March 2, 2011
Delta Edmonton South Hotel, Edmonton
Would you look at the size of this crowd. It speaks to an undeniable fact: change is coming to Alberta.
Let me start by thanking Doug Main and Lyle Oberg for being part of our event this evening and for being part of the Wildrose team. As former cabinet ministers and former PC leadership candidates they are both going to be important advisors to me as we build our Edmonton team and prepare to form government after the next election.
They have already provided me valuable advice for this speech tonight.
You see I don’t know how many of you realize this but – I am actually a Calgarian.
Now I do spend a lot of time in Edmonton. Some of you may know I’ve owned a condo here since 2006. My brother Shayne and his wife Megan have also made Edmonton their home. You may have seen my brother in the Capital Ex parade – he’s been U of A mascot Guba for the last 2 years. Shayne came here to go to school at the University of Alberta. He chose U of A because it has the most renowned creative writing program in the country and the longest running writer in residence program.
Plus, he’s a budding playwright, and Edmonton holds the distinction of hosting the largest Fringe Festival in North America. He’s also a vegan – apologies to my rancher friends – he has even introduced me to Green Onion Cakes at the Taste of Edmonton. I assure you this is one of the many things that makes Edmonton unique. I am still searching for Green Onion Cakes in Calgary. No luck yet.
It goes almost without saying, but let me say it anyway. Edmonton and the Capital Region make an immense contribution to our province. It is a centre of art and culture with such institutions as the Winspear, the Royal Alberta Museum and the Art Gallery of Alberta.
It is a powerful centre for education and research with two tremendous universities, the U of A and Grant MacEwan, as well as our largest technical institute, NAIT. It is the heart of the oilpatch with the industrial heartland in Fort Saskatchewan, the oilfield service sector headquartered in Nisku and it is the true Gateway to the North and Fort McMurray.
And I may as well admit it; Edmonton is the city of champions: the Oilers have 5 Stanley Cups (the Flames have one); the Eskimos have 13 Grey Cups (the Stamps have 6). (Though Calgary’s still beating Edmonton in lacrosse.)
And with the legislature here it is of course the political heart of the province.
Perhaps it takes an outsider to remind you of what a special place this is. It’s part of the reason our party weighed in on the Edmonton City Centre Airport debate. Because we know what a vital place Edmonton is as a tourist and business destination and that Albertans want to come here and they want it to be easy to get here. I know not everyone was happy when we did that. I know for sure the mayor wasn’t happy. Fortunately he’s angrier at the Expo decision than he is with us right now.
Though some have seemed to doubt our ability to gain traction in Edmonton I think this room says otherwise. And I want you to know that it is my personal goal to see that we have a significant number of Wildrose MLAs from Edmonton and the Capital Region after the next election. Tonight is the start.
I’d like to thank each and every one of you for coming out tonight to hear about the Wildrose alternative.
It sure has been an exciting year! In the brief time since our Wildrose party burst on the scene, look what’s happened.
Our Wildrose party – which only came into existence three years ago – already has four members in the legislature, organizations in all constituencies, and has begun choosing candidates in every one, several who are here tonight. I believe we are the first new party to manage this since 1971 – and we all know what happened that year.
Meanwhile, the rest of the opposition is falling apart. Another new centre-left party has emerged, dividing and weakening that vote even more than before.
The premier with the biggest legislature majority in the country has been pretty much forced out by his own party.
The finance minister with the country’s richest per-capita revenues has resigned a few short weeks before he was supposed to bring in a budget.
In the very run-up to the next election the PCs have been pulled into the dangerous distraction of a leadership race less than five years after the last one.
I ask you, how often does Alberta politics get this interesting?
Albertans are stirred up – they’re excited – and they’re asking, “What’s going on? Why is this happening? What does it mean?”
Tonight I will tell you what the election of a Wildrose government, if it happens, will bring with it – what it means for your health care – your business and investments – for your aging parents and your aspiring kids – for your community.
I hope to give you a clear sense of our party today, so that you can decide if you think we should govern Alberta. Because that’s our aspiration. To govern. Not to oppose. Not to complain. Not to call the other parties names, or mock their ideas. To govern. Impossible? Not at all.
MLA Paul Hinman won our first seat in a byelection last September, Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth joined us last January, and Guy Boutilier made us an official party in the legislature when he formally joined our caucus last fall.
Our caucus already has 40 years of collective legislature experience and 15 years of previous cabinet service. We have many of the best policy minds in Canada helping us develop our policy – experts who work with us because the PCs stopped listening to them years ago. And we are now finding excellent candidates of all ages and backgrounds all across this great province.
Dire warnings have been sounded – I’m sure you’ve heard them – that Albertans will now be subjected to divisive U.S.-style wedge politics – by “right-wing extremists” masquerading as “moderates.”
Quite frankly, these sinister-sounding terms are meaningless. They are used to create fear. They are the resort of people who have run out of useful things to say. And they will not work. Albertans will not run away and hide from a scary word. They will not be fooled.
Before I get to the main topic of the evening, I want to say a word about Ed Stelmach.
Many in this room tonight have taken a leadership role in business or in the community. You know that first and foremost, leadership takes guts. So I want to acknowledge Mr Stelmach for stepping up to the plate five years ago and giving it his best shot. It takes courage. We honour his commitment to public service. We don’t disrespect Mr Stelmach. As I’ve said before, he is a decent man overwhelmed by the conflicting demands of a new economy and an exhausted party – a once-great party whose time is over. It’s time to leave the past behind and move on.
While our opponents are struggling with their Plan B, we in the Wildrose will continue on our Plan A, building our party and presenting our ideas.
We in the Wildrose have always understood that the issue facing Alberta is not Premier Stelmach, and the answer to Alberta’s problems is not a new PC leader.
Alberta’s main problem is that the same government has been in power for forty years.
Forty years is a long time. It is a long, long, long time. Long enough for bad attitudes and habits to silently infiltrate every nook and cranny, like mould inside the walls of a house.
It`s reflected in what they do and how they do it. To pick only one example that you may have read about in the news today, Ted Morton’s new Land Stewardship Act. Through this act the PCs empowered themselves to take away land and leases without compensation while closing off appeal to the courts. Then they denied having done this. When through the herculean effort of nonpartisan groups it became obvious they really had done it, they said okay, we did do it but we didn’t mean anything by it and we’ll fix it, promise.
Why does it take organized public fury all across rural Alberta to get their attention?
We’ve seen the same pattern of misrepresentation, then denial and then damage control in other high-profile areas – the royalty fiasco, the power line fiasco and the health care fiasco. But it extends into numerous other areas.
For a political regime that is so entrenched and unchallengeable, the default strategy is to stonewall each and every issue until the issue dies.
The problem isn’t the individual people in the party – the problem is deep in the collective PC governing culture. How many good new MLAs have we put in that caucus over the last forty years, and what in heaven`s name happened to them? The government just gets worse. The abuses and mistakes just get bigger and more blatant. A new leader will make very little difference, the party itself is too set in its ways to change.
That’s why instead of exhausting ourselves trying to “reform the PCs from within” Albertans created the Wildrose. Alberta needs a fresh start, a clean slate. The PC culture is unreformable.
We don’t just need a new premier, we need a new government.
While the PCs have been plodding along decade after decade, slowly getting worse, the world has changed. Changed radically. Not just in business, but also in government. Tonight let’s look at a few of the things that have changed elsewhere – things that we could and should change here in Alberta.
When people check out what we stand for, they often discover plenty of what we talk about they agree with. And that is important.
Because what matters in public life – and all that matters – is this: what will you do and why? That’s all that counts.
Tonight I’ll tell you what a Wildrose government would do for Albertans, and why.
If you look to the United Kingdom for instance you will hear Prime Minister David Cameron talk about The Big Society. What is this? Well, it’s quite simple really. It’s the observation that after all of the years of pouring money into building up big government monopolies to serve the public, the public has not been well-served after all.
We are seeing this in our own province. Billions of dollars are spent each year – in most areas the highest per capita spending of any other province – and yet what do we have to show for it? Not as much as we should.
Homelessness, supports for the mentally ill and addicted, care for the elderly, child poverty and other chronic social issues seem to be getting worse instead of better. What Prime Minister Cameron is challenging Britons to consider, and what we in the Wildrose are challenging Albertans to consider, is perhaps there is a better way to care for the most vulnerable in our society.
Perhaps, rather than put all our faith in central planners in a remote government bureaucracy to sort out all these problems, maybe each of us in our own communities should be looking at ways we can lend a hand to help. We don’t just say that as a party we live it. Our candidates live it.
Bob McInnis, our candidate for Calgary Fort, runs a program called Brown Bagging for Calgary Kids. He makes 15,000 school lunches a week for needy children in partnership with schools and other community groups. They have 2,200 volunteers and don’t accept a dollar of government funding.
Wayde Lever, our candidate for Edmonton Highlands Norwood, is the chair of the board of Innovative Housing. Wayde is in a wheelchair himself so he knows firsthand the challenges of finding suitable homes for those who are physically challenged.
Ron Leech, our candidate for Calgary Greenway, runs a school in one of the most ethnically diverse communities in Calgary that uses an innovative learning model to allow children to learn at their own pace so they can keep up with their peers from grade to grade, without falling behind in the study material.
These are examples of the kind of exciting things that are happening in every community. Government should be making it easier for these social entrepreneurs to succeed. Instead they make it harder with unnecessary bureaucracy, rules and red tape.
In the Wildrose we believe that these local efforts, connecting one member of a community to another, are most effective. It’s why we would partner with programs with proven track records of success and provide them with sustainable, predictable funding increases. It’s why we would make it easier for individuals to support the charities of their choice with a more generous tax credit, including creating a volunteerism tax credit to give back to people who donate their time to their favourite cause. It’s why we would make sure those on AISH get yearly increases to keep up with the cost of living, and allow AISH recipients to keep more of what they earn before government starts to claw back their benefits. That’s what a Wildrose government would do.
But the UK is not the only country reinventing government. Sweden is too. Our public health care system started out the same way as the Swedes. Public administration, public funding, public monopoly on delivery. But about 15 or 20 years ago, Sweden realized that this approach wasn’t working. Not only was it costing more and more money to deliver the services Swedes valued, but waiting lists were growing longer and citizens were getting worse service rather than better.
So they started to allow private and non-profit surgery centres to compete for patients, with public funding following patients to the facility of their choice. Today, about a quarter of the facilities in Sweden are privately run.
Competitive delivery with public funding is the way to ensure no one jumps the queue, no one has to pull out their credit card or chequebook to pay for medically necessary treatments, but service is better, faster and less expensive that a government run monopoly can deliver.
In Sweden the biggest champion for competitive delivery came from a surprising source: The Swedish nurses union. The nurses union understood that having a single employer for all their members was not giving nurses the choices and flexibility they wanted in their careers. Choice turned out to be a triple win: for taxpayers, for patients, and for the frontline workers delivering the service.
In the Wildrose all of our proposed health reforms comply with the Canada Health Act. But we also are keenly aware that the idea that our public health care system is “free” is simply not true. You may not get a bill in the mail when you get treatment, but it costs the average family of four nearly $11,000 a year in taxes to support the government public health monopoly. Are you getting $11,000 a year in value? Albertans want better value for money. They want better access. They want a system that works. In countries like Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Japan, innovative approaches for delivering health care have eliminated waiting lists, while maintaining universality and controlling costs. We can have a health system that works, too. That’s what a Wildrose government would do.
But we have to be better managers of our finances and on this we can show leadership to the world, as we did once before.
We cannot continue to spend at the rate that we are currently spending. Our Sustainability Fund is due to run out by 2013 or thereabouts. Our Heritage Fund, when adjusted for inflation, is worth as much today as it was in 1981. Debt is back on the rise and long-term unfunded pension liabilities have skyrocketed.
Right now we are squandering our province’s greatest income-earning years. Although oil hovers around $100 today, new technologies combined with uncertain economics make the future value of oil and gas virtually unknowable over the long term. We’re not prepared for a bad-case scenario. We are betting our own and our children’s future prosperity on a best-case scenario. We can’t do that.
That’s why we in the Wildrose put forward our Balanced Budget Alternative. We called it a three-step recovery program for a spending addicted government. Step one: restrain year over year spending growth in all departments to inflation and population growth. Step two: stretch out the capital plan from three years to four. Step three: cut wasteful spending such as the carbon capture and storage fund, the venture capital fund, the renovation of the federal building for new MLA offices, and a few others. All of this would have allowed us to cut this year’s $3.4 billion deficit to zero, and saved enough money to rescind the government fee increases. We do not have to choose between massive cuts to programs or massive deficits. We can simply control the rate of spending increases, balance the books and set the province on a sound fiscal track. That’s what a Wildrose government would do.
It is important, especially with the events of the last few weeks in mind, that we remember that there really is chaos right now all around the world. There are riots and protests and massacres and extremists that are threatening to destabilize what is already a very fragile and tenuous world economic recovery. There are multiple western European democracies teetering on the edge of financial ruin. The Middle East has reached a crossroads of monumental importance, with one road leading to stable and healthy democracy and the other to religious theocracy.
Our North American neighbours are in equally dire straits. Mexico is teetering on the edge of becoming a failed state as horrific cartel killing sprees of police and civilians continue. The United States is squarely on the path to financial collapse caused by unfathomable debt, that generations of children not even born will have to pay the price for.
We live on a ship that is sailing right now through the eye of a hurricane. How we steer ourselves from this moment on will determine the course of our future for decades and perhaps longer. We need to straighten that course and prepare for the entirely uncertain times ahead of us. We need to be better financial stewards so that we can survive and thrive, whatever the world throws at us. We need to be a beacon of hope and prosperity, a place of refuge from the storms ahead, where people from our nation and from around the world can come and know that they can find work, prosperity and opportunity. We can be that place. I’m sure of it. We must be that place.
Every now and then…maybe every 40 years or so…we need new people with open minds and new ideas to look at the problems and come up with better answers.
We in the Wildrose will make this pledge to you. We will examine the books and operations of the provincial government, and find more efficient ways to manage public money and still deliver the services citizens expect from their governments in the 21st century.
Because if we stay on the track we are currently on, we have to ask ourselves, as Albertans, what are we prepared to accept?
Are we prepared to accept a government that tears up contracts and extinguishes ownership rights?
Are we prepared to accept a government that thinks all you have to do is pray natural gas prices recover in order to balance the books?
And are we prepared to accept a government that is too afraid to stand up to the Friends of Medicare and fix health care?
Are we prepared to accept a government that stifles democratic choice?
I hope you see from the few things I’ve touched on tonight there’s a huge difference between the Wildrose and the Progressive Conservatives.
We have a fundamentally different approach to government – one the PCs will never adopt no matter who leads them.
If what I’ve described tonight is the Alberta you want, then ask yourself, “Will any other party do these things”? And the answer is no. The others are not on the same page as us. They never will be.
I said earlier that leadership takes guts.
There are a lot of Alberta leaders here tonight, and I put this challenge to you. If you want social support that delivers, if you want a public health system that actually works, if you want landowner and leaseholder rights that can’t be erased at the stroke of a cabinet politician’s pen, if you want a balanced budget, if you want a democracy that’s democratic – then help us make it a reality.
We have gone through two petroleum booms and busts under the PCs, but – unlike other petroleum democracies – unlike Alaska and Norway – we have banked almost none of it. We have spent it – indeed wasted it – on a scale that staggers the imagination.
Let’s not do it a third time. The world gets pretty rough on people who never learn from their mistakes.
Politics is like business – timing is crucial. Opportunities don’t wait forever. The time for change is now.
We know from a century of history a time comes when we Albertans suddenly erupt, and sweep the old group out and bring a new one in.
When this happens, it’s the result of a conscious choice by thousands of thinking individuals. It`s a deliberate decision to act – to go in a very new direction.
And it calls for a measure of firm resolve, especially from the leaders of the community. It calls for determination.
I want to close with a story. It’s a ranching story. For those of you who saw me take on the job as a ranchhand on this weekend’s CBC show Make the Politician Work, you’ll know I have a lot to learn from our friends in the cattle business.
Years ago east of Edmonton out at Sounding Lake, the first rancher in that area was a Texan named Bud McCord. Sounding Lake is really just a big shallow slough several miles across, and one winter day he and his men were moving the herd over the ice. Suddenly, right in the middle there was a massive cracking noise and the ice gave way and suddenly all their cows were floundering in the icy water a long way from shore. “Turn them back! Turn them back!” yelled one of the hands, whose instinct in this moment of crisis was to retreat. “No!” roared Bud McCord, “Go forward. Always go forward!” And they did go forward and they did save the herd.
That’s what we Albertans do when problems confront us. We go forward. We always have. That`s how we got here. That’s who we are.
That’s why I love Alberta. Not just the environment and the landscape – even more I love the people. And not just the Albertans who are here now, but also those who have not yet arrived, who will choose to make this place their home.
And not just them but those wonderful Albertans who were here before us and built what we have today.
I’m thinking of my own great-grandparents, the Kolodnickis from the Ukraine and the Hawkinses from the Kansas plains, who came here a hundred years ago – to what was still a land of fur traders and vast wilderness.
I’m thinking of the thousands of Albertans five generations ago who cleared the bush, broke the land, and built the roads and schools. Those people founded our province and forged our provincial character.
I think of the men and women and kids who struggled through clouds of grasshoppers and swirling storms of dust and the worst depression the modern world has seen, and who then went on to create the most caring, conscientious and forward-looking society in the history of humanity.
The millions of ordinary people who have come wave after wave, decade after decade, because they can flourish here better than anywhere else – better than in Asia or India or Africa or Toronto – and still do.
This is who we Albertans are and this is the Alberta I love. This is Alberta’s story. The Wildrose Party is an invitation to Albertans to start writing the next chapter.
Many people say Albertans want change.
That’s good because I’m here to tell you friends: Change is inevitable.
The one thing that is consistent is that things will be different tomorrow. What Albertans really want is a government that reflects the true feeling and noblest purpose of Albertans – past, present and future. One that represents what is best in us – MLAs in the Legislature with the same honesty, creativity, hope and sheer bloody determination as Albertans themselves.
Alberta is all about change. Looking back at the past 40 years, there’s only two things that haven’t changed…our borders and the governing party. With everything else changing, maybe…just maybe…it’s time for change in the legislature.
Fellow Albertans, the time has come to go forward. It’s time to lead again, to set the best example in Canada, to break new ground, to show how well government can be done, to be better at what we do than anyone else in the world. Let`s aim high.
The opportunity for change has come. The need is widely understood. The ideas and people are in place. All we need is for you to help us.
Is this exciting? You bet. Challenging? You bet.
Are the people of this province ready? Yes. We’re Albertans. There are no better people anywhere for making a bold and decisive fresh start. And there will never be a better time than right now.