Szwagierczak brings secession question to Lacombe-Ponoka race

Tesse Szwagierczak, pictured here in her downtown Lacombe office, is running for the Alberta Independence Party in the riding of Lacombe-Ponoka. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)

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Tessa Szwagierczak wants to see Alberta take its independence back.

To that end, she has become the Lacombe-Ponoka candidate for the newly-formed Alberta Independence Party (AIP), whose platform centres on the province’s secession from the rest of Canada.

While they’re being labeled as a “fringe” party compared to the United Conservative Party (UCP), New Democratic Party (NDP), and even the Alberta Party, she and her fellow AIP candidates reject the term, believing AIP to be a true centrist party many Albertans could align themselves with, rather than some “joke.”

“We are the party of the people, by the people and for the people,” she said. “We believe in the right to independence and prosperity for all our citizens…We respect the rights and freedoms of all Albertans and the enjoyment of a better quality of life. That’s why I believe AIP is the right party because it’s the people’s voice that drives this party.”

Szwagierczak was born in Manitoba, but moved to Alberta at the age of four. She became a single parent of two in 1990 while working as a junior accountant. In 2002, she achieved CGA designation and in 2004 opened her own accounting practice, Tessa Szwagierczak Professional Corporation, which now has offices in both Red Deer and Lacombe. She’s been involved with both the Lacombe and Ponoka Chamber of Commerce, and while she currently resides in Sylvan Lake, still works in Lacombe.

It was only a month ago Szwagierczak flipped the switch on being conservative. In fact, she says she was a supporter of United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney until Feb. 20, when a friend asked her to look at the AIP platform and she decided she felt the UCP’s platform came up short on providing relief to those struggling to make ends meet in the province.

“I was very concerned about where Alberta was headed. When I checked this party’s platform out, it was like someone was listening to my dreams of what I wanted to have changed for Alberta,” she said.

“Several of my clients have said: ‘Tessa, you fight for us every day with the tax man. If you’re fighting for us, why are you not fighting for all of Alberta?’ It took several days, but I thought why can’t I do it for the rest of the riding? Why can’t I help the rest of the province? I want to make a difference.”

In speaking with clients, and people in the community, she says there are a lot of very angry Albertans who feel disrespected by the federal government, which is backed by polls done by the Angus Reid Institute in December, where nearly three in four Canadians living west of Ontario said they didn’t believe their province was given fair treatment by Ottawa.

Should the AIP be elected, they’ll host a referendum on separation four months later, and withdraw from Canada over a four- year span, promising to do so “as gracefully as possible without disrupting anyone’s daily activities.”

Should Albertans reject separation, there are other ways the party plans to improve autonomy and independence.

Chief among them for Szwagierczak is a tax platform that promises to put more money back into the pockets of the working poor by exempting the first $45,000 earned from tax, rather than the current $12,000.

The party also plans to scrap the carbon tax – which Szwagierczak has seen her clients struggle with, from a $400 utility bill where $189 was carbon tax, to a family in town who she says spent Christmas in their parkas in fear of turning the heat up and having to pay the extra costs, something she calls “unacceptable.”

As well, the party wants to get rid of equalization, of which Alberta pays $21 billion per year, with the majority going to support Quebec and Ontario.

“In order for us to stay alive, we’re going to have to do something a little bit drastic,” she said. “We cannot stay status quo – Alberta will shrivel up and die if we do not change how Alberta is operating.”

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