RIMBEY — Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith says the Alberta government “bungled” its past challenge to the long-gun registry and called the close vote to keep it an “absolute shame.”
The mistake the province made was its stance on opposing a long-run registry while saying a handgun registry was OK, said Smith in a town hall meeting that attracted about 40 people to the Royal Canadian Legion on Thursday.
“So we want to go back and re-challenge them, and that’s challenge both aspects, and take control of the licence and registry of guns at the provincial level. And we have the power to do that.”
A provincial handgun and long-gun registry would only apply to those too dangerous to own guns, not everyday citizens, she said in a response to a question from the audience.
“We shouldn’t be tracking law-abiding citizens, we should be tracking the criminals … and put the reporting requirements and onus on them, rather than on those who are currently being punished for paperwork crimes,” she said.
If a legal challenge fails, there is still room for the province to take more control over the administration of the gun registry law. Smith suggested a lifetime licence that could be pulled if the gun owner did something wrong.
Rimbey was one of a number of Central Alberta stops as Smith took to the road in a series of town hall meetings. She followed up on Thursday with visits to Bentley and Rocky Mountain House, and planned to hit Caroline and Sundre today.
Smith wasted no time explaining how the Wildrose Alliance was different than its Conservative rivals. “We are the conservative party the PCs used to be.”
Worried about splitting the conservative vote? Don’t be, she said.
“We aren’t dividing the vote,” she said. “We are uniting Albertans around the same common sense conservative values that made this province great and will make us great again.”
Zeroing quickly in on finances, she called the last provincial budget a “train wreck” and called rising health-care expenses “pouring money into a broken system.”
Smith seemed to strike a chord with many in her audience with her sharp criticism of various pieces of new legislation dealing with power line approvals, land stewardship and land assembly for large projects. It’s time to “hit the reset” button and give landowner property rights first consideration.
Dieter Lohmann, 47, who farms northwest of Rimbey, expressed concern that Wildrose Alliance was patterning itself on the old Progressive Conservative model, a party not good on landowner rights in his estimation. Wildrose’s image as pro-industry also worries him, he added.
Smith said the party will develop a policy that allows for energy development but in a way that provides full protection and compensation for landowners. The relationship between the energy industry and landowners was once quite good, she said.
“Obviously, something went catastrophically wrong in the last 10 years.” It may be that the various agencies are no longer seen as fair arbiters, but are viewed as too closely connected to the energy companies. Boards such as the Environmental Resources Conservation Board need to be more balanced, she said.
Warburg farmer and auctioneer Karl Zajes asked Smith about her position on the oilsands and on news of contaminated fish.
Smith said one of the problems is that industry and environmentalist studies are dismissed as partisan and it’s time to get back to a co-operative approach with experts from all viewpoints. “Right now, we just have these warring reports that come out.”
As for the oilsands, Alberta has a better environmental track record than that of alternative energy nations.
Zajes, 68, who is also president of the Warburg Pembina Surface Rights Group, said he is considering whether to support the Wildrose Alliance and has invited Smith to speak to them.
Retired farmer and lifelong Progressive Conservative supporter Murray Ormberg said he’s “quite disgruntled” with the Tories.
“Along with their attitude towards these power lines, they haven’t been a help to farmers. The BSE money was handled horribly, when the packers got more of it than the farmers.”
He figured an Ed Stelmach government would be more on the side of farmers, he said. “It hasn’t really worked that way.”
Lohmann, 47, hasn’t decided whether he’ll switch parties. He’s concerned that industry has too much power, and when something goes wrong it is hushed up through settlements and confidentiality agreements with landowners.
Which way Wildrose will go is still a question mark. “I think if we push issues here, when the party is still young, we have some hope.”