The country-city balancing act

By Sara Hanson

In a historically rural province such as Alberta, it is vital that political candidates extend a hand to both the urban and rural sectors of society during election time.

While past elections may have been highlighted by stark divisions between the political priorities of the two sectors, the line between these priorities may be blurring in the face of the approaching provincial election. The quality and quantity of Alberta’s water supply is a primary concern for both urban and rural voters and, as a result, this issue is also at the forefront of priorities for election candidates in the Calgary-Varsity election district.

Alberta Liberal candidate Harry Chase has travelled throughout the rural areas of Ponoka, Drayton Valley, Nanton and Turner Valley attending various discussion forums with Alberta Liberal environmental critic David Swaan. He noted that a routine concern during these discussions was the quality of water, specifically in rural areas such as Camrose and Watasco, where at times gas leakage into water wells was so bad residents were able to light their tap water on fire.

“Whether urban or rural, water is becoming an important concern both politically and economically,” said Chase. “The municipalities need to come together. If there isn’t any planning, then the environment gets damaged in the process and so does the quality of life for all Albertans.”

Alberta New Democratic Party candidate Tim Stock-Bateman also acknowledged water as an important issue for voters.

“There can be no doubt our drive to exploit the oil reserves is so fierce that we have a terrible impact on our water supply,” he said. “This is clearly a rural issue, as the larger the impact we have on the environment, the less likely rural communities can depend on an adequate water supply.”

Despite criticisms against the government’s current water policies, Progressive Conservative candidate Jennifer Diakiw defended the government’s commitment to protecting the quality of Alberta’s water supply.

“We have one of the most comprehensive water policies in North America,” said Diakiw in relation to Water for Life, the government’s latest sustainable water strategy.

In addition to water concerns, Chase noted that both urban and rural voters expressed concern regarding the proposed powerline which would bring more electricity into Calgary.

“There have been objections, including from the City of Calgary,” he said. “The Liberal party would increase the opportunities for landowners’ voices to be heard in a hearing process.”

Diakiw expressed the PC party’s commitment to making sure the lights stay on.

“It’s very important that we meet the needs of Albertans,” she said. “This government is always committed to a balance of individual rights and the needs of the entire province.”

The imbalance created by over-representation in rural ridings as well as the impact of rapid sprawl on the livelihood of suburban communities are other concerns Stock-Bateman has heard from constituents. However, the increasingly transient nature of the provincial government has been the most pressing concern he has received thus far.

“More and more, we are talking to people who have lost faith in government,” said Stock-Bateman. “They think this is a government that has become complacent and lost perspective of constituents’ needs. We’ve lost the leadership of government. People want this to be an election about ideology, one that sha- pes the ideas and policies that go forward.”