Smith Storms Wetaskiwin
The predominately green bus was easy to recognize as it was decorated by huge Wildrose logos along the sides and back. The bus pulled into Wetaskiwin on July 28th on a high-flying tour across Alberta. Danielle Smith and crew are diligently touring Alberta to increase the awareness and popularity of the Wildrose Party, sell memberships and to counteract the recent increase in popularity of the Conservatives fuelled by the race for the Premier’s position. When they parked the bus near City Hall prior to joining local supporters and guests, the odometer read 4000 kilometers more than at the start of the tour.
The luncheon grin-and-greet was hosted by Darlene Meyer at the MacEachern Tea House located about half a block west of City Hall on 50th Avenue. Following a home cooked lunch, Darlene concluded the visit by providing Ms. Smith with a brief tour and explanation of her Coca Cola collection of memorabilia in the Tea House. Ms. Smith was very generous with her time speaking with all the guests and media present.
The group moved to City Hall for a tour, and an overview of the City of Wetaskiwin hosted by Mayor Bill Elliott and City staff. Ms. Smith experienced a brief stay in the prison cell in the basement of City Hall (former court house) but appeared more comfortable when she got elevated to the Judge’s seat which is currently the Mayor’s seat on the third floor.
During her visit to Wetaskiwin, she expressed her views on a variety of topics but four that are of special interest to the residents of this region included: Seniors, Agriculture, Aboriginal, and the potential labor shortage.
Danielle Smiths comments on Senior’s issues and needs. “We need to recognize that some of the pharmaceutical costs are crippling for our seniors. This came through with a change to the pharmaceutical drug program that could cost seniors $7500 per year for drugs. The attitude of the Minister of the time was ‘just because you turned 65 doesn’t mean you have an entitlement’. We believe people who have lived in this province worked and raised their families here have prepaid for their health care. We are not giving a dignified retirement to many of our Seniors.”
She went on to state, “We have to fix the process of continuing care so there is seamless access from one level of care to the next one. As our Seniors move through Home Care, Assisted Living, Long Term Care and eventually on to a hospital we need to ensure we are caring for them through each of those stages.”
She expressed her concern about, “pharmaceutical costs are crippling for many of our low income seniors”. The Wildrose will address this issue by bringing in a new means-tested drug hardship program to assist the needy Seniors so they don’t have to make a choice between buying groceries or paying for their medical prescriptions.
Agriculture and Rural
“One of the biggest issues facing rural Alberta is land owners and they are concerned about is Bill 19, 50, 24, 36 which the Wildrose has pledged to appeal. This government has started an unprecedented assault on landowner and lease holder rights. Limiting access to the courts and limiting compensation. We need to repeal that.”
Danielle Smith is concerned about landowner and lease holder’s rights and insists that a Wildrose government would repeal several power line and land use bills including Bills 50 and 19, passed by the Stelmach government in 2009. Bill 50 legislated the building of numerous 500 kilovolt power lines in Alberta without any needs assessment or accountability.
“We are going to release our agriculture policy August 2 in Coaldale so people can see a little more about what we have in mind for the rural communities and agriculture.” The policy will outline the Wildrose approach to opening up foreign markets to Alberta’s agricultural products, reducing or eliminating unnecessary regulations and barriers, and reforming current programs to better assist and bring more opportunity to farmers and ranchers.
Aboriginal roles in our Communities
“I have a colleague whose husband grew up on Hobbema and she lived on the reserve for a time so we have a person on our Legislative team who understands, and knows how difficult some of the conditions on reserves can be.
One of the things that is so important is to me is to build and establish relationships with the first nations communities and Métis settlements before we become elected. One of the things that has gone sideways in the last few years is the aboriginal communities feel the government only comes calling when we want something. You have to build the relationship (before negotiating any agreements) so I am working on building those relationships.
I also think there has been some finger-pointing. Because First Nations falls under Federal jurisdiction, there has been a hands-off, not my problem approach. My view is that everyone in this province is entitled to the same services whether on the reserve or off the reserve. So it is a priority of the (Wildrose) provincial government to ensure access to good healthcare, and good water, good transportation, and an education, and access to a community college. I am looking forward to working in partnership with our three levels of government to ensure First Nations get the services they need for our aboriginal friends.
As well there is a huge opportunity for employment if we can build connection between the business community and First Nations community. A lot of communities are located where we are going to have industrial development, whether it is oil and gas, forestry or, agriculture.
It is a win-win as we can solve the problem of qualified labor for some of the companies that will be working there while solving the unemployment problem for the reserves.”
Pending Labor Shortage
“As we go forward we are going to have acute labor shortages and it has already begun. I am already beginning to hear about it.” Suggestions offered by Danielle:
* Utilizing temporary employment labor workers and recognizing their credentials
* Convincing people to work beyond 65 years of age and work a little bit longer and stay in the workforce to 70 or 75, or so
* Making sure we are graduating the youth with the skills and training they need to thrive in the economy including more trades and technical skills.
* And finally or aboriginal community or those who have disabilities who are unemployed or under employed. One thing employers have to realize is that the culture and flow of the workday of the aboriginal communities is different.
The Wildrose bus left Wetaskiwin headed to Lac La Biche. From there it once again, turns south, enroute to Coaldale for the following day.
Below: Leader of the Wildrose Party, Danielle Smith checks out the cells in Wetaskiwin’s City Hall.