Votes for the Conservative nominee in the Macleod riding byelection are tabulated today, and the story of the campaign is not "hopefuls listen to residents."
The entire campaign has been usurped by the National Firearms Association, Canada's version of the National Rifle Association south of the 49th parallel. It has also been grabbed by right-wing media outlets trying to make a name for themselves in a new market. No surprise, as the agenda had already been pushed by right-wing provincial opposition leader Danielle Smith, who represents a section of Macleod provincially.
In the middle of it all, the residents of Macleod seem to have been left out in the frigid cold of February.
The main topics discussed should have been the backlog of our bumper crops due to rail competition, oil and gas markets, and flood mitigation. Other topics could have included innovations in our area in agriculture and small enterprise, the geographical and demographical diversity and "how can you represent people in Okotoks beside people in Crowsnest Pass or Lomond", or even the value the Conservative government places on veterans.
But they weren't. The "High River Gun Grab" was. And it was the only thing some candidates were talking about.
This seems odd, as every gun owner affected by the actions of the RCMP have never been unhappy about how the guns were handled, only the violent invasion of their privacy. A valid point and an important issue, but by no means is it the only issue nomination hopefuls should be discussing. It is also in stark contrast to the gun-toting whackadoodle image the NFA is portraying Macleod conservatives as. Perhaps the NFA forgot about the story of the "Nose Hill Gentleman"?
Scott Wagner spoke with me twice, and seemed to have a decent grasp on the issues, and although I didn't fully agree with them, kudos goes to him for making a concerted effort to connect with me (he is a very intelligent fellow). Phil Rowland's wife bombarded me with robocalls in the last week. Melissa Mathieson never once contacted me. I can't tell if I prefer Mathieson's or Rowland's tactic.
I was concerned about John Barlow at first, recalling that he ran as a Progressive Conservative candidate in the 2012 Alberta election. I also recalled how he presented himself in those forums. He was strong, articulate, and didn't shy from confrontation. He did, however, leave me wondering if he could be a positive force, or if he would fall victim to the childish bickering that we now see in both provincial and federal houses.
When he called me, I asked him about how he felt the tone of his provincial campaign went. He explained to me he was disappointed with how the Progressive Conservative party lowered themselves to the point where issues were no longer their focal point.
He hit the nail on the head. The issues must be forefront. And Barlow knew the major issues, and also knew some less obvious issues that matter to our residents. Barlow is the only one of these four nomination hopefuls who did not bow to the whims of a lobby group and right-wing media. He has his thumb on the pulse of the constituency, and stuck to talking about the issues, not just in person, but also in the media. With regards to the NFA's focal point, he stuck to his word; he said if new information came out suggesting an inquiry was warranted, he'd stand behind it, so when it did, he stood behind it.
A politician that stands by his/her word should be considered a valuable asset. But even more valuable is one who refuses to let lobbyists dictate the agenda, and rather let constituents dictate it.
And as a side-note, if you knew the level of discourse Barlow and his family was exposed to on his campaign Facebook page on the matter of the guns in High River, you would understand why I use the term "gun-toting whackadoodle".
So today is the last day for Conservative members to cast their ballots for their nominee. After today, we will know if Macleod conservatives really are the gun-toting whackadoodles the NFA paints them as, or if they thoughtfully consider more than just a single issue with an eye to the future.
And I, for one, am no gun-toting whackadoodle.
A recent column in the Calgary Sun suggested that Premier Alison Redford's announcement of policy on disaster relief funding for future floods was poorly timed, and not sensitive to the needs of High Riverites. "The premier truly is politically tone deaf," charges the Editorial.
Pot, meet kettle.
Imagine a scenario when you have been unable to enter your flood-ravaged home for 3 weeks, and when you finally do, nothing in your house is salvageable because of the high quantities of mould. You start cleaning up, and very shortly are asking "what for?" This is what thousands of High Riverites are doing as I type this.
Now imagine this scenario with no announcements from the province or municipal governments explaining what's next. Some people move away, because they can't handle the recovery. If they don't get disaster relief funding, they declare bankrupcy and hope for the best in the future. Others stay, use whatever funding they can get to return the house to liveable state, but will never be able to sell it because no government is saying whether or not they will be covered for future events. Then, 3 years later, after another political election, the government is in the "safe" zone and can make the controversially timed announcement that they will not get covered if they didn't move.
If that were to actually happen (which thankfully it won't), I would join the riots.
High Riverites are stronger people than the Calgary Sun gives us credit for. We don't need our Premier to stroke our hair and say "there there, there there." We need our Premier to say "don't build there again, and here's some relief funding to help you make that decision."
Good political decisions are those that are made in the best interests of all Albertans, regardless of the sensitivity of the timing.
Now this policy is a good one for all Albertans, not just High Riverites. Not making the announcement would have been far less sensitive to our needs.
That being said, the announcement is devoid of detail. We could look at the current Alberta Environment Flood Mapping application, but it is now badly out of date. Compare the two pictures below.
The first is Alberta Environment's Flood Mapping app. The second is a map of the affected areas in the Town of High River's re-entry plan. Notice how Alberta Environment said there was no risk of floods in the yellow, and yet that is where all the standing water is?
People who were in those yellow areas, yet still flooded out anyway, don't even know if they are in a flood plain or flood fringe zone. There was never any indication that they were in danger, so that's why they built there. Now what?
All levels of government need to double ... no, quintuple their efforts to get those flood mapping applications updated with current data, so those people who never expected flooding was a possibility will know whether or not that is still the case.
Then, when it comes to mitigation, we must make decisions that make sense.
The Province says "don't build in a flood plain". Assuming we know where that flood plain is, I'm sure every High Riverite will say "thanks, I hadn't figured that out yet."
But then the Province says "if you are in the flood fringe, fortify against floods." Then I see what Alberta Environment's idea of fortification looks like.
You don't need to be an engineer to see the problem here. If every municipality allowed the building of many flood proofed areas, floodway and flood fringe levels would rise, the flood hazard areas would change, and we'd be back to square one.
Simply flood proofing is obviously not the best course of action if it is the only course of action. There must be more. Building berms or dykes aren't the best options either for the same reason. The reason water levels rise is because they have nowhere else to go. You build a berm to prevent the water from flowing, it goes somewhere else. You build a dyke to divert the water, once it arrives at its destination, it still needs somewhere to go.
I'm no expert at this. But this much I can figure out for myself. There are experts elsewhere in the world that can help us out with this. Ask those who manage the mighty Mississippi. Ask those in the Netherlands who deal with floods regularly. Those along the Nile use floods to their advantage. Somebody out there can help us figure out how to manage our ever-changing climate, and the likelihood that this flood can happen again.
I'm glad for the announcement of flood relief policies. It tells us what to expect, and now we can plan for it. While the PCs missed a lot prior to the flood (namely sitting on a flood mitigation report), they at least got that part right. Now the real test is if they'll follow up on that policy and give us the details.
We need those details now. We need to demand it. If we have to wait six years for them, we won't be asking the PCs for it, because they won't have been elected again. We need that action, and we need it now.
And we need the patronization of High Riverites to stop. We don't need sensitivity. We need action.