Like its neighbouring riding to the east, Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock has just three contenders in the 2015 provincial election.
Incumbent Maureen Kubinec is representing the Progressive Conservatives, joined by fellow Westlock County farmer Glenn van Dijken representing the Wildrose Party and Morinville’s Tristan Turner from the New Democrats.
The large rural riding sits just north of St. Albert, stretching a few hundred kilometres to encompass all of Westlock County and parts of the municipal district of Lesser Slave River to the north and the County of Barrhead, Woodlands County and the town of Swan Hills to the northwest. It includes the Sturgeon County communities of Morinville, Legal, Cardiff and Riviere Qui Barre.
According to Elections Alberta, there are 28,085 eligible voters in the riding, close to the provincial average of 29,231. Major industries within the riding include agriculture and forestry, with some energy sector industries as well.
The riding was created as part of the 2004 electoral boundaries redistribution, prior to which most of the area fell within the former Barrhead-Westlock riding.
In the 2004 and 2008 elections long-time PC MLA Ken Kowalski, who had also served as a cabinet minister before spending many years as Speaker, won the riding by a significant margin, but following his retirement he was replaced by PC Maureen Kubinec in 2012.
She faced stiff competition from the late Link Byfield representing the Wildrose, but managed to defeat him by more than 300 votes. They took 44.7 and 42.7 per cent of the vote, respectively, distantly trailed by New Democrat Trudy Grebenstein (5.9 per cent), Liberal Leslie Penny (5.6 per cent) and Evergreen Lisa Grant (1.1 per cent).
The issues within the riding are not significantly different than issues within other rural ridings in the province, including infrastructure and access to education and health care.
Kubinec said she sees the biggest priority in the riding for the next MLA is “finding the right balance of living within our means and meeting the needs of the people.”
She said services have been squeezed as a result of a rapidly growing population, which is stretching existing resources.
“We’ve got more people than we have facilities and care spaces, because of that growing population,” she said, adding while she’s heard those concerns she has also heard residents in emergency situations have been able to get the care they need.
Kubinec added the condition of local roads is another area of concern she has heard from residents while campaigning.
For Wildrose candidate van Dijken, the biggest issue is ensuring a strong economy, with everything in terms of service delivery following from that.
“The biggest issue is essentially securing jobs for the future,” he said. “I believe that comes first and foremost with being fiscally responsible in securing an environment that’s ripe for investment.”
He suggested encouraging more investment in the riding’s primary industries including agriculture, forestry, and energy, would bring in the kinds of revenues needed to pay for the kinds of services Albertans expect.
“The best way to get to that opportunity is to protect our investment climate and make sure we have the jobs and industry that will generate wealth that can provide those opportunities,” van Dijken said.
Turner said he sees the main priorities in the riding as ensuring the promises of the previous government are kept, with specific emphasis on education in the riding.
“People are concerned about the size of classrooms in the riding and the availability of rural education,” he said. “In Morinville there’s still no public high school, so kids have to be bussed away quite a distance if they want a public education.”
He said he’s also especially concerned about road infrastructure in the riding, noting the once-promised overpass at the Cardiff corner has been shelved. He acknowledged there is an ongoing legal challenge with respect to securing land for the project, but suggested the current government isn’t doing enough on that front.
“It’s a convenient excuse for them not to follow up on their promises,” he said.