Only in Alberta (OK, maybe Alberta and Quebec) could an organization like the Free Alberta Strategy host a political party’s leadership panel discussion.
According to YouTube numbers, about 1,900 people tuned in Thursday night to watch seven UCP leadership hopefuls field questions that touched on some of the Free Alberta Strategy’s cause célèbres: Should Alberta sign a sovereignty act to allow it to refuse federal laws? Should Alberta have its own pension plan? How to get pipelines built?
It was an event that didn’t get a lot of media attention, outside of Postmedia’s Don Braid. But we need to take this a little more seriously — seven candidates to replace Premier Jason Kenney were speaking to the hardest of the hardcore Tory base.
Danielle Smith was 100 per cent in on Alberta declaring sovereignty within confederation — which is a fancy way of saying Alberta should always have the right to say “hands off” when Ottawa makes laws that impact the province. Todd Loewen suggested Alberta should have its own constitution. But others weren’t as quick to support such a harsh move.
One of the moves that falls short of sovereignty, but sends a message to Ottawa that this province means business, is the formation of an Alberta police force, one that would replace the RCMP, which does much of the law enforcement outside of the cities.
Here’s where the candidates stood. Trigger warning: If you’re in the “defund the police” camp, there is nothing for you, here.
Danielle Smith: HARD YES
“We need to focus on the priorities of Albertans. Rural property crime, of course, has been mentioned. But we also know that gang violence, organized crime, human trafficking, violent crime, those should be our policing priorities.”
And then it became about gun control.
“What I am worried about, with the federal government coming through with aggressive legislation on handguns and other firearms, that they’re going to be targeting our law-abiding sports shooters and hunting community, and that’s not the priority for Albertans, and that’s why we need an Alberta provincial police.”
Travis Toews: YES
“I think there’s merit to have an Alberta police force that is actually accountable to the Alberta government and ultimately accountable to Albertan. Certainly we could have a less bureaucratic police force. That would lead to better enforcement.”
He said that it would cost more than the RCMP, and that it would take time to convince rural Albertans that it’s a better option. To him, it’s not a “day one” job for the new premier.
Todd Loewen: YES
Loewen stated his support, but his reasoning was cut off because he had a hard time connecting with the virtual meeting. Technology!
Brian Jean: SOFT YES
“This one is a bit more complicated than people actually recognize. I agree with the idea in principle, provided that in implementing it, we don’t end up with fewer police officers. That’s what I am really afraid of. Right now, in rural Alberta and small-town Alberta, there is just not enough police.”
He’s worried that RCMP officers and other law enforcement agents would not move over to a new provincial police force. If he was premier, he’d start by offering a provincial force to small cities and larger towns currently served by the RCMP, which would allow the RCMP to focus on rural regions.
Rebecca Schulz: LEANING YES, BUT IT HAS TO GO BACK TO ALBERTANS
“We do know that issues like safety in major centres like Edmonton… rural crime, these are major issues. In the meantime, $180 million, could put a heck of a lot of boots on the ground to address these issues. But I think we need to have a real talk with Albertans about it.”
Rajan Sawhney: BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
“I’ve heard from some rural communities that have been deeply impacted by rural crime that have been eager to move to a provincial police force, like Quebec and Ontario have. But, on the other hand, rural municipalities have expressed serious concerns and have said our current plans raise serious questions.”
She thinks that, before making any decisions, the government needs to do a better job of talking to Albertans about the need for a provincial police force.
But she criticized the Lethbridge Police for using resources back in 2018 to spy on then-NDP environment minister Shannon Phillips. “It’s the kind of behaviour we only expect in a banana republic. I was horrified and remain horrified with it.”
Leela Aheer: NEED TO TALK ABOUT POLICE BEFORE WE CHANGE THE POLICE
“Our police officers are both law enforcers and social workers, and we’re not providing adequate training for those sorts of things. Also, where are the resources going to come from? Everybody keeps saying that it might cost only $180 million, but I am not satisfied with that number or that commitment.”
Aheer was the only candidate to mention the need to consult with First Nations about any changes to police services in the province.
Savvy AF. Blunt AF. Edmonton AF.