(Reprinted from the Stettler Independent, April 26)
There’s a new MLA in Drumheller-Stettler.
Altario farmer Rick Strankman of the Wildrose party knocked off Progressive Conservative incumbent Jack Hayden of Byemoor in Monday’s provincial election, but the PC government swept to power with another majority government.
Strankman topped the Drumheller-Stettler polls with 7,451 votes, while Hayden garnered 6,573 and lost the seat he held since 2007.
“For me, it was bittersweet,” said Strankman, a 58-year-old farmer.
“I hoped Wildrose would have had stronger support from Albertans.”
It was clearly a two-horse race in Drumheller-Stettler. Distantly behind the front-runners were New Democratic Party candidate Aditya Rao, with 416 votes, Liberal Cam Roset with 362, and Andrew Berdahl of the Alberta Party with 282.
Disappointed with the loss, Hayden announced it would be his “last election,” after a long public-service career that began decades ago when he was first elected to the County of Stettler council.
“I look forward to private life, so I can now spend more time with my family,” said Hayden, 61, who was first elected MLA in a byelection in June 2007 and served in cabinet in three posts — agriculture and rural development, infrastructure, and more recently tourism, parks and recreation.
After a landslide victory in the previous provincial election in March 2008, Hayden knew it would be closer and more competitive this spring, especially with the upstart Wildrose party in its first election.
“You’re always disappointed in a loss,” Hayden said.
“But that’s what happens in a democracy.”
Hayden was “delighted” that the PC party swept to power with 61 seats under Premier Alison Redford, while the Wildrose and leader Danielle Smith won 17.
The Liberals under leader Raj Sherman picked up five seats, while the New Democratic Party and leader Brian Mason won in four ridings.
For the popular vote, the PC party received 44 per cent, followed by the Wildrose with 34.
Hayden believes property rights — with bills 19, 24, 36 and 50 — were the key factor in his loss.
“I think land issues were a big issue and I think there were a lot of people who wanted a more basic change,” he said.
As the MLA for the past five years and a cabinet minister in multiple roles, he was proud of what he has contributed to communities and to the government.
“If I look back at it all over the last five years, I’d have to say it’s probably the two new schools and the modernization of six others that are the highlights for me, the five new seniors’ lodges in the constituency, three new fire halls, and a lot of infrastructure,” Hayden said.
“Those are the things I know serve the people very well. Those are the things I’m proud of that will last and serve the communities a long time.”
Hayden was gracious in defeat.
“I phoned Mr. Strankman and congratulated him,” he said at the Rowley community hall.
“It’s such an honour and a privilege to represent people as an MLA. I served in three portfolios, so it’s an amazing way to serve the community, and I’m sure Mr. Strankman will enjoy it a great deal.”
In response, the MLA-elect was grateful for the words from Hayden.
“It was the choice of the people,” Strankman said.
“I will bring forward, to the best of my ability, the Wildrose policies to the people of Drumheller-Stettler and listen to them to bring their wishes and concerns to the legislature.”
Strankman, too, said the property-rights bills were the issue that swayed the constituents’ votes to the Wildrose, which had pledged to rescind those bills if the new party were elected to govern.
“Locally, I think property rights was an important issue for voters and it resonated more with rural people,” said the new MLA.
In the local riding, the Wildrose won support from the rural divisions and the Drumheller area, while the PCs won the Stettler area, Castor and Oyen.
As an MLA in Opposition, Strankman believes he can still help local communities effectively.
“I view this as a double-edged sword,” Strankman said.
“With a strong voice in Opposition, a conservative voice, there may be a reinvigorated effort for the party in power to achieve in an area they lost.”
Hayden wasn’t the only cabinet minister who lost in Monday’s election. Among others who were bumped were Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Evan Berger, Transportation Minister Ray Danyluk and Energy Minister Ted Morton.