UPDATED: Economy and health care expected to be hot election topics

Premier Rachel Notley makes announcement on Tuesday morning

Central Alberta candidates mobilizing for the April 16 provincial election expect the economy and inequitable health care spending will loom large on the local campaign trail.

Red Deer North MLA Kim Schreiner has been hearing a lot about the hospital and its need for expansion.

“They’re excited with the commitment that (Premier Rachel Notley) has made to our regional hospital. I hear that an awful lot,” said Schreiner.

Provincial government financial help for students and the approval of Red Deer College’s bid to become a university have also come up frequently.

On economic matters, people have raised concerns that United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney will cut taxes for the wealthiest.

“(Constituents) are happy that Rachel seems to be someone who is more concerned about everyone else, not just the top one per cent.”

When the economy comes up, Schreiner points out the last two provincial budgets have exceeded forecasts and the NDP says it will balance the budget by 2023.

“At the same time, we’re not cutting back on frontline workers in the hospitals and schools.”

Red Deer South UCP candidate Jason Stephan is sure “common issues” of an NDP government — higher taxes, multibillion-dollar deficits and a depressed economy — will be on the minds of many voters.

However, there are other issues more specific to this election that will gain an audience, he believes, including the battle to get a pipeline built, provincial equalization payments and the federal government’s “unprincipled treatment” of Alberta.

“Locally, another key issue is health care funding as it relates to Red Deer,” said Stephan, adding the city’s hospital is under-funded given the size of the area it serves.

“We need to get equitable funding, especially for life-or-death health-care services.”

Education is another issue he expects to come up during the campaign. Many are concerned that various NDP initiatives are elevating the state above parents in children’s education, said Stephan.

Overshadowing all issues, he said, will be the “general economic devastation resulting from a government that does not know how to live within its means.

“An NDP government is really doing a great disservice to our children because they are creating an economy where there is less opportunity for our younger people and they are saddling them with debt that ultimately they will have to service and deal with.

“I really feel that is a travesty and I’m going to campaign really hard on that.”

Red Deer South is held by the NDP’s Barb Miller.

Red Deer North Alberta Party candidate Dr. Paul Hardy predicts health and the economy are the issues that will resonate.

“For Red Deer, hospital expansion is probably top of mind for most people here,” said Hardy. “I would like to see all parties unequivocally and specifically support it. That would be my hope.”

Improving the economy is vital to generating the revenue necessary to providing important services, he said.

“We clearly have a revenue and spending imbalance, and that can’t go on forever. I think people want to see that addressed in the next few years.”

The Alberta Party’s message is that it will create conditions where businesses do well. The NDP has gone overboard on rules, regulations and taxes, he said.

“We’d like to see a little more moderate approach to allow businesses to flourish.”

Premier Rachel Notley made the election call before cheering supporters in Calgary on Tuesday morning.

She began her attack on the leader of the Opposition immediately.

“The question is this: do Albertans stick together or do we turn on each other?” she said.

“Jason Kenney wants two Albertas — one for the wealthy and one for the rest of us. He wants two Albertas divided over people’s rights.

“I want to continue to build one Alberta.”

Kenney is promising to repeal the signature elements of Notley’s four years. He has said he would axe the carbon tax, roll back increases to corporate taxes, peel back some of the boosts to the minimum wage and cancel employment standards and injury compensation for farmers.

He has said he will run a campaign focused on job creation and has promised to cut red tape by one third, which — along with the tax reductions — he believes will spur economic growth to balance the budget in four years.

Notley says her plan will also boost the economy and allow the budget to get out of the red by 2023.

The UCP and NDP leaders have already staked out the main planks of their platforms.

Notley is pledging to continue funding education and health to keep up with population growth, along with a program of building and retrofitting highways, schools, hospitals and health centres.

The NDP also want to see their tax and program incentives survive to help diversify the economy. The party is planning to spend $3.7 billion to lease rail cars to get more oil to market and has introduced a carbon tax.

Notley’s government has delivered more aid and money for services ranging from legal aid to seniors housing, help for the severely disabled and low-cost daycare.

It has set salary grids for members of agencies, board, commissions and other public bodies.

The changes have come at a cost of multibillion-dollar deficits in every year of Notley’s mandate. The debt now approaches $60 billion.

Three other parties — the Liberals, the Alberta Party and the Freedom Conservative Party — say they will be releasing their platforms soon. All three hope to escape the political fringes in this election.

Liberals have their work cut out for them in central Alberta. No candidates have filed all of the paperwork needed to get on the ballots yet in this area. Parties have 10 days to get that done.

“I’m optimistic that we will fill those spots,” said party executive director Gwyneth Midgley, adding the party plans to have candidates in all 87 ridings by the deadline.

“Central Alberta hasn’t traditionally been a Liberal stronghold, so that would be the hold up for us. But there are Liberals there and we want to give them a candidate and a chance to express their democratic right to vote for a Liberal and a party they believe in.”

Kenney has been dealing with a growing scandal in recent days over his 2017 leadership campaign. Leaked documents and witnesses have revealed his campaign worked in lockstep with another candidate to derail his main opponent.

Kenney has denied running a “kamikaze candidate” or funding his campaign, which would violate election financing laws.

The RCMP is investigating.

The issue of racism has also reared its head in recent days.

An UCP candidate resigned late Monday following allegations that she made comments about white nationalists online.

With files The Canadian Press

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