Blog | May 24, 2013

By Sarah O'Donnell, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON-Progressive Conservatives from across Alberta will meet in Edmonton this weekend to wrangle over potential policy changes and pitch new ideas.The PC Association of Alberta’s policy conference will begin Friday night with a speech from Premier Alison Redford, party executive director Kelley Charlebois said. After that, the point is to give the grassroots membership behind the ruling party a chance to propose new ideas or changes to the party’s current platforms.“What the policy conference is really about is to give people an opportunity to discuss issues they may have an opinion on and test the water as to where other people in the party are at,” he said.There won’t be any final decisions on policy changes at this conference, where each constituency association will be represented by six delegates. But from there, constituency associations can craft policy proposals to submit for a vote at the PC party’s fall annual general meeting.For now, the sessions are described in broad terms around subjects such as health, post-secondary education, land use, taxation and PC party operations. Redford also will participate in a question-and-answer session with delegates on Saturday.Though the event is organized by the political party, it will be watched with interest by political observers. It will be the first policy conference under Redford’s leadership. The conference also comes in advance of a mandatory leadership review for Redford at the party’s fall meeting, which will measure how Tories feel about her performance after two years in the job.Edmonton-Southwest MLA Matt Jeneroux, one of the party’s caucus liaisons, said he believes delegates will focus their energies on policy, rather than the politics of a leadership review still several months away.“It’s definitely more about the policy and where we see ourselves as a party,” Jeneroux said. “It’s a good chance to refresh, get together, talk about particular policy items.”The first-term MLA said his constituency association plans to bring forward a policy proposal that resembles the private member’s bill he sponsored in the legislature that passed in May, amending the Employment Standards Act to allow Albertans eight weeks of leave from work to care for a dying family member.Members of his relatively young, suburban constituency also have a particular interest in policy discussions related to new schools or community infrastructure such as playgrounds, he said.Service Alberta Minister Manmeet Bhullar, another PC caucus liaison to the party, said he is hoping for “a lot of great, robust open discussion, where party members from across the province come together and put their thinking caps on.”He said he wouldn’t presume to guess what party members will bring to the convention but expects to hear something about market access.“Our party members are very, very driven to make sure that Alberta remains the competitive jurisdiction that it is, where we have such a robust economy,” Bhullar said. “So I know market access has been on the minds of many members." He doesn’t expect the policy-making process to change much as Tories face a political competition from the right-wing Wildrose party.“We are going to continue to govern in a way that is best for everyday Albertans, who are working hard and building the best lives they can,” Bhullar said.While Tories from across Alberta meet inside the Radisson South Hotel, a protest is planned outside Saturday in the style of a block party.Public Interest Alberta’s executive director Bill Moore-Kilgannon said organizers of “Block the Party” want to challenge PC party members on the cuts and changes being delivered through the 2013-14 budget as they debate policy ideas that will affect the province for years to come.Moore-Kilgannon said he expects people with a wide range of concerns at the protest ranging from Albertans worried about reforms to elder care or the Persons with Developmental Disabilities program to those frustrated by cuts to post-secondary education funding.Buses are being organized from as far away as Lethbridge to bring people to the lunchtime protest, a two-hour event with music and an array of mock stations mimicking activities someone might see at a traditional block party like a dunk tank to “dunk post-secondary education.”Kids also will be able to make their own bitumen bubble, Moore-Kilgannon said, a nod to the phrase Redford introduced to Albertans in January to describe the discount Alberta received for its oil compared to the North American benchmark.“It’s about showing how the political decisions being made around the budget are impacting on real people, their families and their communities,” Moore-Kilgannon said. “While these mock booths are kind of funny and tongue-in-cheek, the reality for Albertans who are impacted by these cuts is anything but funny.”With files from Karen [email protected]/scodonnellRead the article at The Edmonton Journal, © Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal