Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wildrose Livingstone Macleod Constituency Association holds AGM in Pincher Creek

MLA Pat Stier speaks at constituency AGM
Chris Davis

The general membership of the Wildrose Livingstone Macleod Constituency Association elected a new executive board and directors at large on October 24 at their Annual General Meeting, which was held at Luigi's Restaurant in Pincher Creek.  Over thirty people were in attendance, including some from Turner Valley, Stavely, Claresholm, Granum and Pincher Creek.  Following the AGM and a presentation by MLA Pat Stier there was a meet and greet lunch.  Following that Stier sat down with John Stoesser of the Pincher Creek Echo and me for an interview.
Livingstone Macleod Constituency Association Executive Board                           
  • President - Lenard Biscope, Okotoks                                                      
  • VP Membership - Todd Buhmiller, Claresholm
  • VP Policy - Diana Ross, Claresholm                  
  • VP Fundraising - Bev Garbutt, Pincher Creek
  • VP Communications - Vacant                            
  • Treasurer - Kathy Emery, Stavely
  • Secretary - Donna Ward, Granum

Several Directors at Large were also appointed, including locals Dennis and Rose Olson of Lundbreck and Johnny Giesbrecht of Cowley.

Stier's presentation began with an explanation of the new Wildrose "Moving Alberta Forward" policy statements.  Stier explained that the Wildrose policy document these 6 policy initiatives replaced was the 2011 Wildrose policies guide, which had become an unwieldy tome that was difficult to understand and explain.  The 6 new Wildrose policy categories are as follows:
  1. Building our urban and rural communities
  2. Excellence in education
  3. Caring for seniors, children, and the vulnerable
  4. Responsible energy development
  5. Putting victims first
  6. World class post-secondary trades and skills training
More detail on these policies can be found at this link (click here).

Stier said these policies would be revised at the upcoming provincial Wildrose AGM to be held this November.

Stier also touched on the new branding for the Wildrose party, including a restylized logo and wordmark.

According to Stier, his constituency includes 22 communities, and he visits the 14 councils in those communities on a regular basis. He said the AGM/meet and greet was one way of keeping in touch with the needs of the constituency and Wildrose party members.  "We take advantage of these kind of gatherings, because some people drive from an hour and a half just to get here."

Interview with Livingstone Macleod MLA Pat Stier

Health care

"We get thousands of letters and emails to our people in the health portfolio right now," Stier said during our interview after the AGM/meet and greet concluded. He said Wildrose health critic MLA Heather Forsyth "is stacked to the rafters with complaints right now". He added Forsyth and other Wildrose members were trying to talk to people to understand the problems and minimize them. "Maybe in the future, we would step up with local regional health committees, and do that on a quarterly basis or something. Try to get constant feedback."

Highway 3/Mayors Reeves/Co-operation

Stier is a member of the Highway 3 committee, which brings concerns about that roadway to the attention of Alberta Transportation.

"We are a group of Mayors and Reeves, and I am the only MLA on it, that are trying to lobby the government for a little bit more attention for Highway 3 improvement,"  Stier explained, saying safety, twinning of the highway, wildlife concerns, and other issues are discussed at the meetings.

"The Mayors and Reeves of Southern Alberta began meeting here some time ago over the years in City Hall in Lethbridge," Stier explained. The meetings are held on the first Friday of the month.

"Since I've been elected, I have been attending those on a regular basis. It not only provides me with an idea of what's the situation everybody's in, but also provides them an opportunity to voice their concerns to MLAs, and I'm not the only guy that goes to the Mayors and Reeves meeting. There's usually three or four of us there."

"When we're not in the Legislature, I'd like to say our colleagues on any side of the house, we try to work together and try to solve problems in our regions. It's been working very well." Stier mentioned Lethbridge MLA Greg Weadick and Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor, who are both sitting as PC members of the legislature, as two people he didn't know before he got elected.  "Both have been good people to work with on various projects,"

Stier said the Highway 3 committee is a separate committee that meets before the regular Mayors and Reeves meeting.

Coleman is of particular concern to the Highway 3 committee because "It's a major choke point for that major highway."

"Highway 3 is a long road, and we felt Coleman was the beginning (to upgrade it)."  One of the major concerns expressed regarding Coleman is at the juncture where children cross Highway 3 to get to and from school.  "We are looking to get improvements done sooner, rather than later.

The committee has sent letter to the Transportation minister, and was Stier spoke on the subject in the legislature.  Click here for the full text of that speech.

Emergency Services

"I keep in touch constantly with a couple of the local EMS guys, they have actually been interviewed by CBC, and other members of your brethren," Stier said, explaining that he's heard many concerns about the state of emergency services and emergency transfers in the constituency.

"There's a large amount of those people who really care about what's going on in Alberta, and they are frustrated by the system."

"It was my key target last year in the Legislature I spoke many times, and with continue to speak on it."

Stier mentioned an example of his concern that the system is seriously flawed,  an incident in Raymond in August of this year which saw a teenager with a serious head injury wait 80 minutes before an emergency transfer began.  Click here for that story, as reported in the Lethbridge Herald.

"The local EMS guy that has been in touch with his superiors here told me directly two days ago on the phone that they have not made any changes, in spite of all the things that Minister Horne said he was going to do last fall."

"Today, there's still no change."

AltaLink sale

I asked Stier for his take on the pending sale of AltaLink to U.S. based Berkshire Hathaway Energy.  "It's interesting, because we've seen in the past where we've had major corporations like Nexen Energy go through quite an approval process both locally and federally, and Nexen's  sale to CNOOC, I believe it's called, raised the ire of a lot of people.  Similarly, we are seeing the same reaction here.  Our power contracting company, AltaLink is being sold.   There's a lot of people that are very much against it, I haven't decided one way or another how to sit on this thing, I need more information."

"It's a big topic."

Paving of Highway 507 near Castle Mountain

John Stoesser of the Pincher Creek Echo asked Stier if he had any information about the long-planned paving of Highway 507 near Castle Mountain Resort.  "They have been wanting to see that paved for years," Stier replied.  "That is the MD of Pincher Creek.  They have a letter on file from Alberta Transportation  that says, yes, they can do it, but there is that little sort of caveat - 'When  budget permits'."

"The government is out of money. They are told by the cabinet 'Don't spend any money'.  So unless something comes along of an emergent nature, an absolute emergency, they have to look at these things as they are right now on a 3 and 4 year rehab and construction plan."

I asked him how such a rich province could be broke.

"We have a cat and mouse situation.  We have peaks and valleys in the price of our major commodities that we sell.  So there is not necessarily a very good predictable steady flow of revenue, but at the same time, we have this enormous wealth."

"The government has no lack of places to spend it.  But they seem to have an unusually way of prioritizing how they spend.  License plates... Did we really need (retooling of) license plates for 15 million bucks?  Probably not."

"Do you think it was to stop the advertisement of the Wildrose party?" I asked. "You're damn right I do, you can print that!" he replied, laughing.

Stier mentioned cutbacks to FCSS grants, construction projects, and other things.  "We are cutting here, we are cutting there.  Why would they (approve) a 15 million dollar expenditure, suddenly?"

Possible election soon?

I asked Stier if the Wildrose party was gearing up for a possible upcoming ahead of schedule election.  "We have to for just good planning sake, we have to expect there is the possibility of an election to be called in the spring of '15, which is only a few months away.   We have found candidates in a lot of our constituencies now, we have been thrown a slight delay with these sudden by-elections that have happened, including a couple that weren't even predicted to happen."

"Nonetheless we are planning on being prepared for next spring.  We know that federal election is coming afterwards in the fall, and we think that it's possible that after the Provincial government  passes their budget in the spring, they may feel motivated to  go out there and call a general election just to get ahead of the federal one that will probably drain an awful lot of donation funds that might be available. The Federal one is fall of '15, so in a year we're in a federal election."

"The province may be concerned about funds being drained out of the area because of the federal heats, so if they leave it to 16, then it's a few months after the federal one, and we don't know if there will be any money left for another election."

New Wildrose branding/evolving values

I asked Stier if the Wildrose was adjusting some of the party's stances on various social issues.  "As we have evolved, we have a lot of people joining us, bringing us more ideas and solutions all the time.  We're organic, we're always trying to adapt and change and make sure we are addressing the needs.  You can't be fixed on one set of values and stick there for years and years, it doesn't work."

As part of the "evolving" of the party, a newly modified logo and wordmark has been introduced.

"We are looking at generations that are coming up now, we are getting younger and younger in terms of our membership, too.  We want to be sure that we are addressing the needs of those people, even in the way that we look.  It is an exciting time."

"There is more and more acceptance in the world of about sex orientation issues, as one example."

"We have to change in all things.  When you look at the new issues we have had, or more recently associated with, some of that stuff where we have people from different races, different genders, all kinds of things experiencing difficulties in the classrooms or other facilities, we need to ensure that those people have their rights protected.  We stand for property rights, and I see this as an extension of that kind of value."

South Saskatchewan Regional Plan

The recently released South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) was spearheaded by Stier's predecessor in the Legislature, former PC MLA Evan Berger.  The SSRP was certainly a factor in the election that saw Stier unseat Berger.  Stier has been critical of the SSRP, as candidate, MLA, and in his role as Wildrose Sustainable Resource Development Critic.

"I have met with the Land Use Secretary Bev Yee several times.  I have met with a lot of the stakeholder groups that we have,"  Stier said, adding he's heard many agricultural, ranching and environmental concerns related to the SSRP.  "I meet with a lot of guys that are concerned about grassland and agriculture."

"The new plan that has come out has addressed a lot of the concerns that we were a little bit worried about before.  The first draft of the plan was a little bit vague, a lot of people said that.  Now it's a little bit more definitive."  Stier cited the Castle area as an example of that.  "In the first draft, they protected a certain amount of area.  Now they have gone ahead in the final draft and extended that area considerably."  He said the change from public land to conservation land designation "means a lot of things can no longer be done on those lands.  That's huge.  Thousands of acres where things are going to be more restricted, that's a big change."

"I think we're finding in this new document a reasonable balance from where we were at to where we are now, but there is still more work to do."

"That plan is a working document, it can always be amended and changed, it is not written in stone."


I asked Stier if a Wildrose government might thin the bureaucracy associated with governing.  "We're going to fire them all!" he said, tongue in cheek.

"We talk about the bureaucracy," he said in a more serious tone.  "We imagine that there is 10 times the people working in these departments."

"You see what you have."

"These are very qualified people, there's great people in these departments. It will take a while to get a working relationship and see where we need to go with it."

Seniors issues

"There were a lot of facilities built years and years ago in the '70s that are all needing to be rebuilt. There's a lot of people that are needing more assistance as we all get older.  We are in a very big deficit situation in terms of facilities. This is an issue at the provincial, regional, and local areas."

"We don't have enough facilities, we don't have enough people to help, and wee seem to not have enough funding to do it all, but  we need to move it up and  figure a way to do it that is going to be effective, that is going to meet our needs, and at the same time  work with all the other funding situations that we've got to deal with."

Earlier in the interview we touched on Crestview Lodge, where I actually conducted my first interview with Stier in 2012 after a meeting he had with the Pincher Creek Foundation board, which manages the facility.  The foundation has been exploring options to access funding to rebuild Crestview Lodge to modern standards for several years. "They have quite an ambitious plan there," Stier said.   "They put together a heck of a good design, and I did personally go ahead and contact the minsters involved on that to try and get some extra attention."

Youth Drain

I asked Stier if he had any thoughts on the youth drain affecting small rurally-based communities like ours.  "When you are in a small community within 200 miles of a major center like Calgary or Edmonton the attraction is hard for anyone to resist.  Their own communities just don't offer all the things they perceive they need."

I asked how many communities are affected by this, perhaps an obvious question.  "All of them.  The school board can tell you they have declining enrollment, here and there."  To stabilise the situation Stier suggested improving local economies, providing more jobs, good transportation, and retaining infrastructure and facilities.

"You have to look at initiatives that provide for growth, rather than take growth away."

"In the old days in small towns the kids would leave, they would go to school for whatever reason, but they would come back fairly soon.  Not any more. "

"They will return when they are a senior.  Then we get an influx of people retiring in these communities."

"We need to address that."

"It's a bigger problem than I can solve today."

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