Pincher Creek Voice - Coffee Break with MLA Pat Stier

Coffee break with MLA Pat Stier, January 2013

Pat Stier
C. Davis file photo
Chris Davis, Pincher Creek Voice

Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier was passing by Pincher Creek on Monday morning, January 21 on his way to the Crowsnest Pass. We met up over a couple of cups of coffee at the local Timmies. Pat Stier is the MLA for the Livingstone-Macleod riding (which includes Pincher Creek and area) and is the Wildrose Party's Sustainable Resource Development Critic. 

In the interests of brevity, the questions I asked have been shortened and synopsized, and serve as headers to the topics Mr. Stier discussed. 

Q: So what brings you this way today?

Pat Stier: There are a number of senior centres in the region and they have all been, of course, concerned with the current state of their own properties. A lot of these are older premises that need upgrading. A lot of them don't meet current code, and there are essentially older things that need updating for other reasons too, like expansion or being able to take advantage of newer technology, whether it be in their kitchens, or in their bathing areas, or various other service areas.

Earlier this year when I was going around talking to various other stakeholders I made sure to touch base with them, to see where they're at. I found that a lot of them were out applying for grants for these types of things. At the same time, we're looking at how we can be effective as an opposition party in helping these things along and being sure these things are being processed. So I wanted to find out from everybody what to do in the spring, summer and fall. We tried to get that information together to supply to the Assistant Financial Ministers Office. I indicated to that gentleman, Kyle Fawcett (MLA), that Pincher Creek, Crowsnest, and Claresholm (facilities) were in dire need of improvement.

Since that time I understand that a couple of these applications have gone through the process and have been denied. It hasn't come to as much a surprise to me. As you might recall when we met before (click here for that interview), I was worried about this government's vision, and I was worried about possible things they were going to do when they got closer to realizing they weren't going to have the revenues they needed to carry on with the spending (pace) they were going at. I remember in one instance I was warning a municipality very clearly that they should keep an eye on what's happening, because we don't want to lose a lot of ambitions they had for growth in their community because of this.

So I was called down by one of these seniors centres, and I'm going to leave the name out of it for now, because they have been denied. I'm having meetings with them today.

I'm also meeting with some people who are doing some tourism activities in the Crowsnest Pass that want to get approvals for their facilities too. I want to make sure I'm apprised as to what they're really after there, and see if there is anything I can possibly do to help them see that come, because tourism is important, especially in the Crowsnest Pass. It's one of the few industries left there, and we have to ensure those kind of things are carried on with. 

I want to make sure that I'm informed before I go back to Edmonton in March. When we're talking about budget, I want to  try to make sure that they know what our priorities are. 
Q: Hard times ahead for Alberta?
Pat Stier: I'm worried about the budget. I think there's going to be some really, really, really deep cuts.
That's not unjustified, I think. Everybody who reads media today, whether its newspapers or internet, knows it looks like there's going to be some very difficult times in Alberta because of the way the government has been managing the budget.
Q: Is it an oil-based problem

Pat Stier: They're saying it is, but you know, that's the elephant in the room that we've had for 30 years. I used to be in oil and gas, and we know it's a peaks-and-valleys type environment. An unusual thing has happened in the past year. In all respect to them, it's difficult to manage a budget when you get a lot of your revenue from oil and gas. but it's not the only revenue. It makes up a large portion of the revenue, but it doesn't make it up all of it. The major industry that we always rely on in Alberta is gas, and our natural gas industry has changed drastically. From being $13.00 per billion cubic feet of gas to $3.00 now. It's been in the tank for years though.

Our main commodity has flown the coop, and it's expected to be that way for years because we've improved our technology.  We can find gas easier, we can squeeze it out of the ground easier. The US is having the same good luck with that. They haven't had to run to us to buy a lot of their gas.  We've lost a lot of market share.

The elephant in the room that I mentioned is we have to get more diversified. This government needs to recognize that. In the meantime, however, they need to alter their spending. If you're managing your house, and suddenly you lose one major revenue stream, (for example) one person's no longer working, you have to make decisions. This government has to make decisions, and they should have done that a long time ago. They should not have come out with an optimistic budget like they did. We suspect they did that because the election was coming up. They won't admit that, of course.

 So I'm down here trying to let people know that we'll carry the message that we can with their grant applications, and we'll try to follow up and make sure they're getting a fair hearing on it, but we're also telling people that they may have to wait a while with what we're hearing now.

If you look to the local municipal needs, local municipalities, whether it's Towns, Villages, or rural MDs, really rely on funding through the MSI program from the government. To keep the roads maintained, to look after infrastructure in their own communities...

What I'm worried about is that a lot of that funding may be curtailed for some time now because of the current government's problems. It's been in the paper, it's not just my word, it's their words too. I'm very concerned about that. We've become sort of spoiled in Alberta, and I'll use that term for lack of a better one. There are a lot of places, closer to the cities of course, that have dust free roads. They have oil-surface roads, or they have maintainable road oil, MRO roads. One guy gets it, the next guy gets it. We've gotten used to having high expectations. When you travel to different areas you see a difference in their roads, you see a difference in their infrastructure. It's very noticeable. The public demands a certain level and they have a certain level of expectations.

We're seeing, and hearing complaints. The government is looking at every corner for ways to cut. And that would include refusals on new applications for things, we imagine. We expect that's what's gong to happen. and we expect there's going to be an awful lot of belt tightening in a lot of areas that will surprise people. People have had goals, ambitions and dreams to have certain things, and we're going to have to learn how to do without.

Are we going to go back to Ralph days of knocking down hospitals? Probably not, but we think there is going to be some things that we're going to be bringing to the table that they should look at, that we believe are wasteful spending items, as ways to solve this problem, for now.

We bring in more money in this province than any other province. We spend more per capita than any other province. Why are we in this situation? It really comes down to government making these decisions that were not cost effective, or perhaps toward certain goals and ambitions of that party.

We think also, by the way, the carbon capture program that spends 2.5 billion dollars is wasteful spending, and not a proven technology.  We would probably refute that one and put it on the back burner. Until that technology is proven and shown to be worthwhile, people would rather have more health systems, more facilities for seniors, better education situations, rather than experimenting with trying to pump CO2 down into the ground to see if it'll address the so called green situation as being harmful to the environment.

Alberta has had the advantage of not having a sales tax, Alberta has had the advantage of having some of the lowest taxes in Canada on certain things, to provide some entrepreneurial incentives. We need to carry on with incentives. That's a big thing. the elephant in the room is to try and get more diversified. It will be interesting to see how these people deal with these crisis items.
Q: Upcoming challenges for the Wildrose party
Pat Stier: The experience we've had in the past eight months has been a wonderful experience. It's been a learning experience for us because there's a lot of us like myself that are rookies in the provincial government world and new to the House, new to the procedures, but we're learning very quickly how to be effective and we've had some great people come and help us with that. It's going really well, we think. We're the official opposition and we're trying to make a difference and make sure that the government is being held accountable.

We're a new party and we have to refine our policies and add in new policies. We are right now getting ready for our policy AGM coming up in the spring.

At the same time we're getting ready for 2016.  The election is coming up and we want to ensure we have the right people in place for that, and the right constituency associations, and the right blend of back up staff and research people, and all the people we'll need to help with that. It's been great, and we're looking forward to getting on with that job, but in the meantime we've got to get busy with budget preparations coming down in a few weeks time.

Q: Budget crisis?

Pat Stier: As most people know, it's not a secret, that's for sure, the government has had issues the last few months, We've been pointing them out, the media's been pointing them out.  Our major concern is of course is the fiscal situation that the government finds itself in now.
We warned them, we complained about them, and you folks in the media complained about the budget they presented a year ago now.  It was called by the media the "Alison Wonderland Budget".  The media was strong on it, we were strong on it, because it was based on expectations that we felt were very questionable.  We felt it wasn't based on good conservative estimates, It was based on a very optimistic set of estimates.  We are right now looking over all the estimates for the budget for 2013.
We're really concerned about what this government is going to do with this new budget coming in March, and we're getting our ducks in order for that. 
In 2016, we're hoping that this thing can hopefully be straightened out by that time. Otherwise, we'll be handed a whole set of difficulties to overcome, and a lot of challenges, if we don't do something about it now. 

Q: Castle Logging /South Saskatchewan Regional Plan

Pat Stier: If you've followed that story, and I'm sure you have, the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan has been out as a planning document for public consultation for the past couple, three months now. Various people have attended those sessions and open houses. If you've had an opportunity to look at those at that time, there are huge areas that are being blocked off as future conservation areas. In those areas there will be huge new restrictions on what you can or can't do in the future with your land.
Most people who are looking at that, like the Castle Logging Coalition group, are embracing it heavily as they see it as a tool for them to protect even further their own areas.  With these conservation policies contained in the new plan, they see that as a win for them.
On the other side of the coin is there are a lot of land owners and land owner groups that are very worried about the changes in their property values and worried about what they'll be able to do with their land under this new plan if it's approved as it is. I see an enormous amount of farmers, ranchers, and property owners overall throughout southern Alberta that will be faced with a lot of new rules that they didn't have before on what they can do with their land in the future.
We're trying to get out there and talk to those groups and make them aware of this, and we're going to be talking about this in our caucus meetings in the next couple of weeks up in Edmonton, to develop an information strategy to let people know what's coming up and give them fair warning, and draw to their attention and heighten the awareness of these new changes that the public may or may not have because a lot of people don't know anything about it. 

I used to work with land use planning, being a former councillor and a land planning agent.

Most people don't involve themselves until it comes on their own table, their own property.

All the municipal development planning in a municipality, whether it's a town, village, local county, or municipal district, has to pay attention to what comes out on a regional plan, and they have to alter their plans for the future for their own municipalities to match those goals and policies that are contained in those planning documents, which are statutory plans.  That means, therefore, the rules may  no longer allow certain types of applications to come forward for industrial operations or commercial operations or perhaps even exploration and mining operations.  That suddenly changes how that person's property could be valued.
For the urbans, the way they grow in the future could be affected by that plan.  So urban areas should consider what's contained in that plan and how future growth will happen in their community.  They should make themselves aware of what could possibly impact them.  
Q: Cancelled Fort Macleod Police College  

Pat Stier: It was poorly managed, right from the get-go from the Provincial Government side of things. 

I'm still fully in support of that project, I think it makes very good sense today.

They had all the ceremonies, they had all the sod turnings, they did all this and that, they made all the promises, they authorized the signed contracts for all this to go through, and then they pulled the rug at the ninth hour.  How would I feel if I was the MLA and had to do that? I am thankful that I'm part of the opposition in that respect. I can't imagine how I would feel, how I could stand up for my government if they did such a thing. It was already started. They had the contracts done.

Yes, the town council will be satisfied, it sounds like.  The Municipality and the town will be happy with their agreement, to some extent, and let's get on with life.

I think the real story is the people who had their own personal investments and expectations and dreams for the future.  The people who expanded their restaurants, or had started other entrepreneurial ideas to build and grow that community. The whole community was thrown out with the bathwater that day, and there is no compensation for that.  What a demoralizing thing to have happen and my heart goes out to every one of them.

The government today still has not come down and apologized for what they have done. They haven't come down and had a public meeting with people there.  They have come down and finally cleared up the deal with (Fort Macleod's) council, but what about the people?

Most people would say that decision was based on the budget, and it was based on a way for the two larger urbans to be able to grab money and make sure that they still get budgeted items, which they feared would not have much money for them.   They wanted to make sure they had the funds to carry on, and they didn't care about anybody else.

Q: Centralizing of emergency services?

Pat Stier: This is a classic example where central planning, whether it's land planning or emergency services or any of these other things don't work. 

I can remember when I was on council from '04 to '07 in Foothills when all of this stuff was coming down, and the government was going to take this all over and we had our own Emergency Services in our area called FREMS (Foothills Regional Emergency Services). We had our own ambulances, and it was very efficient.   We had our own dispatchers. They knew where township road such and such was. This whole thing has been a gong show in the five, six years since. Why they went to this I have no clue.

They tried to implement it during my tenure on Foothills, and they had to back off on their timelines, because they couldn't make it work even in their basic planning then. Now they're trying to implement this thing and all our fears are being realized. Delay times, there was a huge article in the Calgary Sun yesterday about the fears of the Calgary Ambulance Service and the paramedics. (They) were speaking out themselves sitting around in emergency wards with patients, when they could be back out on the road. Having Amber Alerts every few hours, because they are all with the flu and they're all sitting in these waiting rooms. 

They tried it with the super board for health, they tried it with the local education boards.
They are weaning a bit of power out of local areas and putting it into one central system.  We don't believe in that.  Our party has always been hinging on returning local authority back.  When you look at all these initiatives they tried to go with in health, we have got to have local autonomy, we have got to get local input back where it was. 

These are huge, huge issues, and we've done a lot of struggling to come up with the right tool kit to make it all work. But it's obvious too, with what we're hearing through the media, that what they have got in place has got a lot of problems, so we need to do something, soon. Because to sit back and do nothing would be wrong. 

Rural health hinges on transportation. We have imaging technology, we can actually find what's wrong with a person very quickly if have the right equipment and it's accessible.  In rural Alberta they have to travel many, many hours to get to that equipment.
Local control means better efficiency, and that's the bottom line, whether it's the school board having more local control, the health system having more local control, or Emergency services.
Q: The differences between representing constituents on a local level council compared to on a provincial level as an MLA

Pat Stier: There is a lot of differences in the way that legislation is done at a provincial level versus local level, and I think that was a surprise to me. Even having been experienced in working with the province to some extent on council. How bills are actually processed in legislature, and how that whole thing is done is a bit of a new experience for me. The question period portion, which is really, unfortunately, mostly what you folks in the media really get to monitor, is a minor part of it. It is the most controversial part of it. It lasts for 50 minutes in the legislature, and that's when we as the opposition get to ask questions of the government: "Why this, why that?".

What the press doesn't monitor or follow very much is the legislative process. After 3:00 we go to debate on bills that have been presented by the government, and we go into three different processes of those bills. T-1 and 2 reading, Committee of the Whole...  There are committees I sit on in another building for other focuses, other things.

Part of the Bill process I wasn't clear on.  I got straightened out on it pretty quick.  Committee of the Whole is the whole house openly debating on different aspects of a bill that's been presented through first and second reading. I wasn't aware of how that worked. and I wasn't aware at the time of how sometimes MLAs have to use stalling tactics during those sessions to allow themselves more time to study various aspects. It was very frustrating to sit through all these endless conversations that are essentially nonsense while the government was stalling, while some of the opposition parties have to stall, while their legal and research teams do research on the bills. It's not the case where you're given a bill today, and it's not going to come up in three months, no, it's not the case.

Trying to get something effective going there, where there is potentially 87 people there to talk is very challenging.

You would never say anything on council that wasn't relevant to that precise moment, and to the precise question that was raised. Sometimes these various speakers are having to put together stuff to allow for enough debate to get these things argued, essentially.

Because we have a minority opposition between ourselves, the NDP, and the Liberals.  No matter how many amendments we came up with that we thought were good amendments to the bills that were presented, the government wouldn't pass any of them. That was frustrating, because we had looked through a lot of the bills that were presented to us.

There was a whistle blower legislation, the scrap dealers thing, there was the energy bill, which was a huge bill, about how they wanted to streamline the approval system in the oil and gas business.  There were various other bills that don't come to mind right now, the Education Act was in there, home warranty stuff was in there, we debated on all of these bills.

Each one of these bills we essentially took apart clause by clause, and struck out words, and tried to send them to our legal department to suggest better ways to do this. Of the ten bills, opposition came up with over 120 amendments that we felt had to be in there, ourselves, the NDs, and the Liberals. They finally only accepted two of 120 amendments. They folded their arms, and said, "No, we're not doing it".  

That was a major frustration, having good amendments to all these bills and having them ignored.
Matter of fact, during some of those debates on bills, the government members were actually turning around, visiting with neighbours, and totally ignoring our speakers. That was a frustration. You never saw that on a municipal council. You would never think of doing that in a local council. But in a Provincial chambers, and you see it sometimes too in Ottawa, that's just the way the Parliament is. It's just disgusting. Standing up and ripping papers, in the middle of someone speaking, just to be abusive.

Question period is another thing I was appalled at when I first came in, and I'm still appalled at it. It's a spot where we put questions to the government as an opposition, and the ND's and the Liberals do the same. The responses to those questions are totally sometimes nothing to do with what the question was. It is an opportunity for the government to put out platitudes on something, often not in reference to the question. Sometimes we asked questions, particularly of the Premier, and she would never answer. I was appalled by that. She is the Premier of the province. I believe that she should be responding to questions that are posed to her.  Another thing I was appalled at was she barely has ever stayed there  longer than 2:15 (pm), that I remember, for any session or date. Question period starts at ten to two. She barely ever goes beyond ten after, and then she's gone. There's more questions we have for the Premier, and she's not there.  Even when she is there, it's either the Solicitor General, or the Government House Leader, or the Deputy Premier answering, and we think that is just deplorable.

Q: Would that situation be different if Wildrose became the governing party?

Pat Stier: Wildrose is different, and I'll give you an example. Wildrose allows independent voting on our team. We are not required to vote with the party, and as a matter of fact in some of the bills, particularly in the whistle blower legislation, there was stuff we liked in the whistle blower legislation. there were clauses we didn't like.When it came down to finally voting on the whistle blower legislation there were three or four of us out of the 17 that stood up and voted for the legislation.  The rest of us voted against. 
 We would, in our party, do the same thing. On the government side, we would look to the legislation we wanted to put in, hopefully have it honed well, and be something that we would all be in favour of, but we would still allow an independent vote on this. This is part of our baseline policy, it is in our constitution.

Pincher Creek Voice - Coffee Time with MLA Pat Stier