Alberta rancher defies history to run for NDP

Fourth generation producer Cam Gardner says choice of party based largely on admiration for Premier Rachel Notley

Cam Gardner is a self-described unicorn.

As a fourth-generation southern Alberta rancher in a region that has elected right-of-centre candidates for 50 years, he is running as the NDP candidate for Livingstone Macleod in the provincial election.

It makes him a rarity.

The constituency stretches from north of High River, west to the British Columbia border and south to the United States border, an area of about 3.5 million acres, most of it farm and ranch land.

Gardner’s Bluebird Valley Ranch sits in the middle of the northern third, amid picture-postcard-pretty property west of Nanton.

“Do the right thing, not the Right thing,” quips Gardner, acknowledging the usual direction of local politics.

If he has surprised his friends and neighbours with his choice of political party, Gardner isn’t inclined to say so.

“Ranchers’ wives frankly like (Alberta NDP premier) Rachel Notley and many, many, many, very, very, very conservative friends of mine stare at their boots and admit that they like Rachel. They think she is trying to do the right thing and Jason (Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party) isn’t as trustworthy.

“I firmly believe that if Rachel Notley was a conservative male running this government, that we would all be talking about the best conservative government in a generation or two.”

Protection of public lands and developing a system that pays landowners for carbon sequestration are the projects nearest to his heart, said Gardner in a March 22 interview. He has been working for years on both issues as a rancher and as a councillor and reeve with the Municipal District of Ranchland.

“I’ve been fighting for a framework to allow farmers and ranchers to participate in that market, to get paid directly from big emitters and store the carbon in their own farmland where it will do good,” he said.

“I’ve been working on it for 10 years now, and I believe the environment minister is ready to move on this. Actually, I know she is.”

A system for ecosystem services payments to farmers and ranchers would generate millions of dollars, he said, and would allow them to support services and infrastructure in Alberta’s small towns, preserving them in the process.

Gardner said his choice of party resulted in large part from his admiration for Notley’s leadership and her government’s approach to difficult issues, among them passage of the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, better known as Bill 6.

That legislation caused widespread protest from farmers in the early days of the NDP government. Gardner said it has provided important protection for farm workers.

He said he also respects the NDP for implementing the carbon tax as a response to help mitigate climate change. Carbon taxes might protect Canada from tariffs on domestic goods that could be imposed by other countries that have taken their own measures to respond to climate change, he said.

“The amount of work that this government has got done is absolutely staggering and any time you’re doing that much change, there’s going to be feathers ruffled,” said Gardner.

He’s also worried about the potential sale of public lands proposed by the UCP as a way to reduce public debt. Gardner said many ranchers make use of public land and are good stewards as a result. Sale of that land leaves it open to abuse, said Gardner.

The NDP candidate is running against UCP candidate Roger Reid, a businessman who owns two Tim Hortons franchises. Other candidates in the riding are Tim Meech of the Alberta Party, Dylin Hauser of the Liberal party and Vern Sparks, running as an independent.

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