Between setting up offices in their ridings, being schooled on legislature protocol and preparing maiden speeches, Central Alberta’s rookie MLAs are settling into their new public lives.
Days after the spring session in the legislature adjourned, Rick Strankman, the Wildrose MLA for Drumheller-Stettler, is ironing out the details for his constituency offices in Hanna, Stettler and Drumheller.
“It’s pretty intense, surreal in many ways,” said Strankman, a cattle and grain farmer in Altario. “It’s been an information blur.”
Strankman, 58, unseated two-time Tory incumbent Jack Hayden for the vast riding, south of Red Deer, in the April 23 election. He is one of the 17 Wildrose MLAs who form the official opposition in the 28th legislature, five of whom represent ridings in Central Alberta –– Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, Drumheller-Stettler, Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills and Lacombe-Ponoka.
Strankman said he never intended to be an MLA but his beliefs in conservatism led him to running and being elected, said Strankman. “It’s quite surreal.”
A fresh crop of new MLAs and returning MLAs were sworn in at the legislature on May 15. Strankman was pleased Ernie Isley, his former high school principal and a cabinet minister in the 1980s, attended the ceremony. These days Strankman is attending community events and penning his maiden speech to be delivered in the fall session after question period.
“For newbies, it’s kinda like going to the dentist,” chuckled Strankman. “You kind of have to go get it done. After it’s all over it will be better.”
All jokes aside, Strankman said the job comes with a different level of responsibility because MLAs are held accountable and they “have to choose your words carefully” because public comments are recorded. Strankman said he has a new respect for the democratic process and feels a stronger sense of responsibility for those people who placed their trust in him.
Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle, 38, the real estate broker who defeated Tory Luke Ouellette in the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake riding, said there’s a large learning curve but nothing is insurmountable. Towle delivered her maiden speech to the legislature on May 29.
“I don’t think anyone can go into the legislature and give their maiden speech without shaking a little bit,” said Towle. “I was truly honoured and excited to be there. A big part of reason I decided to get into politics was my brother’s situation and his recent death. To be able to impress that on the public and to our politicians about how important these people play in our lives . . . ”
Towle fought to get her 32-year-old brother into long-term care when he was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease in 2008.
Towle said the role of government is to ensure that there is prosperity, safety and encouragement for Albertans.
“And the role of opposition is to keep our government accountable and I believe we are doing that,” said Towle.
Joe Anglin, 56, the new Wildrose voice in the Legislature for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, said over the last few weeks he has been trying to set up his offices but the spring session took priority. Anglin defeated veteran Tory Ty Lund in the race.
“A lot of things were put on hold immediately,” said Anglin. “So what we were faced with was nothing could be done until we were sworn in. The minute we were sworn in, we were thrown into session.”
For his part, Anglin said it wasn’t a “first day” of anything for him, simply a continuation of what he’s been fighting for at a different level.
“There was a little bit of excitement,” said Anglin. “There was a little bit of emotion particularly for me because I have worked hard for particular issues in this province. Now I get to work for the same issues but in a different venue. Clearly we have our work cut out for us.”
Anglin said he would like to see more protection for democratic rights and the right of property whether it is a business or for a landowner.
As of Tuesday, Anglin was still setting up office in Sundre and hooking up his local phone lines. Anglin is a former councillor for the Town of Rimbey and former Green Party of Alberta president.
“There’s always a level of expectation,” Anglin said. “Some of the tomfoolery that occupies politics has not gone away. I saw that immediately. So we deal with those issues.”
Anglin said it’s particularly frustrating for the public or opposition MLAs to ask a direct question and not receive an answer.
“All you want is an answer,” Anglin said. “And when you don’t get an answer or you get an answer that is so outrageous it’s unbelievable, it can be extremely frustrating.”
But Anglin said he was encouraged to be able to chat with the ministers about local issues in his riding and set up future meetings.
“The conversations seemed positive,” said Anglin. “That was encouraging. I look forward to some of these meetings.”
Bruce Rowe, 69, Wildrose MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills, spent 10 years in municipal politics before delving into provincial politics. The riding was previously held by Conservative Richard Marz, who did not seek re-election.
Rowe was surprised at the behaviour in question period.
“There was a lot of talking over other people and interrupting people,” said Rowe. “The whole decorum wasn’t what I felt was contributing to getting things through and done.”
Rowe said even the new Speaker of the house, Gene Zwozdesky, commented that he wanted a higher level of co-operation and respect for one another.
“Some of the older people there who have been there for awhile are really disrespectful and yelling and screaming,” said Rowe. “It’s a little disconcerting when you have classes of school children coming for the first time. You wonder what they take away when they see that type of behaviour.”
Rowe said he is glad the session was short so he can get back to work for his constituents. Rowe said there were 407 emails waiting when he gained access to their website and got security clearance. He said unfortunately they weren’t able to get things up and running before school graduations. They managed to send out some scrolls and the rest will be sent out through the mail.
‘It’s humbling,” said Rowe. “It’s a very steep learning curve learning how government works from the inside. But we’ll handle it. We’ll get ‘er done.”
The Advocate was unable to reach Rod Fox, Wildrose MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka.