Lacombe-Ponoka riding has been a Progressive Conservative stronghold for four decades.
But many previous Tory supporters interviewed during a tour of this riding recently were looking at putting their mark next to a different party this time around.
Bill Pederson, 45, busy cleaning the window of his rig in the parking lot of Ponoka’s Tim Hortons, predicts the Tories will lose their grip on power in the April 23 provincial election.
“I think the Wildrose is going to take it. I don’t think it’s going to be a majority, but I think (Wildrose Party Leader) Danielle (Smith) is going to be there.”
The Ponoka trucker said he’s been a PC supporter in the past but he’s looking to change his vote this time.
“We haven’t had a (real) PC government since (former premier Ralph Klein) left.
“It’s not the same and it’s been steadily going downhill, as far as I’m concerned, for the working person and the average Joe.”
Premier Alison Redford has also gone too far on some issues, he said, citing a $3-billion pledge to clean up the oilsands.
“It will be coming out of general coffers. And where do those coffers come from? Our pockets, yours, mine.”
It should be the big oilsands companies, many of them American-owned, that should be paying to clean up their messes, he said.
Another voter who misses the Klein days is Dwayne Kunish.
“I’m not voting because there’s no one in there worth voting for,” said the 54-year-old truck driver from Ponoka, who has supported the PCs in the past.
“As far as I’m concerned they’re a bunch of liars. I haven’t found one yet, other than Ralph Klein, who told us what he was going to do, and that’s exactly what he did.
“A lot of people hated him for it but a lot of people loved him for it.”
That’s an approach that has been lost with the latest PC leadership, he said.
“And that other one, Danielle (Smith), she’s tell us we’re going to get cheques for $300. As far as I’m concerned, all that’s doing is buying votes.”
Larry Jeske, part owner of Blackfalds Gas and Wash, said he’s not sure which way the riding will go but he sees big problems for the Tories.
“I think that in the whole province, since Klein retired, the Conservatives have lost touch with the common people.”
“They are doing what they want, when they want, regardless of what we think about it,” said Jeske, 59.
He points to the Redford government’s plan to penalize drivers with a blood alcohol level of at least .05.
“What does that mean? You can have one drink in an evening and risk losing your licence or your vehicle for a couple of thousands buck to get it back? I mean, c’mon who wants that? Do Albertans want that? No.”
Jeske said he’s been a PC supporter since he campaigned for Peter Lougheed as a high school student in the early 1970s, but he’s looking at switching his vote this time around.
He predicts that the Wildrose Party will take a “hunk” of the Tories’ support.
“I just hope it’s enough that we still end up with a conservative-type government,” he added.
There is a risk that conservative vote splitting could allow another party to sneak up the middle, he said. “That’s the scary part.”
Laura Quartel, 20, said she’s also leaning towards voting Wildrose.
“They seem to have good plans,” said the employee at Lacombe’s Juice Junkeez.
She voted Conservative in the last election, but it may be time for a switch. “I think the province needs something done differently.”
Brenda Moody, a Lacombe clerk and bookkeeper, is also planning to switch her vote from Tory this election.
“I think, personally, the health-care issue is a really major issue right now,” said the 48-year-old mother of three.
She is alarmed at the prospect of privatized health care creeping in under PC or Wildrose governments.
“So I have to go with NDP because of that, because health care is really important, and I want it to be like it used to be where we had full service through our health care.”
Moody points to Alberta’s higher costs for dental cleaning compared to other province such as B.C. as an example of what could happen to health care.
“What happens with privatization is you often end up paying triple or quadruple, and people can’t afford it,” she said, adding that many people are already living on credit.
While many spoke about their dissatisfaction with the Tories, not a single person mentioned the committee pay controversy that prompted incumbent MLA Ray Prins to step down in March only days before Redford called the election.
The Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections, Standing Orders and Printing came under fire after it was revealed that members were paid $1,000 a month, although it hasn’t met since 2008. As chairman, Prins received $1,500 each month.
At first, the PC caucus decided members should pay back up to $6,000. Redford later ordered Tory committee members to pay all the money back received since the committee last met.
Lacombe’s mayor, Steve Christie, took a leave of absence to take Prins’s place in the campaign.
Marianne Lamb, 38, a senior account manager at a local bank in Lacombe, was the only one to refer to the former MLA in her assessment that there will be some change coming to the riding this election.
“I think that Ray Prins did a good job while he was in the riding, but I do think just from the news and the exposure that has been occurring in this area that we may saying goodbye to the PC party and I think we may be saying hello to the Wildrose Party.
“I think people are going to be making some changes. I think they are going to want differences in our communities.”
Brian Coley, 67, is not among those expecting to see big changes in the riding — not that he’s happy with that.
“I wish there would be some change, but I don’t think so,” said Coley, who is a power engineer living in Blackfalds.
“In the past, I’ve heard people complaining about the local government, the provincial government, the federal government, and they don’t seem to do anything about it. They just vote for the same people,” said Coley, who always votes but has not decided who to vote for yet.