Friday, June 16, 2017

Wildrose MLA Pat Stier on conservative unity, proposed new constituency boundaries

I joined Wildrose many years ago because it was a party that respected its members. This is as true today as it was then. The members of our party will be the ultimate decider on conservative unity, and I trust in whatever decision they make. This will be one of the greatest exercises in grassroots democracy Alberta has ever seen. - Livingstone Macleod MLA Pat Stier

Chris Davis -  Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier (Wildrose) has a lot on his mind lately, as evidenced by an interview I conducted with him on June 9.  His party and the Progressive Conservatives recently announced the formation of a new party, the United Conservative Party, which is anticipated to make a big difference in conservative representation in the Alberta legislature, for one thing.  For another, there will be some significant boundary map changes to Stier's constituency during and after the next provincial election.  Alberta's 30th general election will take place on or before May 31, 2019.

Riding boundary changes

The Interim Report of the Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission was released in May of this year.  The commission's recommended new riding boundaries reflect changes in Alberta's population since 2009/2010, when the last changes were implemented.  Public hearings have been held and more are scheduled this summer, and a final report from the commission is expected by October 31, 2017.

Proposed new boundaries for the Livingstone-Macleod riding (Alberta Electoral Commission map)

Proposed changes for the Livingstone-Macleod constituency include the addition of the Waterton and High River areas, and the elimination of Black Diamond, Turner Valley, Red Deer Lake, Millarville, and Priddis. "They have swung the boundary further south, and it goes east all the way across into what was called Little Bow, which they are now calling Vulcan/Taber," explained Stier. He added he can foresee some issues arising because High River and Okotoks work together on a number of significant joint projects but will no longer be in the same riding under the proposed boundaries. 

"The commission in charge of doing this is supposed to include, according to the legislation, an average of 48 to 50 thousand people per constituency."

Stier explained that the population statistics result in many urban MLAs with geographically small constituencies, while rural MLAs like himself tend to have a vast territory to cover, both in terms of travel time and in terms of the kinds of issues that most concern different areas of the riding.  "They waned to add more seats to the cities, because they are expanding, so guess who has to suffer? They are not increasing the number of seats in the house, they are leaving them at 87, so they had to eliminate a couple of rural ridings, or re-draw it so they could give one more seat to each of the two major cities (Calgary and Edmonton)." 

The provincial electoral map was re-drawn last in 2009/2010, and at that time Turner Valley, Black Diamond, Millarville, Priddis, and Red Deer Lake were added to what was to become Stier's Livingstone-Macleod constituency.  The Blood Reserve was moved from Livingstone-Macleod to Cardston-Taber-Warner.

Stier said he attended a Boundary Commission meeting in the fall of 2016 and recommended that the northern part of the old riding boundary be attached to a riding closer to Calgary, because the lifestyle of most of the people in that area have more in common with the urban area population.  "I think it is a good change." 

Stier said he was not completely satisfied with the results of the recent Canadian census. "We questioned their numbers. We feel their numbers are not accurate." He said he is in agreement with Waterton being part of the Livingstone-Macleod constituency, but "It surprises me that they added in High River." He said that he will be working with the MLAs from Highwood and Chestermere to bring an alternative map to the board, as there are concerns in those constituencies as well.

The Alberta Government introduced The Modernized Municipal Government Act (Bill 21) (MGA) in December of 2016, and it will be implemented in time for Alberta municipal elections in the fall of this year. As part of the MGA, the Calgary and Edmonton metropolitan regions will have mandatory growth management boards. According to the Alberta Government "Calgary and Edmonton are the two fastest-growing regions in Alberta, with more than half of the population living in those two metropolitan areas." The growth management boards will be "responsible for developing regional approaches to the delivery and equitable funding of services including water, wastewater and transportation. They will also be required to develop a growth plan for the region to help ensure the preservation of agricultural lands and the wise use of the environment."

"Any applications for development that are significantly large will have to go to that growth board for final approval," explained Stier. He said he has concerns as to how this will affect Alberta's smaller communities. "There's no question that the whole thing is being skewed more toward the urban situation, in many respects."

Stier believes some of the huge rural constituencies will be difficult for their MLAs to properly represent, particularly the Taber/Vulcan constituency. His own Livingstone-Macleod constituency is geographically enormous. "There's many days, whether I'm sitting in Edmonton, or I'm in the truck to some other place, that I often feel that I'm not doing my job as well as I should be, in trying to be seen everywhere! We all try to do our best." He said phone, email, local media, and social media are tools his office uses to keep in touch with his constituents. "There is never a day goes by that I don't feel that I 'should' be here, and 'should' be there." Stier keeps up with his southwestern Alberta's Mayors and Reeves meetings, held the first Friday of each month in Lethbridge, and attends the region's Highway 3 committee meetings often. "That helps my communication with communities, though, because I am talking with elected officials, They are providing me with what's going on. It may not be personal and one on one with every person in every town, but I just don't have that ability."

Conservative unity

Conservative candidates, including Wildrose candidates like Stier in the last two elections, have traditionally done quite well in Alberta's rural areas. Support has also been good for Progressive Conservative candidates in urban areas. Stier is one of many who believe that uniting Alberta's two conservative parties will change their fortunes from the results of the last election, which resulted in an NDP majority in part due to the split between (small c) conservative voters. "That was, we think, a spontaneous protest vote, only." 

Of the recent announcement to reunite Alberta conservatives under one banner Stier said "This has been a little bit of history making that I have been involved with. We are going to unite conservatives, and have a new level of conservatives that we haven't seen in Alberta for some time." 

"We are getting back to our former colleagues. The more I can do to help it along, the more happy I am."

A ten person negotiating team comprised of five members representing the Progressive Conservatives and five members representing the Wildrose worked together to draw up the unity agreement that resulted in the United Conservative Party.  Stier has been involved with unity movement since the earliest days.

Stier was one of five Wildrose MLAs who stayed put in December of 2014 when nine Wildrose MLAs, including then leader Danielle Smith, crossed the floor to join the Progressive Conservatives.  He was and remains a staunch supporter of Smith's replacement as Wildrose leader, Brian Jean.  It seems safe to say that his commitment to the newly forming party is significant.

"I am now on the Wildrose executive team trying to ensure that we roll this out in proper fashion and that the vote coming up in July is given the best chance it can, to be successful. The unity vote."

Both parties plan to hold internal votes on the merger agreement on July 22, 2017. If the merger is approved by both parties a leadership election is scheduled for October 28, 2017, to be followed by a with a founding convention of the new party in early 2018.

When it comes to policy making the two parties  have different policies: the Progressive Conservatives require a simple majority of 50% plus one, while the Wildrose Party requires a 75% consensus.  "To attain the success in the decision in July, we need to achieve that 75%, in this as well," explained Stier.  "Everywhere I go in the Wildrose world, people are asking when's it going to happen?'. They are excited, they want to see that." 

"This is a unique chance to create a new party. Based on conservatism, but based on new sets of policies. Part of the deal is to have new committees set up, to have new polices, and a new constitution."

A basic framework for the proposed new party had been outlined, however "It will be up to the new members of the new party. It will be up to the policy committee that will be struck by the new members to set the new path forward, how they want to go."

At this time there are three contenders for the leadership of the proposed new party: current Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney, current Wildtose Party leader Brian Jean, and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer.

Stier was not reticent to throw his support behind Brian Jean, who he has consistently spoken of with a great deal of respect. Jean led the Wildrose through its most turbulent phase, and under his leadership the party grew from the five remaining sitting MLAs after the 2014 floor crossing incident to 22 MLAs after the snap election in April of 2015. That election resulted in the end of a Progressive Conservative long consecutive run in power, which dated back to 1971. "We have been going wonderfully since, and our numbers have never been higher," said Stier. "So he's the guy I would want to see there." Stier said Jean "Is trying to get to every town he can, trying to see everyone he can."

I asked Stier what he would do if Jean is not made leader of the proposed new party. "I am a patriotic guy. I am fully behind this new venture. If we have a new captain at the head of the ship, I serve at the pleasure of the leader."

Stier said the timeline for creating the new party was a tight one, partly due to concerns that it be ready in case a snap election is called. "We don't foresee that as being probable, as their (NDP) numbers are in the tank... and they probably want to infect us with as many of their things as they want to try to pull out of their ideological knapsack and shove at us. If we can recover from that infection, that will be interesting to work out, once the new government gets elected."

"If they do pull an election in 2018 we have to be ready. We wanted to have a new leader in place by the start of fall session. We need to build a war chest, for the next election."

corrected for accuracy - a phrase

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