Drumheller-Stettler MLA Rick Strankman had a busy Monday, Jan. 23 as he travelled from community to community in his riding in an effort to “gauge the barometric pressure.”
The round-table meetings, one of which was held in Stettler, were hosted so Strankman could get in touch with his constituents and discover what was important to them, he said.
Several themes were constant between all meetings, Strankman said later that evening, as riding residents share concerns about the carbon tax, pipelines, the ruling NDP’s fiscal responsibility, and the possibility of a merger of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives (PC) under the lead of Jason Kenney – if he wins the leadership of the provincial PC party.
As Kenney inches closer and closer to securing the leadership of the provincial conservatives, discussion about the possibility of a merger has become more frequent.
“When Kenney announced his plans to unite the right, a lot of people scoffed,” Strankman said. “I think now, it’s something more of us are considering.”
Strankman declined to say whether or not he was in support of a merger, though he did ask those in attendance at both meetings whether or not they believed the parties should merge.
Support for that was nearly unanimous at both meetings, but both times the vote result came with a caveat: If Kenney wins.
Strankman said he wasn’t interested in becoming one of the types of politicians focused on gaining, and holding, power.
“I can always go back to my farm,” he said. “Other people think of this as a career.”
For that reason, trying to discover the will of his constituents is important to Strankman, he said, because he uses their ideas to guide his actions.
“Democracy can be clumsy,” he said. “It’s very much a numbers game.”
About 15 people were in attendance at the Stettler meeting, held at the Canalta Hotel. Attendees included Town of Stettler Mayor Dick Richards, Councillor Sean Nolls, CAO Greg Switenky, and County of Stettler Councillors Joe and Ernie Gendre.
As talk about the carbon tax began, Richards quickly spoke up.
“That ship has sailed,” he said, adding that the tax is now here. “Now we should concern ourselves with getting access to the tax revenues.”
He noted that while many urban centres are talking about green transit options, like expanded or new LRT services, the benefit for communities like Stettler are less obvious.
Stettler County resident Brad Mappin was also in attendance, and made it clear he thought the current NDP government was fiscally irresponsible.
“They are putting us in debt that our children will be paying off,” he said.
Strankman asked attendees what they believed would help the Wildrose, or merged conservative parties should that be the course of action, find more traction.
One attendee noted that youth-friendly activities would be a benefit, while another noted that Kenney was recently derided for bringing youth to the leadership conference.
It was pointed out by one attendee that youth involvement is one of the areas in which the conservatives are losing ground. While the NDP have several college NDP groups, the PC party has two.
Richards, who was part of a youth conservative party, said that the membership helped shape his political views, and that it was unfortunate that more groups didn’t exist.
Another attendee noted that the perception of conservatism in Canada, and Alberta in specific, isn’t necessarily inviting for youth, at times seeming to be very LGBTQ or women’s rights unfriendly.
While this opinion brought up some consternation, Strankman admitted that bringing up LGBTQ issues tended to have conservatives shy back, as if it was a hornet’s nest.
After the round table was over, there was a brief socializing period in which people took the time to discuss the various ideas.