Two different kinds of leadership experience went head to head Thursday as those vying for the United Conservative Party (UCP) nomination for Lacombe-Ponoka participated in a contestants forum.
About 150 people, including UCP members, local dignitaries and a few general members of the public, were in attendance, filling most of the Lacombe Memorial Centre in hopes of garnering some idea as to whether incumbent MLA Ron Orr or Lacombe City Councillor Thalia Hibbs would be best to represent them and the UCP in the next provincial election.
Topics discussed included dealing with rural crime and the opioid crisis, education, and how a UCP government would stand up to the Trudeau Liberals. While many of the questions and answers did little to separate the two candidates on policy, Hibbs and Orr believe there are differences between them.
Orr, who has been a pastor and a carpenter prior to being elected as a member of the Wildrose Party in the 2015, says he’s the only candidate with experience both in the legislature and in caucus.
“I believe I understand the issues, simply because I have been involved with the government these past few years and it takes a long time to build the relationships, the networks and to understand how the system works,” he said. “I think that’s going to be extremely important moving forward.”
Hibbs, meanwhile, says while she’s younger than her opponent, she has no shortage of political experience, including serving as a school trustee and school board chair for STAR Catholic, in addition to her current role on council. Moreover, she believes she brings a new energy that fits well with the party’s new direction.
“I think this riding is ready for someone like me who has the experience that I bring and the passion I bring,” she said.
“When we’re talking about all these issues with education, that’s something that’s around my dinner table, when we’re talking about health care, seniors, again, that’s very relevant to what’s happening in my life…Being part of that sandwiched generation, I think that’s a really unique situation and I’d like to bring that to the legislature so we ensure that voice is being heard.”
When asked what the top issue Albertans face is, both candidates said the economy, which was reflected in questions from the audience regarding elimination of the carbon tax, equalization, getting Trans Mountain built, as well as reducing civil service spending.
In terms of how to advocate and address the more local issues those in the riding face, the two had subtly different answers.
“Much of the most important work gets done in caucus. It’s being able to speak up in those very free-ranging conversations and know the details of issues and voice those in a way that gets the attention and awareness of caucus,” said Orr.
Hibbs prescribed more to the idea of being relentless.
“You just advocate for it – that means you’re not afraid to continually bring up the situations, the issues, the concerns that you’re meant to be bringing forward in caucus. That’s your job, that’s what you do every day if you have to,” she said.
Hibbs did, however, experience a bit of heat during the debate over her pursuit of the UCP nomination after being elected to Lacombe City Council during last October’s municipal election.
She assured those in the audience that she was still fulfilling her commitment and responsibilities as a councillor and would continue to do so until such as time as she’s forced to step down. Should a by-election need to be called, however, she doesn’t think the reaction should be any different than when it’s happened in the past, including with current Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins who stepped down to run for the Conservative Party of Canada.
“It happens. This isn’t anything unusual and I wouldn’t be setting any new precedent there,” she said. “There’s a small segment of the population that is concerned about it. They’ve never really articulated what it is that they have a concern with other than I shouldn’t be doing it, which is unfortunate.”
Both, however, said they would back and work with their opponent should they win the nomination.
Orr said he’s been involved with the local riding since 2008 so he doesn’t foresee working with someone else as MLA being a problem. Hibbs, currently on a leave of absence from the constituency association board, said she purposely took a leave of absence so she could help whoever the successful nominee is become elected.
“We all understand we’re on the same side of the page,” Orr said.
“My commitment to the party is absolute,” said Hibbs.
Ponoka County farmer Rita Reich had originally been a third candidate in the nomination race, but backed out of the race on Wednesday afternoon, citing “personal reasons” and asking for privacy.
Voting for valid UCP members will begin on Thursday, Sept. 20 at the Lacombe Legion from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. It will continue Friday, Sept. 21 at the Ponoka Legion from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and results will be announced following the closure of the polls.
Debate questions and answers below.
Q: What will you do to stop rural crime?
Hibbs: Obviously that’s a very relevant question for this riding in particular – of course, it’s not localized to only our riding – but we’ve all been talking about this, lots of conversations. We know that crime statistics are increasing. We also know people are less likely to report anything because they feel- what’s the point?
Some of the solutions are making sure detachments are fully staffed. That’s a problem province-wide and that shouldn’t be the case. Expanding the roles of other enforcement agencies – perhaps there’s a role that can be taken on by peace officers or sheriffs, for example. Reducing court delays – that is huge. There’s not enough judges, crown prosecutors, court clerks, there’s not enough funding for legal aid. We need better data collection and sharing between detachments, because, of course, in an area this large, you’re going to have areas where you cross jurisdictions. That includes working with even LPS, for example, supporting local crime prevention programs. This is an important area because this is you guys taking a little bit of initiative to protect yourself, but you need support to do that, because you can’t do that on your own and we need to change laws. They need to be in favour of victims, not criminals.
Orr: This is a really important issue – one I’ve been actively involved in. I’ve actually attended about a dozen crime events with people over the years.
One of the most important steps we’ve taken as a party, actually, is to commission a rural crime report on suggesting things we can do to actually make a difference. There are some important things, in addition to the stuff Thalia has mentioned.
Some of those things in the rural crime report are better data keeping and collection. There is local data that could be collected from our RCMP office across the country that would help us understand the very nature of the crime – who the people are committing it and those kinds of things, so that’s a very important one.
The issue of efficiency of the courts is also another one, the accountability of the court – certainly we have to do some work there and make sure we get more judges and more court staff in place to make those things happen.
We really need to take a look at the efficiency and effectiveness of our policing. The individual officers do a great job – as much as they can – but our contract with the federal government does have some challenges. For instance, even in Red Deer, just recently in January there was room for 10 more officers. Up till now, they only have one of those in place. It takes that long to get them, so in many cases there aren’t enough officers on the street.
Also working with local crime groups. People learning to work together to take back their neighbourhoods is a key part of the puzzle.
Q: Do you have any plans to reduce drug addiction?
Orr: Drug addiction is a really challenging issue for our province and I know some of you have experienced it. I know in my own extended family, it’s been a challenge for some of our people. I have a real concern for individuals in that regard and I’ve helped out with drug addiction treatment a little bit as well.
Plans – we need to deal with the incoming supply of this stuff. It comes from Asia. The federal government says we can’t inspect the containers but in most countries in the world they do inspect them, they should be inspected. The supply needs to be curtailed. The federal government just doesn’t want to do it.
I think we need to increase the nature and type of addiction counselling services we offer to people. There are people out there who can do it, but often there isn’t enough funding or there isn’t enough places, not enough beds. We definitely need to increase this because it is a huge storage on our land.
I’m not sure the court case on drug companies is going to get us anything. I think it’s a human, personal thing and we need to deal with the individuals and support them as much as we can.
Hibbs: I think that’s a very good question, especially these days. It seems like we’re hearing about this more and more all the time. It is certainly something that has many solutions – there’s no one magic bullet. Some of it comes down to simple – it sounds simple – better education earlier….getting youth as they grow up to learn to make better choices and the consequences of what seems like something fun to do at a party one night leading down a dark and terrible road. Not only for that individual, but for the families.
We need more supports in the communities . We are definitely lacking there. If you talk to anyone who works in this field, they talk about not enough bodies, not enough supports as far as programs. There’s definitely lots of room here for improvement.
It’s something we need to get a handle on because it’s only going to get worse – these are our communities. This is a major contributing factor when you look at crime.
Q: The buzzword we’re hearing from all parties is “grassroots,” but what have you done, or what will you do to ensure the people will be heard?
Hibbs: Grassroots is really important to me. I definitely feel like that has been my style as an elected official since day one. I really think that when you’re in a role like this, it can’t be just about what you think, what you feel, what your solutions are – you have to really be open to hearing from the public. That truly is that open door policy – answering that phone call, or returning that message right away.
When things are coming up, when decisions are being made, it’s really important that you’re informed, that you know what it is before those decisions are being made and not just being told about them after the fact. You’re input is really, really important. It certainly is in all of my decision making. I really value that – I’m not smart enough to think about all the possible things on my own. I need the people to be able to come to me and give me those ideas so we can work on them together and come up with solutions. I think that is the best way going forward. I think that’s what grassroots truly means – whatever direction is a collective direction.
Orr: That question is the history of our party in some ways, isn’t it?
I think that there’s a couple of answers to that question that are relevant. One is that in a world of social media, where more and more has become personal, we’re hearing more that people actually want to meet their leaders face-to-face. I think that’s an important part of it – being personally, physically present in the community at every event possible and just being available to talk to people.
On a structural basis, though, I think it’s important to note that the resurgence of the demand for grassroots came about in our party, in the conservative movement, over the last decades. Part of that is the unity agreement that we have struck together is actually structurally created in a way that gives the grassroots people more say, more ability to hold their party leaders accountable, more ability to hold the party itself accountable than maybe was true in the past. I think there are structural things there that will hopefully keep us in a place where we can continue to listen to each other.
On the other side of it though, I think it’s important to balance that mass democracy has its strengths, but also it’s weaknesses. At some point in time, someone has to step up and lead, and as I said earlier, Mr. Kenney has a good balance. We want someone who will lead us, we want someone who will listen to us.
Q: Why do we continue to ship oil to B.C.?
Orr: That’s a good question. Well, because at this stage the Premier has chosen not to enact her symbolic legislation that says she can not ship it there, but more practically, it probably wouldn’t be that effective in terms of changing the political landscape in Alberta and Canada. Even more importantly, it would hurt Alberta companies as well. We make a tremendous amount of revenue from that oil that is shipped in that existing pipeline and while political posturing and negotiating is important, it’s not usually helpful to shoot yourself in the foot in the process.
Bottom line is I think it would hurt us more, and wouldn’t necessarily accomplish the objectives we’re after.
Hibbs: I would, obviously, have to echo a lot of what you were saying there. The refineries that are at the end of that pipeline are starving for our oil and it would be crippling to this province if we were to stop that shipment.
I get that we want to make a statement. We want B.C. to truly understand but you know, to be honest, I think that the average citizen in B.C. is on board with that expansion – they want it too, it’s just unfortunately their leader. That message has to get across, but I don’t think we shoot ourselves in the foot and cripple the economy in that regard at this point. I think there are better ways to go about it at this point, so let’s go down that route and make that happen via that direction first.
Q: Why do we pay more for gas and oil than Ontario and Quebec?
Hibbs: That’s a really good question and I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t actually know why that is.
Of course, we know there’s no differences right across this country, a large part of it to do with supply and demand, how easy it is to get access to product. Other parts of the country have access to it coming up from the south – however they’re getting it there’s going to be differences. IT is a bit of shame. Sometimes when you have those differences, other provinces don’t feel the same pain as you because their experiences aren’t the same and they can’t relate to what’s going on, understand the situation over here and that’s really frustrating. I’m hoping as more and more dialogue happens around pipelines and oil that the greatest percentage of Canadians are understanding our challenges here and getting on board with that and willing to put pressure on the federal government. Especially realizing that this is a net benefit to them to support our oil industry here.
Orr: That’s an interesting question I, quite frankly, don’t have an economist answer for, but I will say I think it’s two things: it’s probably got something to do with taxes, and secondly something to do with the way the market works.
Yes, we’re sitting on all kinds of crude oil and bitumen, but we don’t really process a lot of it here and distance to markets is probably a big part of it. We ship our oil now to that States for the most part, a lot of it gets refined there and shipped back to us as a finished product. We get hit on the exchange and all the rest of it. I think those are the two main reasons and if anybody has a better answer, I’m all ears.
Q: Why do we pay equalization payments when we’re not equal?
Orr: I’ll tell you why – it’s one word and it’s called colonialism.
Alberta and the west have always been viewed as the resource sources for eastern Canada. They have always felt like the centre of the world is there. The colonial provinces are meant to serve them.
As one politician many years ago quite effectively said: Canada is like a cow – the west feeds it, Ontario and Quebec milk it and you can think about what the Atlantic provinces get.
The reality is we are in an equalization agreement as part of confederation. We’re part of this federation and quite frankly this federation has its weaknesses, its balances. I still think Canada is one of the better places to live and while I understand there’s increasing frustration with what happens in the east, it’s still a good country to be able to support that.
But, the equalization formula definitely needs to be reviewed. Trudeau pulled a nasty trick when he just recently unilaterally agreed it without opening discussion, without considering it, for the next five years. We need to demand that thing gets opened and gets discussed, because the formula is no longer fair – clearly not fair and stands in favour of Quebec particularly.
Hibbs: I do believe in equalization. I think that’s a major part of the success of Canada as a country.
However, that being said, Albertans are very generous. We believe in helping those who need help and we want to do our fair share – that’s fine when we’re prosperous, when we’re able to do our business and make that wealth and then share it. That hasn’t been a problem in the past. Now, we’re in this situation where we’re being held back from being that powerhouse that we are and that is now why we’re talking about equalization in such a negative light.
We want to participate in that program, but when all these roadblocks in the way are holding us back. I do also agree that the equalization formula really needs to be revisited because obviously, it’s not working for Alberta. We want it to continue to be the powerhouse of Canada. We want to continue to be a ”have” province, but that definitely needs to change.
Q: How would you improve services for seniors in our communities?
Hibbs: I’ve had a few conversations about this – I mentioned earlier in my opening remarks that I do have older parents. They’re getting to the point where they need a little bit more intervention. I need to be more of an advocate for them, so this is something I’m beginning to experience first hand. I’m seeing how difficult it is for them to access some of the supports that they maybe need. Sometimes it’s as simple as just being able to make it to the doctor’s office. Other times it’s time to start thinking about getting some help, and some homecare. I’m beginning to see what that experience is.
One of the biggest things is having those things out there that seniors can access and remain healthy, remain active and that’s really important. I like to think our communities are doing a fairly good job of that.
Certainly I’ve heard things could be better, communities could be more accessible, easier to traverse and things like that. I think that’s important when we’re talking about urban design or new buildings to make sure they’re accessible.
Orr: I was just in a meeting last week with the Alberta Continuing Care Association, which is the association most of the for profit and non-profit organizations that provide the majority of the funding, the majority of the services for seniors, actually, in Alberta.
I think there’s two things that should be said here – one is decision-making needs to be as close to the people it matters to as possible. When decisions are made way up the ladder somewhere and the people who are actually involved in district community care, it just hasn’t worked very well.
The other part of this was we need to be building more facilities. The current government promised us that and it hasn’t turned out very well. They have three facilities on the go right now. THese are the numbers just given last week. Prior to the current government model, which is all government and no private, they were billing units at $250,000 a unit for seniors. The current three complexes being built by the government are coming out at an average of $850,000 per unit. That is utterly, totally unacceptable. Quite frankly, they don’t care about the cost, they just want it done by government employees, union employees and that’s the only thing that matters to them. How these things are built is hugely important, and bringing the service close to the grassroots to the people who need it will give the best, most compassionate services.
Q: (to Hibbs) You are a city councillor. Do you feel you are being fair to the City of Lacombe by running for the Lacombe-Ponoka UCP?
Hibbs: I’m not really sure I understand the question, but I’ll answer it to the best of what my understanding it.
I did not decide to take a leave of absence from city council, so I’m an active city councillor right now. I made that decision very carefully because I felt that I was still able to do the job, and to me I felt that was very important. I was elected as a city councillor, I have a lot of work to do there for my constituents, I felt I was able to live up to that obligation and I have. I have made every meeting, I have returned every phone call, I’ve done every public engagement.
I think I’ve been very fair and have definitely lived up to my obligation as far as making this decision to run for the nomination.
I’ve loved my time on council. This has nothing to do with me being unhappy with what I’m doing there – I’ve absolutely loved it. I felt that I needed to put my name forward in this race because I am a conservative woman. I feel very strongly I have these conservative values. I’m very excited about the direction of the conservative party in this province, about taking back government and I felt that I brought something unique to the table and I wanted to be able to offer that to you. I think I’m not only representing Lacombe in that case, but the whole constituency and bringing that passion, that energy and that practical experience to all.
Q: The NDP’s committee that craft legislation have been used to reward government backbenchers for supporting the premier’s agenda, but the NDP’s committee are passing the work to bureaucrats and the bills are being struck down in the court. If the UCP from the next government and you’re serving on committee, will you commit to doing the work and take responsibility for the legislation bills that are brought forward?
Orr: The NDP definitely have portrayed a pattern of creating very simple enabling legislation and then passing on the details of how that will look to bureaucrats – the regulatory part of it.
In some respects, it’s not entirely unusual to do that, but the degree to which they have been doing it has been quite excessive. They have certainly set their ideological agendas, but they haven’t really done the homework of consulting people truthfully, of sending issues to committee that could be resolved – many of the issues that have led them into court cases and bad issues. Sometimes it’s not their processes, it’s that their ideology is their process.
I think the important thing is to slow down the pace a little bit and to make sure the actual homework is done before the legislation is put forward and hopefully we’ll come up with better legislation.
Too many times I’ve sat in the house and they’ve introduced a bill, and we find, all of a sudden, that they’re introducing their own amendments to their own bill because they figured ‘Oh, we didn’t get that one quite right’ and they’re constantly changing them. Some of the bills, still after three years, Bill 6 and others waiting for the details. We’re still waiting for what they are because they haven’t figured them out yet. It’s just very poor quality work.
Hibbs: This is definitely a pattern I’ve seen with the NDP government. I got to experience it particularly as a school trustee where they have an idea, it’s, I guess, talked about behind closed doors. Legislation is introduced, it’s run right through and done.
We definitely saw that with Bill 6, and at the same time there was another bill that had to do with school boards – Bill 8 – so I got to experience that first hand. “Oh, no, we’ve consulted with you,” – no. That wasn’t consultation, that was just you telling us you were going to do this and away you go. Now we see, already, that they’re having to backtrack on things, in particular with Bill 6 where they had to make some changes, and those could’ve been avoided if they just slowed it down, took the time to ask the people that this affects directly.
You guys are the ones that will know what that will look like. You guys are the ones that know what the effect of what some of that will be. That is so key to take it seriously, especially when it’s such a dramatic change. You take your time. Slow it down, spread it out so people have time to have a say and give you that good input. Then you come up with good legislation that serves all Albertans.
Q: Do you agree and support a plan of action to pressure the Canadian government to stop the fentanyl epidemic? Fentanyl is being smuggled into Canada by way of shipping containers that are not being searched at the port of entry. What steps would you take to mitigate this epidemic?
Hibbs: I definitely agree that fentanyl – all opioid drugs are an issue. They’re getting into our communities, whether they’re coming over the border, or whether they’re being brewed up here locally.
I don’t have an answer for that, except that it needs to be more of a focus because it’s growing. This isn’t going away – whatever we’re doing right now isn’t working, so we’re going to have to ramp it up.
To be honest, I don’t’ have a specific answer any more detailed than that.
Orr: We need to do more inspections on these containers. I have talked to people who are out in Vancouver who are fairly cognizant of the drug trades. They know who some of these people are but for various reasons they never get arrested.
I think the federal government needs to seriously get on board with this and some seriously dedicated policing. We do need to inspect more of those containers. I think that given the opportunity, we should identify the companies and sources where these things are coming from and if necessary stop the shipments that are continually bringing this stuff in. There are people who know who’s doing it – they can be found.
Beyond that, I think we’ve become a world where drugs are so much more prevalent. It’s going to be more prevalent with marijuana coming. I really do think we have to educate our young people, have the conversations and show them so they make wise choices themselves because it’s definitely out there and will not be easy to stop.
Q: Which is your priority – education or economics and why?
Orr: I would actually preface that question by saying what is Alberta’s priority? I think those two things hit pretty high on the schedule.
If you look at all the polling that’s out there, the economy at the moment is the big thing that troubles most people. It’s highest on their list of concerns and issues. We definitely need to address the economy because without the economy we can’t do all these other things we need to. We can’t provide the services and resources we need for education and for the rest of it.
At the same time, on the long-term horizon, education is extremely important. If we don’t have an educated population, if we’re not educating our young people, our future ability to compete, our future ability to innovate and drive technology to have high paying jobs is certainly going to be compromised.
I think we need both of those in a proper balance, in a proper place. I say we need both of them well cared for.
Hibbs: You can’t have an either or – it has to be both. Obviously economics is critical to the prosperity of our future. You can’t pay for an education if you don’t have a good economic situation happening so that definitely needs to be a focus. But, we would definitely be remiss if we were to not count education as a priority.
There’s a lot of things happening in education right now, a lot of changes that need to happen in education right now because the world is changing and if we keep doing things the way we have been, we’re not doing the next generation any service and that, of course, affects us as well as we get older. Those are the people coming up behind us, so they need a really good education, so it can’t be an either or.
Q: What are you prepared to do to encourage our federal government to get Trans Mountain built?
Hibbs: Boy, you guys really want us to lobby the federal government.
I’m not sure I can add anything in addition to what the party has already said about what they want to do. There’s lawsuits that we can be interveners on, there’s our own that we can launch. We can start pressuring via trade – there’s all sorts of different things we can do. I don’t think I have anything new to add to that other than it’s very critical and that does need to be a priority when talking about priorities.
It is definitely something the UCP recognizes as a priority and I fully expect that to be carried out.
Orr: I think there are three things that need to happen. All three of them should be proceeded with.
One is that it needs to be appealed to the federal court. There are certainly risks with that ff it goes against us – the lawyers are being cautious about that.
Secondly, the government needs to be able to comply with the two requirements of the previous court case, which are to consult with the natives involved and to address the issue of the whales.
Thirdly, we need to take Senator Doug Black’s advice and parliament needs to act, parliament needs to deal with it because in the end that’s the only real solution to it. We need to declare the pipeline in the national interest. Some people have said that’s a little heavy handed – I don’t agree, I think it would be the right thing to do and it would get us moving forward.
I think it’s possible to get most of these things done in a relatively short time, if Mr. Trudeau chooses to. Personally I doubt he will until after his next election next November.
Q: What will be your position on private schools?
Orr: My own kids went through three different kinds of schooling – homeschooling, private school and public school. In all three cases, in all three places at the right time for the right child is the right thing to do, and they benefited from it.
I truly believe that we need a competitive private school system in Alberta. I think it adds choice, it adds opportunity for certain students. It upholds both the UN and Charter of Rights in terms of parents having a choice of what kind of education they want to offer their kids.
I don’t think, though, that they should get full, equal funding that the public school does because I personally think there should be some personal accountability. There should be some buy in and there’s value to that.
I won’t argue for full, equal funding. I think the current formula should stay where it is, but I totally think we need to have a creative opportunities for education and even in terms of charter schools. The cap at 10 is not enough, we should raise that and allow more charter schools in Alberta.
Hibbs: As a former trustee, of course, education is hugely important to me. I’m passionate about this so let me be very clear that I am 100 per cent in favour of all the different types of education choices you have now. That’s everything from homeschooling to all sorts of private, your charter, your public, your francophone, your Catholic – I support all of it and I think it is a huge strength we have in this province. I think that’s why we’ve traditionally had such a strong education system in this province and I think it’s a real blessing.
I have zero interest in changing that. However, that being said, I think we have to be stronger advocates for that because it is under threat. There is definitely a movement for what they call a one-system. THat would mean everything else is gone except for one public system. I think that would be an absolute crime and I would fight tooth and nail against that and I hope you would, too.
Q: How do you propose to reduce the overpopulated civil service?
Hibbs: I have been giving this a lot of thought. In one particular area we talk about reducing the size of a department and I’m thinking of healthcare. Everyone always says we need to get rid of those middle management or get rid of those management and, of course, it isn’t’ quite that easy, but I get what they’re saying.
It’s a significant portion of our budget. It’s the largest envelope, single-handedly and it’s definitely ripe for some reform. Some of that might include getting rid of some of that management, but what I think is the most important is however many employees we have, as long as things are being run efficiently, as long as we’re getting good value for what we’re spending – because it’s your money, those are your tax dollars. In particular, especially considering it’s the largest envelope, health care reform is something we really need to consider and look at as a priority.
Orr: I’ve said for a long time one of the biggest challenges of any government is going to be to reform or renew our civil service.
I don’t think we need to do it to the degree that Ralph Klein did it at a 20 per cent cut to our budget. Mr. Kenney doesn’t seem to think that’s what it’ll take either.
Probably the best way to do it, and considering the union contracts all that, is through attrition. Three per cent of them move on every year anyway, and if we don’t hire any more, over time we’ll get rid of them.
The current government is solidifying a contract with them that will guarantee their job security so it’s possible we’ll have a huge war and a fight, but with the Supreme Court judgement that unions are protected, essentially, a few years ago, it would be a challenging fight.
We’re at a stage in our culture in Alberta where we’re late in institutional life. We’ve become a bureaucratic culture. We’ve hired way too many civil servants because we had the money to and it was easy to. Now, I think we have to look at how we renew that group and you don’t renew a group necessarily by poking a stick in your eye – anybody who knows anything about change in management realizes you have to get cooperation from the people you’re working with. It’s not going to be easy, but it has to be done.
Q: What ideas do you have to improve Alberta Health?
Orr: How about we just start with Central Alberta? There’s a lot that could happen here to improve Central Alberta and the problem is that we have developed this philosophy of centralization of everything.
The Alberta Health guiding principles are that everything should be focused in Edmonton and Calgary, maybe Grande Prairie and the rest of us should travel there. It has created an inequity in funding, it has created, basically, central Albertans moving to other parts of the country…I think we need to right that inequality.
Moreso, we need to deal with the bureaucratic, glass structure that has developed in Alberta Health. We need to get rid of the managers, we need to get rid of the top-down management style. We need to return decision-making as much as possible – not absolutely, because one extreme to the other doesn’t help – to communities and the people and the places it impacts most.
There’s a lot of people in the system who have really good ideas – nurses and doctors and others in the health system come to me and talk about it. They have good ideas, but the system doesn’t allow them to implement those. We need to begin to listen to the people who are actually doing it because they do have good ideas and they do want to do things right.
Hibbs: I think that there’s three, main areas.
Structure. The existing structure right now is very siloed, you don’t have a lot of collaboration between the different groups and that’s a problem. You’ve got ministry, you’ve got AHS, you’ve got the physicians on the outside, so in some cases you’ve got duplication, you’ve got other areas where it’s not clear as to who actually is in charge, who’s actually watching the costs.
Another thing is integration of physicians. The payment system they have right now is probably not all that conducive to what it is we’re hoping to achieve. We’ve got long wait lists and dissatisfaction with service. It’s not that physicians are doing things wrong, it’s just the way it’s set up needs to change.
Clinical information systems. There would be a lot of time saved and you would get better served as a patient if your records were available online not only at your doctors office but throughout the province so they could see what you’ve been treated for in the past so you don’t have duplication or the wrong tests being ordered.
Q: How can we improve Alberta’s position in Canada? Is separation unavoidable?
Hibbs: Let us do what we need to do to be a successful, prosperous province. Everything else is fine after that. That’s the biggest problem. I sure hope that we don’t go down the separation route, because I do believe in this country and I’d like to remain part of it. That is truly in my heart the way we need to go.
However, that being said, we have to get some respect. We have to be given the ability to provide for ourselves. Like I said before – we’re very generous, we want to help others who also have some pride and want to be able to be that breadwinner for the country. We want to be allowed to be.
Orr: I think we need a couple of things. We need a leader who will speak up for us, rather than be cooperative all the time. We need someone who will lobby our case, who will argue our position.
We also need to really focus on both the inter-provincial and provincial-national relationships. These are important things and they have to be dealt with, but we can make it a primary focus. The very fact lots of the questions asked tonight are relating to Ottawa show the need we have to actually deal with that inter-provincial and provincial-national relationship. We need a leader who’s experienced in those grounds, understands that issue and is going to challenge them. At the moment, I think we have that.
I also think we need to take a page out of Quebec’s position, which basically means we need to stand up for our own rights, our own identity.
We need to challenge to colonialism of the east and I think there’s three ways we should do it. They might be controversial, but they are my opinion. I think we need to take the tax processing part and do it here in Alberta instead of letting Ottawa process it for us. We need to process it here and send Ottawa their part. I think we need our own provincial police force instead of depending on data in Ottawa to look after us. We need to look after ourselves. Thirdly, we need our own provincial firearms officer instead of letting Ottawa provide an officer for us. In all these ways, Ottawa manages and controls us. We need to grow up and look after ourselves.
Q: How can you increase diversity, inclusivity in our party?
Orr: It’s just about being willing to have conversations with the people who are different than us.
Alberta has has a higher level of immigration in the last 10 years than we’ve had since prior to the First World War. In the last 10 years we’ve seen a lot of new people come. I have had the opportunity to have great relationships with a lot of those people.
I’ve lived in a couple other countries. Many of those people who come into our country – people who come in by the proper processes – come here to have a good life. They come here to buy houses, they contribute to our economy, they do the jobs a lot of other people don’t want to do. I have a great respect for them. We need to walk with them, we need to get to know them. When we look at them as an unknown, there’s huge misunderstandings that happen.
I’m not in support of the people who come here illegally, who come here to claim they have some right to something. I think we just need to get to know them and understand them.
The divide in Alberta is not just intercultural. It’s also become more urban and rural. That’s part of our challenge as well.
Hibbs: Diversity – I’m running specifically because of that. I want to see different faces in the part because I think that represents what the party actually is, but a lot of that has to do with being open.
Being open means being inviting – we have to go and ask people. For example, once upon a time, I never would’ve run as a school trustee had I not been asked. It never would have dawned on me that it was something that would’ve been appropriate for me to do.
When we’re trying to invite more women, more minorities, more of whatever group you’re trying to attract, you have to be able to be open, be inviting and go to them and show them that you are interested in wanting to know who they are nand what’s important to them.
I’ve heard it said by Jason Kenney, our leader, that he believes a lot of new immigrants naturally fit into that conservative viewpoint. To me, that makes a lot of sense because they’re obviously entrepreneurial, they probably have a high work ethic – these are all very conservative values and I think that’s important to remember.
Q: Please comment on your view of the sex ed/gender neutral policies the NDP educational minister is requiring all schools, including faith-based schools, to teach to all ages of our children? Feeling helpless, frustrated and concerned for the well-being of our children, do you have any possible solution on what can be done about this?
Hibbs: We do have a sex education curriculum and that really hasn’t changed that much recently so in that regard, it’s still the same. I think perhaps what you’re referring to is more focus on things like GSAs, there was a document that was out there called PRISM and certain parts of those things can raise concerns for parents in particular and that’s fair, because when things change like that you’re not sure what to make of it.
I think that sometimes the school system and this current government make parents feel that you’re the enemy, that your children aren’t really yours, that they’re really more the government’s to form and develop and they just sort of stay with you at night and on the weekends.
In this party, we don’t have that viewpoint and I think it’s very important that we respect the primary educators of children are the parents.
Orr: I’m going to assume that question is about Bill 24 and I think the important thing to say is that bill is about ideology, not what’s best for children in every case.
I would not support either extreme of either mandatory notification of parents, nor would I support legal prohibition. I think in either case, those are extremes that should not be practiced. What needs to happen here is human-centred discretion, which is actually in the best interest of the child.
Some of the current legislation the NDP put forward really isn’t about anything except trying to create a political discord and trying to create challenges for the conservative party. It’s low-grade politics in many cases.
Having said that, I think it’s extremely important schools be free from bullying, and at the same time we need the balance of the fact it’s extremely important we understand parents are the primary educators and we would support the universal declaration of the rights of parents, that parents have a right to choose the kind of education their children will experience.
I don’t support in any way we should be putting children at risk by putting them in situations that would cause them to be under threat.
Q: How do you think we can get rid of the provincial and federal carbon tax?
Orr: Getting rid of the provincial one is easy. We just sit down in the legislature when we’ve got a government that understands the issue and abolish the one that’s there.
There will be challenges following that. There’s $3-billion there that the current government is using to fund everything. We’ll have to think that part of it through.
The next challenge, of course, is that the federal government is going to try and force us to do something at their level. The proper thing is to challenge them. We will join Saskatchewan and Ontario in the resistance to that. We will use it as an occasion to seriously challenge equalization payments as well.
It’s not part of anything that’s doing any good for us and the environment. Even the NDP themselves admit the impacts themselves are almost immeasurable and they refuse to put in place any kind of measurement standards or way of determining if it actually accomplishes any good in terms of greenhouse gases. We’ve been promised again and again that if we embrace this thing it will buy us a social licence and give us a pipeline and make our economy grow. Obviously, that has not been the case.
First step is to just get rid of it, secondly to deal with the federal government.
Hibbs: I would agree, too. It literally is just as simple as getting rid of it and that should be bill number one – repealing the carbon tax.
It is only harming the economy. It isn’t doing everyday Albertans any favours. Not-for-profits are suffering heavily, you’ve got even other levels of government that are paying carbon tax. It’s such a goofy system.
Then, of course, what are those dollars going to? Most Albertans don’t support what programs those dollars are going to so we definitely need to get rid of it.
Of course, the federal situation’s another story. The easy solution is there also – get rid of that government. We have that election coming up soon also.
Another thing is we just have to push back. There’s clean fuel standard coming up as well – that’s almost like a second carbon tax. Not only are they hitting us with this first carbon tax, but now they want to do this clean fuel standard, so that’s going to increase the price of fuels, and we’re not just talking about transportation fuels here, we’re talking about all fuels. You can point to California – they’re having OK success with their clean fuel standard but that’s only on their transportation fuels. We’re talking here in Canada about doing it across the board. That is something we need to get more educated about and stand up against.
Q: What do you think about having a provincial police force?
Hibbs: I have experience in the City of Lacombe having our own police force and I can’t think of a negative thing to go with it. I absolutely would support looking at a provincial police force. I think it does give you a little more control as to being able to set the priorities, set the numbers, it allows you to have so much more say in what’s going on.
Orr: Yes, we do have policing experience – both the major cities do, Lacombe does and so do seven districts across the province do it.
It is a complex question though, because funding comes up and municipal governments have to involved and there’s a whole bunch of people that have to be involved in that question so it would create a lot of work to get there.
We also have other levels of enforcement in the province. We have provincial sheriffs, the police officers. Way back in the 80s or 90’s, it was actually looked at and passed over at that time. The peace officer group had begun to set up and with the idea that eventually with increased training and increased mandate for the laws they enforce that eventually it would end up there. I think the time has come for a serious relook at that. I think we seriously need to reconsider it.
It’s another way for us to have leverage with Ottawa because I am absolutely not convinced that the $200 million we spend every year on the federal policing is well spent.
Q: (to Hibbs) You said during the election you would not run for an MPP [MLA] job this term and there you are. Did you change your mind or what?
Hibbs: This definitely wasn’t something that was on my radar when I was running for council. I probably wouldn’t have run for council had it been so. This was definitely a decision that was very last minute.
I don’t recall saying I wouldn’t run because I don’t even remember that being a thought. I guess I’d have to take your word for it. It wasn’t on my radar at all. I can honestly say 100 percent that running for the UCP was not a consideration I had at any time in the near future during the fall election.
Q: We’re a country of 12-13 provinces and 600 native reserves. We claim we’re a sovereign country. Are we actually a sovereign country? It disturbs me when we have a couple of judges who determine what we’re going to be in the future.
Orr: The issue of activist judges is becoming a problem in our country. I find it interesting – I think we’ve lost a bit of the understanding of how judges are supposed to function. It is true that the three levels of government are not supposed to interfere with each other, and we’re not to interfere in judicial decisions and I’m totally in agreement with that. That does not mean judges should not be somewhat accountable.
When you get judges beginning to infringe into public policy discussions, I think personally, they’re overstepping their bounds. I think the only response we have is for parliament to enact legislation that makes it very clear what decision they want. The reality is judges have to follow along with what is written. If the law isn’t clear enough, then I think it’s partly parliament that needs to be more clear. All of the regulatory issues that caused problems for our resource industry in Canada recently have come from not outside protesters or anything, they’ve come about because of a regulation introduced in parliament in Ottawa. That’s part of our problem right there.