By Delon Shurtz
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Whomever is elected in the Cardston-Taber-Warner constituency during the May 5 provincial election will have quite a task representing a diverse group of Albertans.
The area, in the extreme southwest part of the province on the United States-Canada border, is mostly rural and contains a wide range of topography from mountains to farmlands. It also includes Waterton Lakes National Park and the Blood Reserve.
In 2012 Gary Bikman of the Wildrose Party was elected to represent the constituency with 54.54 per cent of the vote. He defeated PC candidate Pat Shimbashi, NDP Aaron Haugen and Liberal Helen McMenamin. But Bikman, who crossed the floor to the PCs in December, lost the party nomination in March to Brian Brewin, who is running against Wildrose candidate Grant Hunter, NDP Aaron Haugen, and Del Bodnarek of the Alberta Party.
Bodnarek has a problem with the word diversity, even though he supports it. He believes the province has to diversify and end its reliance on oil, but he suggests diversity is a word the government uses whenever there’s a downturn in the industry, then things improve and the talk goes away.
Now activity in the oil industry is down 90 per cent from last year, Bodnarek says, and the trickle down effect of lost jobs is being felt across the constituency. Once again the government is trying to decide how to turn things around, but it’s too late to close the gate when the horse has already gotten out.
Bodnarek suggests the sugar beet, potato processing and grain industries in the constituency should all be expanded, and he accuses the government of not doing enough to diversify and foster new industries in the area and in southern Alberta.
The candidate is also concerned about the area’s social systems and sees school class sizes growing and health care shrinking. Funding, he says, hasn’t kept up with inflation and population growth, and it doesn’t take a genius to realize that when the health-care budget is cut, it affects patients and their care-givers.
Although the government may be trying to balance the budget, Bodnarek says it’s doing so on the backs of hard-working Albertans. He says the Alberta Party believes the corporate tax rate could be increased and still remain the lowest in Canada, and oil royalties could be increased, as well.
Brian Brewin isn’t looking at the world, or at least his small corner of it, through rose-coloured glasses when he says he believes the provincial government is doing pretty well when it comes to dealing with issues facing Albertans these days.
Brewin, PC candidate for the Cardston-Taber-Warner constituency, acknowledges the province can do better and there’s always room to improve, but that doesn’t mean the government is doing poorly. In fact, Brewin says the Tories are on top of the issues that concern him and his constituency, such as school and hospital modernization and maintenance, doctor recruitment, seniors housing and encourageent of agriculture processing.
He just wants to make sure the province stays on course.
“We need to be pro-active,” Brewin says.
He says schools and hospitals are often the hub of a community, and if they fail, it’s not long before the community does, too.
“It’s important that we maintain them.”
Brewin would also like to see the expansion of high speed Internet in small communities in the constituency, which, he insists, is necessary in this age of technology to compete on the world market.
One of the biggest issues facing the province, Brewin believes, is its dependence on oil revenue to fund services and programs, and while he believes the government is taking a more balanced approach to spending to avoid future problems, the last thing he wants to see is a recession because the oil industry collapses.
Aaron Haugen, NDP candidate in Cardston-Taber-Warner, says even just a one per cent increase in corporate tax rates on profits would be enough to reverse the cuts to health care, and he suggests there’s little reason major corporations couldn’t pony up.
“If corporations can’t afford a one per cent increase on profits to help health care in this province, something has gone horribly wrong,” Haugen says.
He points out while the NDP would increase taxes only on major corporations, and only on their profits, the party would actually eliminate corporate taxes on small businesses.
Haugen says hospitals and schools in the constituency are “severely” underfunded, particularly in Milk River and Warner. He says previously closed hospital beds in Milk River should be re-opened and more short-term care should be provided.
That would also take care of another major issue in Milk River; physician recruitment. While the town is currently expecting a couple of family physicians later this year, recruitment and retention in the small community has been an issue for years.
Haugen is also concerned about the need for school upgrades in the small communities, not only for the buildings themselves, but in technology. Much of the education provided students in Milk River, for example, is done through distance learning because technology at the schools has not kept up with the times.
“The way the world is going, you have to replace technology every two to three years.”
Health care and the provincial budget are two of the issues Wildrose candidate Grant Hunter says are facing the constituency. He’s particularly upset at the government’s recent introduction of some 59 new taxes.
“(This) is absolutely the worst budget Albertans have ever seen,” Hunter says.
He says the government has failed to balance the budget the past several years despite record revenues, which indicates a disturbing pattern.
“They have a spending problem,” he says, adding the government has to get off the oil revenue roller coaster.
“We need to be more fiscally responsible with the money we do have.”
Hunter says there has to be predictable funding for schools and health care, the priorities of which have been lost amid government beauracracy. Too much money is spent on middle management while those in the trenches – front-line workers like teachers and nurses – go unsupported.
“We’ve failed them.”
Hunter also wants more accountability from MLAs who, he suggests, promise as candidates to represent their constituents but often choose to tow the party line instead once they’re elected. To counter that, Hunter says Wildrose would introduce MLA recall to ensure MLA accountability.