The Wildrose Party’s widespread capture of rural Central Alberta will mean certain change, say community leaders following Monday’s provincial election.
The question is whether it will be good or bad for all five rural ridings that sided with the new right-wing party.
Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood has some concerns over what it will be like working with the Progressive Conservative government now.
The county, located within the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake riding, saw longtime Tory MLA Luke Ouellette fall to Wildrose rookie Kerry Towle.
“It’s not just in Red Deer County, but all the rural ridings close by that have seen a shift to the Wildrose,” said Wood on Tuesday. “We do have the Wildrose to give their opinions from the opposing side, but I just wonder where the rural voice is going to come from from the governing side.”
Wood, who had endorsed Ouellette, said the former MLA worked hard for the municipality.
“I welcome Kerry Towle to the position and look forward to working with her,” added Wood.
Ouellette believes he lost his job because there was a lot of fear-mongering over landowner rights.
“I worked very hard for my constituency and my constituents,” said Ouellette.
“I think I was really good representation and hopefully the next person will be able to do as good a job as I did.”
Ouellette said he’s going to take some time to decide whether he’ll go back into business or retire.
Progressive Conservative veteran Ty Lund was ousted after six terms in office. He couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday or Tuesday.
Joe Anglin of the Wildrose Party will represent the Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre riding in his place.
Anglin is part of the Lavesta Area Group, which has been fighting a power transmission line west of Rimbey. AltaLink and Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) say the line is needed to ramp up a distribution system that hasn’t been improved in more than 20 years.
Norm Lorenson, who farms west of Bluffton, said that having the Wildrose representing the riding may be a good thing. Lorenson said there are so many unanswered questions about the project, including its necessity as well as the construction bid process.
“Joe Anglin was really critical of this thing in the first place,” said Lorenson. “He’s a little fanatical but he’s got some really good points.”
While the rural region decided on Wildrose, both Red Deer North and Red Deer South kept status quo with the Progressive Conservatives.
Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director of the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society, can see one possible difference for her non-profit organization that works within Red Deer and beyond.
“It won’t be so much about the parties, but that we have new MLAs in Central Alberta,” said Vanderschaeghe. “That always brings new ideas and energies.”
Dave Baugh, political science instructor at Red Deer College, said the potential impact of the Wildrose in Central Alberta will depend on how the new MLAs measure up.
“They’re basically a rural party,” he said. “So are they going to be a rural protest party centred around a few property rights bills — or are they going to prove themselves as an alternative government-in-waiting with smart, hardworking MLAs who contribute to policy debate?”
Baugh said he’s not surprised that Red Deer stayed Tory blue.
“Red Deer is showing the same traits as the (large) cities. We used to say that Red Deer was a rural vote.”
Connie Ostermann, a Carstairs area resident who served as a Tory MLA for Three Hills between 1979 and 1982, said there was too much hype around polls that indicated the Wildrose was about to win and possibly in a big way.
Ostermann, who supported Wildrose, said the new party did well for its first election.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, who won her first seat on Monday, has 16 other MLAs with her now, she added.
“To believe the whole government would turn over in one fell swoop, without people being totally sure about it . . .” Ostermann said. “I spoke to one person who said, ‘Wouldn’t it be better if (Danielle Smith) had a little bit more experience?’ ”
Ostermann said she’s not worried that rural Central Alberta has opposition MLAs only.
“I believe hopefully that (the PCs) have learned their lesson,” Ostermann said. “Everybody pays taxes, so treat everyone the same.”