Learning how to be an effective opposition MLA in Alberta includes a very steep learning curve and the constant challenge of facing a governing party that despises opposition. As any observer of Alberta politics can point out, the Progressive Conservatives have not sustained 41 uninterrupted years in government by being “nice.”
Their veteran Liberal and NDP colleagues, like Laurie Blakeman or Brian Mason, already know, but the 15 rookie MLAs in the Wildrose caucus are only beginning to discover what it is like to occupy the opposition benches.
The appointment of defeated cabinet minister Evan Berger to a plum senior public service position has raised eyebrows and questions about how far the Tories will go to punish Wildrose MLA’s elected in central and southern Alberta constituencies in the April 2012 election.
Some government decisions, such as the cancellation of the Fort Macleod police training school and the closure of the Little Bow Continuing Care Centre, appear to be politically motivated.
The cancellation of the yet to be opened Fort Macleod police training school, which was a perfect example of Tory rural pork barrelling, is being shut down (which is probably the right decision made for the wrong reasons). On the other hand, the closure of the Little Bow Continuing Care Centre has enraged community members in the small village of Carmangay, leaving many to publicly speculate that their votes for local Wildrose MLA Ian Donovan may have contributed to the closure.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle, a member of the Wildrose caucus, has become involved in a war of words with Sylvan Lake town council over town hall meetings the MLA held on the topic of the controversial intersection of Highway 11 and 781.
The main question of concern appears to be the issue of who is appropriate advocate for residents of Sylvan Lake on transportation issues? Ms. Towle is the first opposition MLA elected in this constituency in more than 35 years, which puts the town council in the situation of having to work with a local opposition MLA and advocate to the Transportation Minister, Ric McIver. While most urban political watchers will scoff, it is important to understand what an incredible shift this is central and southern Alberta, who are used to being represented by senior cabinet ministers and their drinking buddies. I am sure similar scenarios are being played out in counties, towns, and villages across central and southern Alberta.
Meanwhile, Tory MLAs have been touring central and southern Alberta constituencies holding health care consultations with local leaders, bypassing the locally elected opposition Wildrose MLAs. Edmonton-Riverview Tory MLA Steve Young joined Banff-Cochrane Tory MLA Ron Casey, and Lethbridge Tory MLAs Bridget Pastoor and Greg Weadick at meetings in the Livingstone-Macleod, Little Bow, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, Cardston-Taber-Warner constituencies – all areas where voters elected Wildrose MLAs.
Ready for the cameras, Premier Alison Redford was on hand with Education Minister Jeff Johnson at the opening of a new school in the town of Okotoks, south of Calgary. No word if local Wildrose MLA, Danielle Smith, was invited to participate in the opening event.
Note: The Wildrose Party official colours are green and pink.