WESTLOCK - Although the nomination process has yet to begin, a current Westlock County councillor has announced his bid to seek the Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock United Conservative Party nomination held by current MLA Glenn van Dijken.
Saying he’s running because he wants the province’s conservatives to remain united, Isaac Skuban, 24, has been involved in the party since the “end of the Wildrose days” when he saw how “off the rails it could get at the provincial level.” Currently, the party is in a state of flux as UCP members have until May 11 to cast mail-in ballots in their review of premier Jason Kenney’s leadership.
In addition to being a Division 5 county councillor since September 2019, Skuban is three years into his political science and economics studies at the University of Alberta and has sat on the board of the local UCP constituency association.
“The UCP is only five years old and I’ve been involved with it since its inception and the idea was that we win united or lose divided. I think it’s hard because there’s such a broad spectrum of conservatives in Alberta,” said Skuban, a lifelong resident of Westlock County.
“What pushed me to run is seeing the conservative movement slowly decrease in the polls and seeing the internal struggle happen within the party. I know I can speak up and be effective.
“I just think what’s happening in the party right now wouldn’t have happened if we had different people in the mix. I think we’re going to see a lot of nominations challenged across the province.”
Although he wouldn’t comment on van Dijken’s work as the MLA, Skuban said the riding needs someone “who can respond to the concerns of constituents and be a voice for the area” citing the ongoing doctor shortage issue in Barrhead and the current state of Highway 44 into Westlock as issues “important for an MLA to push for.”
“When you’re a conservative in a rural area you get a lot of support. So when you go to the Leg and you know you have a lot of residents backing you and the party, I think that affords you the luxury to be a voice for the people and stand up. I really think our area needs that,” said Skuban. “At the end of the day I’ve always run on being honest, listening to residents and doing my best.”
The nomination process
Skuban expects the nomination process will probably begin after the current session of the Legislature ends in June, although “that’s still up in the air.” He has done some initial campaigning locally, but won’t go large-scale until the process officially opens as “that’s when the hard campaigning to UCP members can start.”
“A lot of the people I’ve talked to so far I know, but the feedback has been positive. I had people encourage me to run for MLA the second I got elected to county council,” he said. “I would have liked to have waited, but as I said earlier the current state of the party is why I decided to run now.”
van Dijken last faced a challenger for the local nomination in 2018 when he defeated Thorhild farmer Monty Bauer by claiming 70 per cent of the 891 ballots cast in what was then the newly-formed riding of Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock. Rules governing the nomination process can be found on the UCP’s website under the governance section.
“The nomination is called by a subcommittee within the UCP association and that can happen at any time, but I believe it’s recommended by the provincial board (executive),” he added.
Skuban says he’s an advocate for school choice and university reform, stating that “parents should have the right to choose where their child attends school, whether it be private, public, Catholic, or home-schooled.”
“I had first hand experience of this when the NDP abruptly shut down our home-school board in 2016 with little, to no notice. The decision was challenged and then reversed,” said Skuban.
“Bias will inadvertently always exist in schools, but parents can be assured that by the province continuing to offer quality education from a variety of outlets that they can choose the best option for their child.”
He also says mainstream universities across North America have “really lost their focus in terms of working towards affordability and accessibility” and should attempt to give students more options.
“This is one of the strong attributes that our local Athabasca University has. I’ve heard nothing but positives from students who attended AU while I was at the U of A,” he said. “The province needs to expand the compatibility of these distance learning centres and online schooling to make it easier to get post-secondary education.”
Skuban went on to state that as a resource-rich province, with a strong agriculture base to build on, “Alberta should continue to work towards exporting more of our ethically-produced oil.”
“I will also be an advocate for the safest way to transport oil, which is pipelines,” he said.
As for agriculture, Skuban says Alberta has ideal growing conditions for the “most sought-after barley varieties” and has some of the “top barley breeders, research organizations, and agriculture and health departments in the world.”
“We need to work to make it easier for more distillers and brewers to take root here. Alberta has so much to offer and we need to take advantage of that. We need more made in Alberta,” he concluded.