What will it take for rural Albertans to not vote for a conservative party? With a series of headlines over the past few months, politicos in the province have to be pondering this question.
Before taking office, the UCP caucus voted against additional funds to hire RCMP officers in rural communities. This was strange considering law and order issues and rural issues are very much conservative issues. Since forming government last spring, the UCP have now increased spending on rural policing but have now transferred that expense onto the rural communities themselves.
This transferred expense of policing comes at a time when rural communities have less and less resources to cover such expenses. The Rural Municipalities of Alberta reported that oil and gas companies have shafted municipalities of over $180 million dollars in property taxes which has the added irony that these oil companies received a substantial tax break from the provincial government.
A provincial government who decided to follow suit by slashing grants it used to provide to municipalities for tax rates on provincially-owned properties. High River was the first to complain but Edmonton saw a reduction of around $7 million for 2019-20 and that will double in 2020-21 and 2021-22 as the grants are slated to be dropped from 75 per cent to 50 per cent next year.
Speaking of oil companies, let’s not forget the other debt that is being left to rural communities… orphaned and abandoned wells. Each and every one of these wells is somewhere rural, many on farmers’ land. Any issues with containment, seepage, etc. will directly impact those farms yet the government is allowing oil companies to walk away without responsibility or consequence.
Finally, the UCP government has ended negotiations with doctors and will be implementing a new structure for physician pay. The Alberta Medical Association has warned that this will have a drastic effect on rural practices. This is likely to include many communities eventually losing their only doctor.
These smaller communities spread across the province have already been facing enough challenges attracting businesses and people from the glamour of the “big city lights”. Their populations are also diminishing when the youth move away for opportunities they cannot find at home. The aforementioned challenges of additional tax burden and reduced services only make it more difficult to attract businesses and the people working for them.
So, back to the question that started this off… what will it take for rural Albertans not to vote for a conservative party?
It has been common knowledge that rural Alberta is one of the three legs in the Alberta electorate, with Calgary and Edmonton being the other two. In order to form government, you need to have two of the three legs. Conservative parties have rested easy for many, many years knowing that they always start each election with the rural vote secured. In fact, the only threat to this strategy was when Alberta had two conservative parties both vying for rural votes.
Now that we are back to a single conservative party, the old strategy of assuming the rural vote is secured has also returned. It’s obvious that the UCP doesn’t believe rural Alberta will turn on them otherwise they wouldn’t dare to impose greater taxes and reduce services.
So if watching communities continue to shrink, facing increased tax bills and having less medical services available won’t change the vote of a rural Albertan, what will?
Mark Taylor is a Calgary-based engineer. He is the former executive director of the Alberta Party, a former Wildrose organizer, and Green Party board member.