Provincial election earlier than later, says Alberta Liberal leader

Alberta Liberal leader David Swann is predicting a provincial election much earlier than what the Conservatives have planned.

“The obvious bleeding of support to the Wildrose (Alliance),” is a key reason why Premier Ed Stelmach will likely hold an election in 2011 rather than spring of 2012, said Swann.

“There’s been divisions, and I think it will all contribute to change and uncertainty.” With the economy starting to pick up, Swann also believes Stelmach will try and tap into the positivity generated from that as well.

Swann added there’s been a fractious tone to the legislature in recent months.

“The Wildrose feel like they have a mandate from the people to take down this government,” said Swann, who said that while he agrees with several Wildrose accusations against the Tories, feels that “the legislature isn’t the best place to be expressing those kinds of things if we’re want to get anything done.”

“As a result, there was a lot of posturing, name-calling, heckling and disruptive behaviour.”

Swann said he’s felt the same frustration with the Tories. “They don’t answer questions, they don’t address in a constructive way how we could be going forward.”

The recent firing of former Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett was another example of the Tories overall mismanagement of health care.

“He was given an impossible job, and the system really was set up in a way that could not succeed because all the decisions were being made by a 14-member board for 90,000 employees and all these hospitals across the province,” said Swann. “I said the same thing to Chris Eagle who took over (from Duckett), that it’s an impossible job.

“I said that unless they change the structure, he wouldn’t be able to do anymore than Duckett was able to.”

Swann acknowledged that the Tories are currently dealing with the pressure points by increasing surgeries, cancer care and emergency treatment. But emphasis has to be on keeping management decisions at the top and delivery systems at the bottom.

“You have to make sure delivery is closer to the people and that decisions are being influenced by the local professionals who see what’s happening and know what can be done.”

In looking back over 2010, Swann said that while health care has been a prominent issue, Albertans have also shown concern over the environment, seniors’ issues such as continuing care, long-term care and access to schools.

“There was also a lot of focus on the oilsands and our reputation with it,” he said.

“Our standards are reasonable. They’re not the highest in the world, but they are reasonable. But if you don’t monitor them independently and enforce them, you start to have people talking about the things we’ve seen like criticisms from environmental groups, issues over tainted fish, dead ducks and people concerned over cancer rates.”

Swann said the recent move by Syncrude, Suncor and Shell to share technology on tailings ponds shows terrific leadership. “Where’s the government in this? This is the type of thing the government should be doing and enforcing.”

Meanwhile, with the Wildrose Alliance’s continuing emergence as a political contender, Swann said his party has to work that much harder to communicate a “freshness, openness and willingness to embrace Albertans’ values about the 21st century.

“I think we’re doing that. We’re talking about a 21st century economy that is built on clean energy, renewables and energy efficient technology. Post secondary education is the core, and enhancing people’s access to post secondary education is a very basic measure for improving the versatility of the economy,” he said.

Swann said he predicts the Wildrose Alliance will likely contribute to pulling of the Tories more to the right, which will open an opportunity for “moderate Liberals like us to capture that centre vote.

“This will be the most interesting election in many, many years,” he continued. “People are paying attention and they are seeing real disparities between what the parties stand for now. People are going to see that our sensible policies, although they aren’t flashy and attention-grabbing in some ways, are where most Albertans sit on public education, health care and a diverse economy.”