The three candidates for the top post with the Wildrose Party were in Red Deer Monday for a debate as an expected spring provincial election nears.
Drew Barnes, Linda Osinchuk and Brian Jean are vying for the leadership of the party, and each detailed their arguments for what sets them apart during the forum, which took place at the Black Knight Inn in front of a packed house.
“We have to be ready for whatever the PCs will bring about – the election,” said Jean, a lawyer and former MP for Fort McMurray-Athabasca. He was first elected in 2004 and spent a decade in federal politics.
“This time in our history – this crossroads – is the most important crossroads we will ever face as a party. The Wildrose party can go one of two directions – we can move forward or stay behind. “We can allow the actions of 11 power-hungry and self-serving individuals to define us. We can descend into the kind of in fighting and acrimony finger pointing that has claimed so many Alberta political movements of the past.
“Or we can make something from the crisis we’ve been thrown into,” he said. “This is an opportunity for all of us to affirm what Wildrose is. To actually reconnect with Albertans, and to reconnect with Alberta like never before. And to give Albertans what they so desperately, desperately want – an honest, accountable government that can take this PC government down.”
Osinchuk, the former mayor of Strathcona County, also spent 15 years in health care as a registered nurse.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing for our great province of Alberta, a place where people – our greatest resource – are respected and not blamed,” she said, referencing Premier Jim Prentice’s recent comments about Albertans sharing the blame for the province’s financial woes.
“I joined the party almost two years ago. Like many of you, I was a PC member for many years. And like many of you, I became tired of the government who has an arrogant attitude, a sense of entitlement, and a mis-use of our hard-earned tax dollars,” she said.
Barnes is the MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat. Prior to being elected in 2012, he spent years in real estate and property management.
“(Wildrose members) say they are tired of expensive, wasteful government – they want more efficient government. That means no tax increases and no new taxes. They want less bureaucracy. They want health care that works. Not health care that doubles in cost every 10 years and wait times and access to GPs that are absolutely ridiculous.
“They tell me they want property rights restored, they want affordable utilities, and most of all they tell me they want a government they can trust.”
Barnes said the first duty of a leader is to keep the party united. “Not only did Danielle Smith fail to counteract the PC message, she even came to believe it. Rather than seek unity, she went out of her way to drive wedges within our base.”
Barnes said the party must turn the page once and for all. “It starts by remembering why we joined the Wildrose. We joined for less government, financial responsibility, family values – we want to strengthen democracy by giving individual voters power.
“We want taxes as low as possible and we want healthcare that works. It starts by remembering the Wildrose is an inclusive party, and by electing a leader that doesn’t label people as fiscal conservatives, libertarians, or social conservatives.
“In my Wildrose, no one sits on the bench,” he said. “Let’s continue to put principle ahead of politics.”