Property rights, health care among rural concerns

The diverse riding of Strathmore-Brooks has a clean slate of candidates vying for votes in Alberta’s May 5 election.

The riding is located east of Calgary and spans the rural communities between Strathmore and Brooks.

It was held by Wildrose member Jason Hale before he joined nine party members, including leader Danielle Smith, in a mass floor crossing to the government side that caused accusations of betrayal among some voters.

Hale, a Bassano area farmer who was elected in 2012, decided not to run again and opened the door to fresh candidates.

Derek Fildebrandt, the high profile Canadian Taxpayer Federation director, is running for the Wildrose, while Molly Douglass, long time reeve of the County of Newell, is running for the Conservatives. Businessperson Einar Davison of Hussar represents the Alberta Party and Lynn MacWilliam, a Bassano town councillor, is running on the New Democratic ticket.

Fildebrandt does not live in the riding but plans to move to Strathmore in the next couple months.

He had considered running for the Wildrose leadership following the defection of Danielle Smith but instead gave his support to Brian Jean.

Actively campaigning even before the writ was dropped, he has learned that voter concerns are not based on geography.

“They understand that some of those things that made Alberta great are not as strong as they used to be,” he said.

Voters want more priority placed on replacing and maintaining infrastructure, schools and seniors’ care centres, whether they live in urban or rural areas.

He said they are also worried about the government taking on more debt as oil prices fall and demands for a better quality of life increase.

“If we keep going into debt, that is going to crowd out the fiscal capacity of the provincial government to the point where we are spending more on interest payments than we are on infrastructure,” he said.

Residents of Brooks consider the need for labour at the JBS Canada beef plant a serious issue, especially since the federal government changed the rules for temporary foreign workers.

“If there is a divisive issue in the community, I think it is that,” he said.

“Alberta needs to step up and take a greater role over our own immigration and temporary foreign worker policies that we have the power to do under the constitution.”

The constituency is also rich in natural gas and oil and has seen conflicts over property rights.

“There are a lot of property owners who are not being treated fairly,” he said.

“They are not having their surface rights respected and we have got to fix that. Property rights are sacrosanct. They are not something you have on paper that can be taken away by politicians.”

NDP candidate Lynn MacWilliam has been involved with the party on a federal level since 1993, working with leaders such as Audrey Mc-Laughlin, Alexa McDonough and Jack Layton.

Being a social democratic candidate in a conservative region is hard work but not discouraging.

There are also many new Canadians in this riding who do not have a history with the PC dynasty, so she hopes their votes may go in a different direction.

Voters are telling her they are disenchanted with the current provincial government but have indicated they are unsure of how they might vote. They are dissatisfied with long wait times to see medical specialists and crumbling infrastructure across the province.

“Every municipality in this province has issues with infrastructure. That is something that really has to be worked on,” she said.

She hopes her party is listened to when it comes to providing adequate funding to municipalities for construction projects.

Conservative candidate Molly Douglass is encountering a large share of undecided voters who are worried about the impacts of the Conservative government budget with its increased taxes and reduced spending.

“This is more unique this election than probably in the past,” she said.

She is also meeting voters who remain optimistic about the province’s future.

“People are very optimistic. In Alberta we are still a strong province financially speaking, but we need to learn to be fiscally responsible and I think the government has developed a plan for that,” she said.

She is a fourth generation rancher from north of Gem and has taken a leave of absence as reeve of the County of Newell.

Davison did not respond to re-quests for interviews before press deadline.

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