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Wildrose party Leader Danielle Smith at home in High River. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Wildrose party Leader Danielle Smith at home in High River. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Q&A

Alberta’s Wildrose Leader responds to reader questions Add to ...

We asked readers what they would ask Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith. We picked the Top 3 questions. Here are her responses:

Why don’t you think taking action on climate change is important? Have your views changed since April when you said there was still a debate in the scientific community? (Alex Doukas, Calgary)

“We’ve never said that we don’t want to take action. We’ve said exactly the opposite, in fact. So let me try to say it in a way that will get through, because I think sometimes people hear one part of the message and don’t hear the other part of the message. In many ways, what our members have told us, what the industry has told us, what the public has told us, is that the debate about science is immaterial. It doesn’t matter.

“What we’re hearing from industry, what we’ve done by signing international trade agreements, what we’re hearing from consumers, is they want us to develop this resource in a way that has the least amount of impact on the environment, on air emissions, on water emissions, on impact on the land, and that is what everybody is focused on. And that’s why we’ve put forward a natural gas strategy, because we think that is one way in which we can support our industry, reduce overall emissions and impact, as well as be able to help consumers with the cost. It’s why when we’re looking at our development up in the oil sands, why we’re very supportive of technology being a way to solve the problems of using water, of having impact on the land, of eliminating tailings ponds – that was one of our proposals as well.

“We think part of the message we have to get out there is we’re not developing it in the same way we did in the past. So if you look at our actual policy, we have a lot of policy about ways in which we would reduce overall emission of toxic emissions and greenhouse gases, how we would improve our water quality and how we would address impacts on the land. So that’s what I think is important. That’s what I think Albertans want to hear.”

Our reporter asked some follow-up questions, trying to get clarification on whether Ms. Smith believes man-made actions are driving climate change. Here’s a portion of her response:

“I have always answered it that way, and nobody listens to that part of the answer. So if nobody wants to listen to that part of the answer, that’s the only part of the answer we’re going to give. That has always been my answer, and that never gets reported, so that’s the only answer you’re going to get.”

There were two politically incorrect statements made by party members during the election in Alberta. What, if any, screening methods of future party representatives have been put in place to prevent a reoccurrence? (Jade Mark, Edmonton)

“I think people are telling us they want us to be more careful about how we do our candidate selection, and I think that will happen. I mean, we’re a grassroots party and I can tell you any candidate that is now putting his name forward is going to face some pretty direct questions about how they would respond in the public domain if they’re asked questions about some of these controversial issues. And if their answers aren’t satisfactory, they probably won’t be able to win the support of their local candidate selection committee... When you get into public life, you’ve got to focus on the things that Albertans want you to run on. I think what Albertans see as the priority right now is rubbing out the ethical violations and corruption in this government, and it’s rife from top to bottom as we’ve seen over the past summer.”

What do you see as Alberta’s greatest waste of taxpayer revenue and how would you propose to reduce spending in that area? (Neil Bochon, Edmonton)

“I think there are two things. The biggest problem that we have in Alberta is that we don’t have spending discipline. If we just simply limited year-over-year spending increases, we would be in surplus right now. So what happens is that when money gets allocated into the administration, they hire more staff than they need to. They hire more staff into senior positions than they need to. They give higher salaries to senior staff than they need to and they give greater perks to those staff members than they need to.

“And that can’t be changed overnight but it can be changed in fairly short order because we have a huge number of our civil servants who will be retiring over the next 10 years. You just develop a new management structure – rather than have one manager for every three employees, let’s get back to the 1990s when we had one manager for every 16 front-line workers. That’s one of the big areas where I think this government, over the last 10 years, has lost its fiscal discipline and where it can get it back.

“So that’s one area. The other area is there’s something going quite wrong with how we’re doing infrastructure spending. And I can give one example. This Calgary south hospital [Calgary South Campus] started off as a $500-million project. We were told we had to forge ahead, because with the economy in decline we’d be able to get all these great prices on all these contractors who would be out of work. And the price ballooned from $500-million to $1.3-billion in a time where you would have expected that you would see some efficiencies, some gains. And this is happening across all of our infrastructure projects. It looks like we’re paying double or triple what we would expect to when we started out.

“So, there’s either [one of] two things going on. One could be that contractors are building a risk premium into building infrastructure here, and when you pull the rug out from under a project like Fort Macleod [where a planned police college was axed by the province], after you’ve already signed contracts, that’s the kind of risk premium that is only going to make our costs more expensive. Because if you sign deals, and you can’t trust the government to keep them, and they leave you high and dry, you’re going to end up with [a situation where] every contract, across the board, is going to have an additional premium. The second thing we’ve heard is that they make snap decisions and then they go to contractors and tell them to drop everything in order to get this project quickly built for political reasons. And once again, contractors will do that but they charge a premium when they do that. So I think that’s the second problem. And the third is they just continue to do change-orders. So, they put the specs out, get bids on a project, choose the lowest bid and then they come back and say ‘but, you need to change this, that and the other thing,’ which is causing an escalation in prices. So, I think that there are some huge, huge savings to be had on both of those areas.”

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