Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski was the guest speaker at the Tuesday, Nov. 8 Chamber of Commerce meeting, where things got heated when he faced questions from political opponents and attendees.
His speech focused largely on Alberta’s strong economy but turned to health care, pay hikes and the next election during the question-and-answer period following his speech.
“The great debate on health will continue as it has across the country of Canada in the last seven elections in the country,” he said, adding that health care is the top of the list for debate.
As the budget process gets underway, Kowalski said it is very important to consider where money is going, adding that 41 cents from every dollar in the provincial budget is directed into health care.
Another hot topic was the 2008 decision to increase MLA pay between 30 and 34 per cent. Since that increase, there have been no further adjustments to pay.
“Your MLAs, and I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, are not overpaid by comparison to everybody else in this country and everybody in the United States,” he said, adding that Alberta MLAs are ranked eighth out of 14 in Canada.
“If you don’t pay your elected people, me or anyone else … then there’s an old saying, ‘Pay them peanuts, you know what you’ll get,’” he said.
Things got especially heated when Wildrose Alliance opponent Link Byfield asked whether or not Kowalski would participate in an all-candidate’s debate during the next election.
“I have had, over nine elections, probably 45 all-candidate’s debates,” he said.
“I will, like I have done for nine times, make myself available to do all kinds of forums.”
Byfield asked for clarification on whether Kowalski’s answer was a yes or a no.
“Well, what do you think? I said that I scheduled meetings between the 14th and the 21st day of a provincial campaign. I’ve done it for nine (elections). You can test the record to see how many I’ve done. I’ve never turned down an invitation,” he said. “If that isn’t a yes, I don’t know what is.”
During his speech, Kowalski also touched on his thoughts about the increased infrastructure investment, something he said is needed to ensure Alberta thrives.
“I happen to believe very much … we’ve got to continue to build. We’ve got to continue to grow our Alberta and I believe very, very strongly that we have the resources, the manpower, the intelligence and we’re not afraid,” Kowalski said.
He said this investment has made its way directly to Westlock in the form of Municipal Sustainability Initiative funds, which have been directed into the Spirit Centre, the new Pickardville pumper truck and many other initiatives.
The paving of Highway 801 and the current work to widen Highway 2 into a four-lane highway from Morinville to Clyde as well as along Highway 18 from Clyde to Westlock is also the result of provincial investment.
“Basically, our economy is pretty good,” he said, adding that Alberta is the only province in Canada without debt.
MLAs will head back to the Legislature Nov. 21, where they will spend three weeks discussing a variety of topics — introducing legislation for fixed-term elections and discussing drinking and driving.
“There will be some further debate and further expansion with respect to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and the war against irresponsible people who drink and drive and that will be continued very aggressively,” he said, adding it is a concern to government the high rate of people from 16 to 24 who die in collisions.
Budget deliberations will begin in November and continue into the new year. Albertans can give their thoughts on budget priorities online at www.alberta.ca.