By Dale Cory
There’s an air of discontent among Alberta voters these days.
That’s the message the Wildrose Alliance party instilled upon the 40 people who attended an open meeting Aug. 25 at the Kinsmen Community Centre in Ponoka.
It turned out to be an easy sell job. Those people in attendance were pro Wildrose Alliance. At no time during the evening was any of the information put forward by the upstart party disputed.
“I’m here because I’m interested to hear what the Wildrose party is all about. It was made clear here tonight that many people in Alberta are thinking about change. It’s a product of many years of complacency,” said Ponoka businessman Tony Saretsky. “Alberta doesn’t want to have a left-wing government. We believe in conservatism and private ownership and free enterprise opportunity. There are many people like myself who immigrated to Alberta from other parts of Canada because we were looking for an opportunity. As time has progressed and we’ve gone through various conservative governments, we’ve seen attitudes have changed. We’ve seen some decisions made which are not representative of conservative Alberta. I have no idea where these decisions come from, particularly those decisions pertaining to the oil industry and to agriculture. People are in a great amount of distress right now.”
The Lacombe-Ponoka constituency association hosted the three-hour meeting that included a question and answer session during which people had the chance to question guest speaker Keith Wilson, a St. Albert lawyer who focused his talk on property rights. For the most part, Q and A time was used by the public to show support for the Wildrose party, as opposed to being critical of the party’s initiatives and future direction.
Wilson began his speech by discussing Bill 19, the Land Assembly Project Area Act that was passed by the Alberta legislature during the 2009 spring session.
“Bill 19 allows the government to freeze large tracts of private land that the department of infrastructure thinks in the future they may want for a road, a power transmission line, a pipeline, a dam, or whatever. The problem is, the legislation that has been passed works really well for the guys in the department, but works really badly for the citizens who happen to own that chunk of land,” explained Wilson.
“You will not be able to do anything on this land without the ministers consent. You can’t do any improvements to the land, or make any changes. If you do something, you could go to jail and be fined. And, there’s no binding process for input. The cabinet decides where this new freeze area is going to be. Once they decide, that’s it. There’s no appeal, you’re done.”
Wilson says he has searched around the world, and the only place he has seen similar law put into place is in Eastern Europe, where, he insists, the law is not working.
“I think the key thing is to try to get people to believe it. What Rick Wilson said tonight is almost unbelievable,” said Ponoka-area resident Bernice Edwards, whose husband owns a farm in the Three Hills area. “It’s like a bunch of children playing. The very idea that they are bringing students in from the University of Calgary to draw up plans without the rest of the provincial government even fully understanding it, and that the citizens of this province don’t have a right to any input — it’s crazy.”
Edwards intends to make copies of Wildrose Alliance paraphernalia, and distribute it to as many people as she can, and urge them to do the same.
The Wildrose Alliance says it now boasts 16,000 members, up from the 10,000 it had when Danielle Smith won the party’s leadership last fall. The party insists it now has more members than the governing Progressive Conservatives.
What concerned many of the people in attendance last night is that they feel helpless, and without a voice in the future of the province.
“We believe Alberta should be prosperous and an area of opportunity and we’re seeing that get taken away from us. That’s because we’ve started to alienate the oil patch, and started to take away opportunities for the businessman, and to alienate investors,” added Saretsky. “It’s not the fabric of who we are.”
The Wildrose Alliance party plans to stage town hall meetings through the fall and winter.
The first of those meetings is tentatively set for Nov. 12 in Edmonton.