Rural voters ponder return to PCs

STETTLER, Alta. — As a lifelong Progressive Conservative, Dale Nixon agreed to host a barbecue for PC candidate Jack Hayden and leader Jim Prentice at his rural Alberta home.

It was a way for Nixon and his visitors to have a closer look at Prentice and see if they could be lured back to the PC fold in the May 5 Alberta election.

“I have been PC all my life, but last election I didn’t vote for them because they needed a shot of humility,” said Nixon. “Jim Prentice seems like a very good man. I have been asking around and they all think he will do good for us.”

For many at the campaign stop, it was the first time meeting Prentice, who became Alberta premier last September after former premier Alison Redford stepped down amid spending scandals.

The PCs have governed the province for 44 years.

Prentice delivered a tough love budget in March, promising to get Alberta off its oil and gas dependency. Twelve days later, he called an election.

Early election poll results show Albertans don’t want an election and are tired of the governing PCs. The polls show that the PCs, Wildrose and NDP are tied with roughly the same amount of support.

Former Consort Enterprise editor Mary Readman is also searching for a place to park her vote.

“It is called casting a most reluctant ballot,” Readman said during the barbecue.

“I admire Jack Hayden, he has been a friend, he has been a really good man, but I don’t know what to think of the PCs anymore. They’re old and stagnant and been in too long.”

Readman said she remembers partying all night when the PCs were elected in 1971.

“It was wonderful. We finally got our way,” she said about when the Social Credit government was defeated after 36 years in office.

However, like other voters, Readman isn’t sure who to vote for.

Last election she voted for the Wildrose candidate, Rick Strankman, who defeated Hayden.

This time she is not sure if she will switch back to the PCs or cast her vote elsewhere.

“If it was a change for the better, great, but you put in the rank amateurs and it might get worse. People don’t know what to do.”

Readman isn’t sure Wildrose is ready to lead the province. It elected 17 MLAs in 2012, but former leader Danielle Smith led a mass defection to the PCs before Christmas, which left five Wildrose members and lost the party all credibility for Readman.

Brian Jean, a former MP from the Alberta riding of Fort McMurray, is now Wildrose leader.

Readman is willing to take a look at the NDP and its new leader, Rachel Notley, daughter of former provincial NDP leader Grant Notley. The party held four seats before the election was called and looks to gain more, particularly in Edmonton and Lethbridge.

Alberta Liberals had five MLAs, but only two are running again, including interim leader David Swann.

Greg Clark, leader of the Alberta Party, hopes to make a breakthrough in this election and has 28 candidates running.

Despite her willingness to look at other parties, Readman may give the PCs one more chance.

“It is very difficult to know where to go,” she said.

“It’s just like a delinquent child. You think this time they get it. We’ll give them one more chance, we’ll buy them that little car. And it doesn’t work. We’re really at a crossroads.”

Contact mary.macarthur@producer.com

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