Albertans hoping for a big shake-up in Monday’s provincial election may have been disappointed. But many members of the business community were probably relieved that the political landscape was spared a major upheaval.
“Business does not like uncertainty,” said Bruce Schollie, past-president of the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce.
A change of government — especially to an “unknown, untested and inexperienced” alternative like the Wildrose Party — would have raised questions in the minds of investors and customers across Canada and beyond, he believes. Especially with Alberta’s recovery from the recession still fragile, a shift from the status quo could have had adverse effects, said Schollie.
“I think this is probably going to help, this kind of (political) stability.”
Travis Davies, a spokesperson with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, also used the “S” word when evaluating Monday’s vote.
“Investment loves stability,” he said, noting that the oil and gas industry is expected to attract $55 billion in capital investment in Canada this year — money that might have been nervous about Alberta if the future here was uncertain.
Davies said Premier Alison Redford had shown some commitment to addressing issues important to the petroleum sector: the creation of a competitive environment for investment, improvements to the regulatory system, strengthening access to Eastern Canadian and global markets, and promoting positive communication between industry and the public.
“I think that there is a precedent there, and certainly judging from what we’ve seen so far, we can expect it to continue.”
Richard Truscott, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’s director of provincial affairs for Alberta and the Northwest Territories, also thinks Redford performed positively after becoming premier in October. She seemed to recognize the importance of small business issues like the need for tax relief and reform, reduced red tape and measures to address labour shortages, he said.
The fact the Wildrose Party, now the official Opposition, also presents itself as a supporter of business, bodes well, suggested Truscott.
“It does look like there’s going to be a healthy competition of ideas in the legislature, moving forward, and that’s definitely a positive development. Hopefully and ideally, business issues, particularly the issues affecting small business, will be at the top of the agenda.”
Schollie also thinks the fact Red Deer MLAs Cal Dallas and Mary Anne Jablonski were returned to the legislature is good news for local businesses and residents.
“They’ve made some good things happen in Red Deer.”
Other PC incumbents in Central Alberta did not fare as well, with five rural ridings switching allegiances to Wildrose.
Doug Sawyer, who farms near Pine Lake and is chair of the Alberta Beef Producers, thinks some in the agricultural sector were unhappy with recent legislative initiatives by the Conservatives. These included ending non-refundable commodity checkoffs for groups like Alberta Beef Producers and Alberta Pork, and changes to the Alberta Land Stewardship Act that many landowners felt undermined their property rights.
“They were very controversial in rural Alberta, and I suspect that had something to do with (the rural election results),” said Sawyer, who believes a strong Wildrose opposition is good — so long it doesn’t devolve into a rural-versus-urban chasm.
“I think a more balanced house is positive for all of us, including commodity groups.”
Terry Young, a Lacombe-area farmer who’s a director with the Alberta Canola Producers Commission and a former chair of the Alberta Barley Commission, agreed that rural voters sent a message. He’s optimistic the Wildrose Party’s success in agricultural ridings will result in renewed attention being paid to farming and related industries.
Specifically, Young would like to see steps taken to promote investment in value-added businesses, like food processing.
He and Sawyer were disappointed that agriculture received little attention during the campaign.
“I think that’s part of the message to all of the parties,” said Sawyer. “When rural Alberta gets ignored, we come out to vote.”
Sylvan Lake Chamber of Commerce president Ken Sumner downplayed the significance of the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake riding switching from PC to Wildrose.
“I don’t think it’s going to affect us too much, in terms of governance.”
He acknowledged that the riding may not have the ear of the provincial government like it did when Luke Ouellette was MLA, but is encouraged that its new representative — Kerry Towle — has already identified an urgent care centre for Sylvan Lake and improvements to the deadly Hwy 11 and 780 intersection south of town as among her priorities.
“Those two issues are ones that the Chamber has had some dealings with already.”
Similarly, Lacombe Chamber of Commerce president Keith Meyers wasn’t worried about the impact of the election on his organization’s members.
“On the business side, I’m not sure if it’s going to affect too much.”
Meyers also thinks the PC’s contentious land reforms cost the government rural votes, and the Lacombe-Ponoka riding. But he sees a silver lining in Lacombe Mayor and Conservative candidate Steve Christie losing to Wildrose rep Rod Fox.
“We feel sad for Steve that he didn’t get in, but on the other hand we’re a little bit happy that he’s going to stay on as mayor here.”
Despite the controversy surrounding former MLA Ray Prins’s resignation prior to the election, Meyers praised the longtime politician’s contributions to the town and area.
“Rod Fox has big shoes to fill, with the experience that Ray Prins had.”