Health care was a major issue as Stettler’s new MLA, Rick Strankman, paid his first formal visit to town and county councils last week.
“My top priority locally and provincially will be health care and funding allocations,” said Strankman, who met with the Town of Stettler council last Tuesday night and the County of Stettler council last Wednesday morning.
Elected as the MLA for Drumheller-Stettler last April, the Wildrose member opened the door to work closely with municipalities, even as he serves in Opposition.
“We want to continue modernization of Stettler Hosptial and Care Centre,” said Mayor Dick Richards. “We’ve made Stettler an education, economic and healthcare hub of the region, so we have to make sure our facilities are in sync with that philosophy.”
To improve health care, Strankman suggested that the centrally-operated Alberta Health Services be scrapped and that the province introduce a “competitive model,” a system that’s working effectively in Europe.
“I don’t want to say private, but some form of competition,” he said. Stettler-region councillors urged the MLA to support local applications for grants from the Community Facilities Enhancement Program and the Community Initiatives Program, the mayor later told the Independent as he summed up last week’s meeting.
“These are important for local groups in furthering their projects and for the MLA to support them to secure grants would be appreciated,” Richards said.
While a new MLA and party has created a new approach to communicating with the provincial government, council is prepared to make that an effective relationship, the mayor said.
“It’s a learning curve for him and it’s also a learning curve for us to work with an MLA in opposition,” Richards said of Strankman.
Touring a sprawling constituency with more than 30 municipalities and school divisions, Strankman apologized for leaving the Stettler region among the last.
“I’m sorry it’s taken a long time to get there,” he said.
“I think we should visit councils twice a year.” His next visit could come as early as this spring, when he hears reaction from the new budget under the ruling Progressive Conservative government with Finance Minister Doug Horner and Premier Alison Redford.
Strankman told the Independent that he plans to meet with school divisions, such as Clearview, which has plans to review small schools in Byemoor, Donalda and Brownfield, as well as others in the district.
“I also want to meet with Clearview trustees,” Strankman said. “They have potential school closures and that could depend on the upcoming budget.”
While roads and agriculture were the main issues in the meeting with the county, members urged the MLA to back the county.
“I probably speak on behalf of council when I say it is wise to build bridges, not burn bridges,” Coun. James Nibourg told Strankman.
“I hope you make it a regular note to take back our concerns to the legislature.”
Over the months, Strankman said he has met with cabinet ministers including Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Verlyn Olson of Wetaskiwin-Camrose and Transportation Minister Ric McIver of Calgary-Hays.
“Verlyn is a genuine man, honest man,” Strankman said. “He has heart.”
Living in Altario, a few kilometres west of the Saskatchewan border, the MLA is confident he’s working effectively for his constituents. He has offices in Stettler and Drumheller.
“I have heard concerns that because I’m not in government, they may not have similar access to government funding,” Strankman said.
“I want to make sure the county, the town, the region and the whole Drumheller-Stettler riding receives the same access to government as people with PC MLAs — that they all have fair access.”
With an economic crunch in the province and a seventh deficit budget, Strankman strongly opposes any PC government proposal to introduce a provincial sales tax or other new taxes, which he said would require serious discussions.