Stelmach hounded by protestors
Posted by mhudema on February 21, 2008
|Jason Fekete, with files from Michelle Lang and Tony|
Conservative Leader Ed Stelmach weathered another political storm on Tuesday, dogged by protesters, tight poll results in Calgary and warnings the health system is nearing its breaking point.
Stelmach’s economic diversification announcement in Calgary was overshadowed by Calgary Health Region officials demanding $115 million from the province to pay off its deficit and ease a health staffing and bed crisis.
“We won’t be able to move forward without their support,” health region CEO Jack Davis said Tuesday at a board meeting. “There is really not, at this stage, an acceptable alternative.
“The longer we delay acting, the greater the issue becomes.”
The CHR salvo came as a new poll indicates Stelmach is enjoying a comfortable lead province-wide, but the Tories are fighting off a growing Liberal tide in Calgary.
“The most important poll, it’s judgment day — March 3,” Stelmach told reporters.
An Ipsos Reid survey of 804 Albertans, conducted for Global TV, found 39 per cent of respondents across the province support the Progressive Conservatives, compared to 22 per cent for the Liberals and 11 per cent for the NDP.
The Wildrose Alliance nabbed four per cent support and the Alberta Greens three per cent.
About 18 per cent of those surveyed said they are undecided or won’t vote, while three per cent refused to answer.
Poll numbers reveal the Tories are losing ground in Calgary — receiving the backing of 33 per cent of city residents — compared to 27 per cent for the Liberals.
While the Tory leader enters the second half of the election campaign hoping to swing momentum in Calgary, CHR officials delivered their own judgment.
Health region board member Mairi Matheson said she’s alarmed about the state of the system. “We absolutely must do something now,” she said.
Health Minister Dave Hancock said the region’s money request will be examined later this week.
While the Tories look to avoid a health-care crisis in Calgary, Ipsos Reid pollster Kyle Braid says the city already is a fierce battleground.
“Calgary, the city, is definitely competitive for the Liberals,” said Braid.
However, he noted “the Tories appear well on their way to another majority.”
Despite battles inside Calgary, the Tories are faring better in Edmonton (38 per cent for the PCs, compared to 22 per cent for the Liberals) and still solidly own rural Alberta.
The Ipsos Reid telephone poll was conducted Feb. 14-17 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, while the Calgary breakdown has a margin of error of 5.7 points.
The survey also found 28 per cent of Albertans “feel good about their choice of party or candidate.”
The Tory leader said polls simply capture “a picture of the moment” and don’t necessarily reflect the outcome on election day. Campaigning in Calgary, Stelmach found himself competing for air time with his old boss, Ralph Klein.
In releasing a new energy paper with the Fraser Institute, Klein said regulatory certainty is needed and that Stelmach’s decision to overhaul oil and gas royalties changed “the rules in the middle of the game.”
Klein predicted Tuesday in an interview the PCs will retain their majority government, but that it will be “significantly reduced” by Liberal gains outside the urban areas.
Political analysts agreed.
“The Tories will have to fight for everything in Calgary,” said David Taras, a professor at the University of Calgary, noting a PC majority is likely because of rock-solid support in rural areas.
Hoping to shore up his party’s loosening grip on Calgary, Stelmach spent Tuesday campaigning in the riding of Calgary-Varsity, most recently held by Liberal candidate Harry Chase.
On the campaign trail, Stelmach pledged to invest in research and technology and offer economic development tax breaks to private and public organizations.
He promised to introduce a 10 per cent scientific research and experimental development tax credit, as well as create an enterprise fund to attract private venture capital for emerging industries.
“Investments in research and development will pay big dividends down the road,” he said at the University of Calgary’s research park.
The 10 per cent tax credit would cost $150 million annually and be available to any private or public business or organization that meets a set of criteria. The enterprise fund would attract dollars from private and institutional investors to provide venture capital that could be accessed by Alberta companies.
While Stelmach looks to build his support base in Calgary, he’s having difficulty ditching a growing problem on the campaign trail — environmental protesters.
Greenpeace activists worried about oilsands developments tailed him into an organic foods store while Stelmach was doing a meet-and-greet in the riding, the second consecutive day the environmental group invaded one of his campaign stops.
Two protesters quietly followed him throughout the store. One held a “Stop the tar sands” placard and the other a pledge card asking Stelmach to agree to “take the first step to saving our planet” and forbid new oilsands projects.
As he left the store, Stelmach engaged in debate with 18-year-old Anna Gerrard, one of the activists, who said it’s economically possible to implement hard emission targets in Alberta — at a cost of $3.1 billion to the economy.
“Who’s going to pay the $3.1 billion . . . From seniors? Who does it come from,” Stelmach asked.