Danielle Smith wants to be the next big thing in Alberta politics. In making her case on Friday, she used the words of an American vice-president who served while the Social Credit Party still ruled Alberta.
Speaking from the Michener Centre grounds, the Wildrose leader borrowed Herbert H. Humphrey’s words in saying that the provincial government has failed the moral test of governance because it has failed Alberta’s most vulnerable citizens. Smith said her party, if elected as the next government, would pour more money into services for children, the elderly and the disabled.
Wildrose would immediately invest $50 million more in home care, Smith said, and end the so-called “divorce by nursing home” practice where married seniors are expected to accept long-term care placements up to 80 km away from the home they share with their spouses.
Smith also reiterated her party’s stance that Michener Centre should remain open for the approximately 90 residents still living there. Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Kerry Towle went a step further, suggesting that the facility could open its doors to new residents in the future.
“There is always going to be a certain amount of need for those who are not able to go into the community or who choose a different style of care, just like we see with our seniors, and they should be given as many options as we expect any Albertan should be given,” said Towle.
Wildrose has been rolling out policy planks this month, with Smith saying that when a new Progressive Conservative leader and premier is chosen in September, she believes a snap election could be called.
Provincial legislation dictates that the next election is to be held in spring 2016.
Each Alberta opposition party has consistently stated that the government should abandon its plan to shutter Michener Centre, a move announced in 2013. The three candidates for PC leader have each either said that they would review or halt the closure edict if selected as leader.
“I’m glad they’ve finally woken up and realized that this is a serious issue, that they’ve been dealing with it in a capricious way, and I hope they keep their commitment,” said Smith. “We have been consistent all the way through, listening to families, giving families what they were promised and standing by that, so they’ll have to make their own judgment about whether or not they believe a single word any of these PC leadership candidates are now saying.”
Bill Lough, president of the Society of Parents and Friends of Michener Centre, said families are encouraged by the recent statements of support from politicians of all parties.
But they are not claiming victory just yet.
“As families, we’re not going to be satisfied with simply a review. … We want a commitment from any leader, be it opposition and/or the current government, to make a statement as to where they stand as to Michener,” said Lough.
PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk visited Michener earlier this month and Lough’s group is lining up visits for the other two candidates running for the job. Lough said the group has met with a handful of PC MLAs in recent months.
He has encouraged families of residents to “sit back and refuse to sign anything” in regards to a move from the centre until the leadership race concludes and a judicial review of the decision takes place in November.
Also in the Wildrose party platform are pledges to enforce higher meal and personal hygiene standards in care facilities, make child-care grants more flexible, and increase allowances to severely handicapped citizens.
The policy announcement was the third of nine Wildrose says it will unveil in 2014. In the last month, Smith has pledged to commit $1.2 billion for light rail transit projects in Edmonton and Calgary and $2 billion over four years to build at least 100 new schools by 2020.
At least 31 people have been moved out of Michener Centre into community group and seniors homes.