spectrum), and we're over here. It's not as easy as you'd think, because we are diametrically opposed on our views on money in your pocket. We believe it should stay in your pocket as much as possible, they believe they have a better idea of what to do with it than you do. So, I think that's the best way to sum up our philosophies."
Wildrose definitely disagrees with the NDP when it comes to health care. In an August 19 press release Wildrose Shadow Health Minister Drew Barnes accused Health Minister Sarah Hoffman of "choosing ideology over safety for Albertans" by cancelling a proposed $3 billion lab services contract Australian company Sonic Healthcare Ltd. which was to have resulted in a new privately owned super lab in Edmonton. The NDP has made its opposition to privatized health care well known. Their election platform states "We will end the PCs’ costly experiments in privatization, and redirect the funds to publicly delivered services."
"She (Hoffman) indicated that she is going to be changing a lot of the medical services that we rely on for testing," said Jean. "We are very concerned with the rural areas, especially with testing and facilities."
"We are waiting to see what they do, but we have since discovered that she has misrepresented the truth, in relation to what she said. She said yesterday or the day before that there were no studies done in relation to what the impact would be on this change of position, and then yesterday our team was able to get through freedom of information the fact that many studies were done. In fact, they were very in-depth studies."
"Health care is a monster, it's 46% of our budget. We have the most expensive health care in Canada by far, about $1,500 for each and every man, woman and child in Alberta, compared to other provinces."
Jean said AHS has the most managers of any province, a ratio of one manager for every 5.2 employees. "The health services are very overburdened with middle and upper managers that cost a lot of money. There's 10,000 people that make over $100,000 a year in Alberta Health Services. They have 14,000 cell phones that are on year-round, and they have a lot of costs that are not in the best interests of the taxpayers, including March Madness. March of every year they are spending 10 - 15% of their budget just because if they don't spend it, they lose if for the next year."
"We don't think it's going to improve under this government."
Jean said he would like to see 1,600 middle managers removed from the system. "That would eliminate probably about half of the managers that they have added over the last ten years, that number has doubled."
He also said he would like to see more resources going into front line workers in both the health care industry and education. "We used to be number one in the world in Alberta for our high school students, now we are like # 5 in Canada. Just in 15 years, and health care is not much different."
"We believe that the government needs to change it's modus operandi, their operating procedures, from treating patients to actually healing them."
"The political will has to be there, and we don't believe it's there right now, in regulation or legislation. Especially because the NDP are known for their centralization, and centralization, especially for rural Alberta is not good for us."
Top heavy management
We later returned to the them of top heavy management in various government departments. "It's a theme," Jean said. "Government needs a clean out every once in a while. Unfortunately, I think they picked the wrong cleaner."
"I think the Wildrose would have done a much better job, I know that we violated the people's trust, or the past leadership did. I don't blame Albertans for being a little sceptical, but I'm not that person, and our Wildrose is stronger than we've ever been, and we have a much better caucus than we've ever had, as good a caucus as I have ever served with, and I've served with a few. I'm very impressed with the talent pool, and the dedication these people have to the people of Alberta, which is the most important part. Nobody is there to fill their pockets and have a nice time."
Jean was asked for his thoughts on a proposed minimum wage increase. "I believe we have limited the amount of an increase in minimum wage by this year. Certainly we hope that we can slow them down enough to let the economy catch up to where they are trying to put us."
He said many business owners have told him that they would have to reduce staff at a $15 per hour minimum wage.
"The worst part is that people like students, the youth, the vulnerable, the people who may have some challenges mentally or physically, are going to be the people that suffer the most out of this."
"Certainly services are going to be hurt (for) everybody."
"I think it's time to really go slow, because the impact they do, these 12 people (cabinet), that have been picked by Rachel Notley, are affecting 4 million Albertans permanently, and our children and grandchildren, and I just wish they would go a lot slower with their social experiment. And that's exactly why we are trying to do everything we can to slow them down every step we can."
Jean said the best way to stimulate the economy "is to create jobs through training people so they can get their own jobs. Not just by handouts." He believes in reducing regulatory burdens and taxes to encourage business in Alberta. "We are competing against other provinces and other countries with everything we do." Jean said he was concerned with lowered investment in Alberta, specifically in the oil patch. "We have seen Alberta go from 300 wells in January to about 60 right now, and it's going to get a lot worse." He cautioned that booming trade at the auction houses was bad business for Alberta.
Rural and urban Alberta need each other
Jean was asked if he worries that the NDP government may ignore rural Alberta. "I am very fearful of that. I am concerned with that especially because of what the condition the roads and bridges are in, especially bridges where we have some danger, and government is there to keep people safe."
"We need to concentrate on the bare bones of what made this province great."
"The truth is that if we don't have a strong urban centre, we don't have a strong rural area. If we don't have a strong rural area, we don't have strong urban centres. We are tied together, because one drives the economy, the other drives the quality of life, and that's the truth of it."
"The one way they can be assured of the wrath of the Wildrose is to cut the funding to rural Albertans and treat them differently than urban Albertans. We're not going to accept that."
Social media and the ongoing campaign
The Wildrose Party has been quite successful at harnessing the power of social media. "We are the most popular," said Jean, "I believe I'm the most popular politician in the Alberta right now, on Facebook and Twitter." "It is working because it's building up presence." He referenced a recent video clip that received 25,000 views. "We are getting a tremendous amount of responses from people on our social media, and you've probably seen that."
"I will be campaigning for the next 4 years. I might not be on the road that full time, but we are all campaigning. There's too much at stake."
Jean said he has heard concerns regarding windmills from various areas around the province including Kingston and the Southern Alberta area.
"Of course the most important thing is the drought, which is obviously devastating agricultural communities, whether it be cattle, or feed, or just harvest. Everybody's seen it, and that is probably our largest concern with southern Alberta is what is the provincial government going to do, first of all in relation to the flood mitigation, and secondly in relation to water."
"I think that water is the most important resource we have in Alberta, and Canada generally, and we need to make sure we continue to have it for many years to come."
"There's a lot of concerns. The major concern is for us is the drought conditions, and water generally, and what's happening there. But there are other things. You know, orphan wells. We've got a ton of orphan wells in Alberta, and now with what the PC government did and left the liability on the property owners, that's a great concern. Especially because the Province of Alberta profited off of that and the landowner certainly profited, but not to the extent that the Alberta government or the corporation did. So I think certainly the government was negligent on that file as well and there's going to be a lot of land owners suffering, which is of great concern to me."
Jean was a Conservative Member of Parliament representing the riding of Fort McMurray - Athabasca in the House of Commons from 2006 to 2014 and Athabasca from 2004 to 2006 (wikipedia), serving under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The upcoming federal election causes him some concern in terms of what kind of impact the results could have on Alberta if the Conservatives don't form the next federal government.
"I am very nervous. I had an opportunity to sit and work with the NDP for instance, if you are talking about them in particular." Of federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair he said "I worked with him as well. His policies will destroy Alberta for many, many years. I don't just mean two or three, I mean 20 or 30." Jean said he's lost respect for Mulcair. "He has said clearly in Quebec that he is not in favour of Energy East, and he has said outside of Quebec that he is in favour of Energy East." The Energy East pipeline is proposed to run from Alberta across Canada to New Brunswick. "There is no bigger controversy than having a politician make a decision and make a statement at one place on policy, and make the exact opposite position in another place."
Jean summed up the Liberal party in three words known to most Albertans: "National Energy Program."
He was rather scathing in his assessment of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. "I don't think Justin is anywhere near ready, and I know him. I served with him in Ottawa for a few years and he is probably the most, and I don't mind you quoting me on this, I would suggest he is the most non-capable person out of any MP in Canada."
"I would suggest he is definitely on the bottom three on capability. And I know him, and he likes me. And he's a nice guy, but he's not ready to do it."
"The Wildrose has a very big job in Alberta, I think that job will be reflective in the entire nation because Alberta has a tremendous influence on the country, as Canada has on the world. I really hope that people have an opportunity to read the policy, the background of the leaders, and the party. If they do, there is no question at all they will pick Stephen Harper."
"Stephen Harper is the only one capable of doing it."
"I was the Parliamentary Secretary of Infrastructure and Transport. 45 billion dollars went by my desk. Every single Canadian got a fair share of that. He did it based on population, and I was very impressed with that. That's the kind of leader I want in my country. Somebody that's fair to everybody."
"I am not a guy that wants a closed government, I want a better government. I think with the right team, which we have right now, a great team of people, and professionals, and experienced individuals, that really believe in honesty and hard work, That's what we believe in, and we want to create a political machine that's going to serve Albertans for many, many years. Not a political machine that's going to serve ourselves."
|Not necessarily an endorsement...|