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Wildrose Alliance leader pays visit to Barrhead

The Wildrose Alliance Party continues to make strides toward governance. Party leader Danielle Smith was in Barr-head April 12 to visit several locations including the Co-op, Freson Bros. IGA and Hillcrest Lodge.

The Wildrose Alliance Party continues to make strides toward governance.

Party leader Danielle Smith was in Barr-head April 12 to visit several locations including the Co-op, Freson Bros. IGA and Hillcrest Lodge. In talking with The Leader, Smith said the party is doing “just terrific.” The Wildrose movement, she said, started off as a party just three years ago, and it now has four members of the legislative assembly, it has established itself in all 83 constituencies, it has 26 candidates in several open races, and it will probably have 50 candidates in place before the summer.

Smith said the party announced several weeks ago that it raised more money than any other opposition party in the history of Alberta politics, at $1.8 million.

The closest was the Liberals back in 1993 when they almost beat the Conservatives.

“Most of our funds came from our grassroots members,” Smith said. “We have found that our greatest success in fundraising comes from people who are willing to contribute $100, $75, $50 or whatever they can afford, and we find that’s a healthy way to fund a political movement.”

This type of fundraising allows the party to keep in contact with its members and maintain that grassroots support from across the entire province, she said. Last year, the Wildrose Alliance was the largest political party.

“If you look at the number of memberships we sold relative to other parties, we blew them away,” she said. “We will be close to 15,000 members by the end of the year, and we’re just going to continue to grow.”

Working for the people

The party will hold its nominations this year, and Smith said members are very optimistic about the candidates. For example, Link Byfield will be representing the Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock constituency, and nominations have just opened up in adjacent constituencies. The Alliance puts a lot of emphasis on electing candidates in this area, because most of the elected MLAs come from further south.

“We knew we needed to balance our representation with candidates who are already members of the communities so we can have their issues on our radar screen. I can only do so much travelling around the province, but having candidates in every community allows residents to see who would be representing them.”

The Wildrose Alliance is a party that believes an elected representative is there to work for the people, not for the leader of their party or for their party, Smith said. Their principle job is to the people who elected them, and Smith said she thinks the people are responding to that idea.

“I think the general public is tired of politicians who, once elected, stop listening to the people who put them there. It is the job of an elected politician to take the views of the people in their area back to government and make sure it is on the right track. I think if we did more of that, we would have a much more effective government.”

Smith said what drew her to the Wildrose Alliance is the fact it stems from the grassroots level. She said since taking the reins of the party, it has continued to grow, and the party takes that seriously.

“We believe politics has to be a two-way street,” Smith added. “We have to listen to the people, really listen, and when we’ve heard what they have to say, we build it into our policy.”

Alliance releases own budget

The party’s starting point was its member pass policy that has been passed at its annual general meetings, she said. The party sat down as a caucus and took 60 different areas in which it had passed policies, and condensed it down to 16 position statements. The vast majority of policies come from the party’s membership at its AGMs.

Smith said she thinks the Alliance is the only party that takes the role of its member pass policies as seriously as it does.

“I think that makes it meaningful for our members to attend our AGMs, and to put forward resolutions, because if we form government, they’ll actually be acted on. The reason we talk about balancing the budget, the reason we talk about fixing health care, the reason we talk about protecting property rights is because those are the issues we hear about wherever we go.”

The Wildrose Alliance is the type of party that believes you can’t just complain about what the other parties are doing wrong, she said. Parties have to actually put forth their own ideas about how to get it right. For example, the Wildrose Alliance produced its own alternative budget the day after the province released theirs.

“We called it our three-step recovery program, and it really is that simple,” she said. “The first step is controlling year-over-year spending increases. If the government just committed to a spending rule where they would not increase department spending by more than inflation and population growth across all departments, it would have shaved $1 billion off this budget deficit.

“Furthermore, if they were just more reasonable in their capital plan and stretched it out, rather than trying to cram $20 billion over three years, they’d be able to meet all of their priorities. We would also end corporate welfare programs, things like the carbon capture storage fund at $2 billion, the Alberta Venture Capital Fund at $100 million and tens of millions of dollars in direct subsidies and grants to some of the biggest business in Alberta. That would have allowed us to get back in balance without having to cut frontline workers, or eliminate doctors, nurses and teachers. Slowing the rate of year-over-year spending increases would be able to, over time, get the province back into the black and onto a sound, fiscal track. Alberta would get back into a leadership role with the rest of the country.”

Smith said the Alliance is cognizant of the struggles rural communities like Barr-head face with issues like education. She said her party believes parents have the right to choose the education for their children, but when you get into a rural environment, it gets difficult, because they are faced with a declining enrolment. As well, if those communities have multiple school boards with multiple schools each with different infrastructure, administration and transportation, they can end up having a difficult time being able to provide education for the students.

“I don’t know if this is possible, and I realize it’s an area of great conflict, but I’ve read about school boards working together to share assets like gymnasiums and common trades labs, and just having different wings at a school, with one devoted to Catholic education, one devoted to Francophone, and one devoted to public education. That way, you can meet the needs of the parents and save money in administration costs. We’re at a point in some of our communities where we need to talk about this type of collaboration, and I’m looking for win-wins. Ultimately, I think all the different educational organizations can survive and thrive, but we may need to do things slightly different.”

Another option for Albertans

As for the strength of the Wildrose Alliance, Smith said she would look at it as a personal failure if the party formed government and didn’t have a strong contingent of people from Edmonton and northern Alberta. The Alliance started off strong in southern Alberta, but Smith said over the past five years, people have come to realize the direction the current government is taking Albertans is a direction they don’t want to go.

“The public wants options, and we’re giving them that option,” she said. “We’re a party for all Albertans. We believe in local autonomy, local decision-making, and local governance, and that’s a message a lot of people respect, but have not heard in a long time. We’ve seen one disastrous decision after another as a result of people making decisions on something about which they know nothing.”

Smith said the Alliance is of the view that it’s the local councils that know whether their community needs a recreational facility. The party is of the view that it’s the local school boards that know best how to build the facilities and provide the programs for the students, and it’s of the view that it’s the local hospital administrators who should make the decisions about the type of services and surgeries that should be performed in that hospital.

“We need to restore that kind of power to the local level if we’re going to get better services for all Albertans. The provincial government has to make sure services are adequately provided all across the province, but they don’t necessarily have to be the ones providing them. The province needs to provide the funding and allow the local decision-makers to deliver the programs in the best possible way.”