Election heats up in second week of campaign

The provincial election campaign is in full swing and party leaders continue to make their stops in Central Alberta as they hit the 2012 campaign trail.

Premier Alison Redford visited a local business last week, hours after announcing the election, which will take place on April 23rd.

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman also stopped by the City last week and met with supporters at MLA north hopeful Michael Dawe’s campaign office. And Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith checked out the Collicutt Centre where she took in a soccer game and spoke with supporters.

Earlier this week Redford announced the PC government will establish 140 Family Care Clinics throughout the province in the next three years.

“Albertans need access to health care services in their own community,” she said. “Currently we have three pilot Family Care Clinics operating in the province. We will evaluate their performance and make adjustments to provide better service in communities throughout the province.

“The key elements of a Family Care Clinic are the team based provision of health care services, local access and extended services hours.”

Family Care Clinics will be staffed by a team of health care providers such as nurse practitioners, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, pharmacists, dieticians, physiotherapists, family physicians and others to meet local primary health care needs.

“Alberta Families need medical services at their convenience. Health issues do not emerge based on a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. Family Care Clinics will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. to accommodate the needs of busy Alberta families.

“Family Care Clinics work in both rural and urban Alberta because they are based on serving the unique needs of each community. These clinics will support Albertans living with chronic diseases like diabetes, taking pressure off our emergency rooms and reaching out to those in need of mental health and addictions services.”

While in Red Deer, Sherman announced his Party’s plans to ensure that access to health care doesn’t require access to a car with a full tank of gas. The Liberal plan calls for the training of medical professionals in areas of family medicine, and then encouraging them settle and put down roots in smaller communities.

“We need to provide incentives for medical professionals to choose generalist fields over specialist ones and to expand medical programs into regional colleges, integrating medical training with smaller Alberta communities,” he said. “Becoming a doctor takes a long time. You have medical school, your internship, your residency. And your training can go on for a decade or more. But life doesn’t stop while you’re away in Edmonton or Calgary training. You fall in love, you get married, you have kids. It’s very hard to pick up everything at the end of your training and move to one of Alberta’s other centres.”

In addition to financing the training of doctors and nurses in smaller communities, the Alberta Liberal Party plan would fund incentives for relocation and choosing family medicine out of a $100 million line item in their platform for new health and wellness initiatives. And that, says Sherman, is good news for us all: the benefits – while directed at smaller centres – are a way to increase the efficiency of the health system for all Albertans.

“Ultimately, health care for rural and urban Alberta alike improves when people spend less time in transit to big city hospitals and more time getting the care they deserve.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, Smith also made an announcement regarding the Alberta Energy Dividend.

The Alberta Energy Dividend will send 20% of budget surpluses generated by oil and gas royalties directly to Albertans, giving all Albertans a direct share in the success of the province’s energy sector, she said.

“Instead of squandering surplus funds on pet projects and more government waste, the Alberta Energy Dividend will ensure Albertans benefit directly from the wealth our energy sector generates,” said Smith.

“Wildrose believes that Albertans can spend their own money better than government. That is precisely why we’ve got a plan to put more money back in their pockets instead of government coffers.”

She added, the new plan is also both affordable and prudent, because it recognizes that government must live within its means, and make balancing the budget a top priority. By ensuring that dividends are only paid out in years when the government posts a surplus, the dividend remains affordable in the long-term.

“These dividends are particularly important for seniors, young families, and those on fixed or limited incomes because they are tax-free. This means that other income, such as pensions, won’t be clawed back by the government because of dividend payment,” Smith said. “It’s a responsible way to make sure all Albertans benefit from our resource wealth while keeping the budget in balance.”

Alberta’s New Democrat Leader Brian Mason said it’s time for leadership that does what it takes to get the most value in jobs and royalties from the oilsands.

“Conservatives have delivered unacceptably low returns from our vast and valuable oilsands resources. It’s time Albertans invest their prosperity with someone else” said Mason. “Liberals endorse the status quo. The Wildrose policy takes us further away from getting full value for our resources. New Democrats know that Albertans own the resource, so we’ll do what it takes to get the most value, in terms of jobs and revenues.

“Overall, our goal is to bring in an extra $1.90 per barrel in revenues for improved public services and more savings. We’ll do that through a new royalty system that gives companies who upgrade in Alberta a break, because we get four times the value out of a barrel of bitumen upgraded here.”

efawcett@reddeerexpress.com