By Stephen Dafoe
Riviere Qui Barre – With the close of nominations Friday, well known columnist, editor and publisher Link Byfield was acclaimed as the Wildrose Alliance’s candidate for the Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock riding. Byfield is best known for his 18 years as editor and publisher of the Alberta Report, for being the founder of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and for being one of the founding members of the Wildrose Party when it began three years ago.
Although Byfield ran and won as an independent in the 2004 Senator in waiting elections, he became involved in the formation of the Wildrose Party in the summer of 2007 and remained active through their merger with the Alberta Alliance in 2008.
In a 2009 column in the Western Standard, Byfield came out in support of Smith during her bid for the party leadership, identifying Smith’s views as libertarian and his own as being socially conservative. But Byfield is no fan of political labels, particularly because he feels they have limited meaning and little utility.
“The meaning of a social conservative is somebody who is basically homophobic, [a] right-wing bigot, probably goes to church and hasn’t had a thought since he was six years old,” Byfield said. “That’s sort of the cliché of the social conservative. The libertarian is a kind of anarchist who believes in property and nothing else. That’s the cliché they have.”
Byfield explained neither stereotype is accurate and certainly does not reflect the views of Smith, himself or the majority of those currently in the party. But there is still a perception that the Wildrose Alliance is made up of the stereotypical social conservative, a falsehood the candidate said is clear to those inside the party, but less so to the general public.
“That’s our challenge, isn’t it?” Byfield said. “We have to make sure people understand where we stand on things and where we don’t stand on things, and the cliché that one inevitably brings with one into politics is something that you have to get past. And I think that is the biggest part of the communications job of the party, is to make sure people know what to expect and what not to worry about.”
Byfield concurs with Smith’s opinion that it is better for the party to not focus on the degree to which it tilts right but on how grass roots it is.
“Albertans are not all that right wing,” Byfield said, noting they’re not particularly left wing either. “They try to be practical about things, and sometimes that leads towards collective solutions on things like Medicare. And sometimes it leaves the individual free. That’s the sort of Alberta norm.”
Byfield said it is within that norm that the Wildrose Alliance operates and will continue to work. The candidate said democracy is of greater importance to his party than just about anything else.
“We’re not trying to revolutionize Alberta society,” Byfield said. “We’re actually just trying to restore what was always best about the Tories and about the Social Credit and going all the way back to the Liberals. There were certain things about Alberta that drew people to this province and we think we’re pretty clear what they are in a modern-day context. And that’s what we want to make sure is in there for people so that they feel there’s a proper degree of self government.”
Byfield, like other members of his party, is critical of the Stelmach government, particularly on issues related to property rights, health care and even democracy itself. The candidate said the government refuses to set fixed election dates as six other Canadian provinces do.
With no official date on the horizon for Alberta’s next provincial election, Byfield is uncertain when he will have his chance to wrestle the MLA seat from the Conservatives. What is more certain is who he will face when the time comes. When the provincial boundaries were altered and Riviere Qui Barre became part of the Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock riding, Byfield’s sights became set on long-serving MLA and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Ken Kowalski.
“The challenge I face is he knows way more people in this constituency than I do,” Byfield said of his future opponent. “He’s been elected eight times. I’ve never been elected at all, except to the Senate and that’s not the same. Given that he’s been the MLA for so very long, he knows the local issues and priorities with an intimacy that I have yet to master. But I will. I’m not that worried about it.”
While Byfield is confident that he can soon learn the concerns on the back roads and paved roads of the communities the constituency includes, he feels the real issue in the next election will be on those issues that cross municipal boundaries.
“The issue that I’m hearing is we’ve got to do something about this government, and that means we have to change the MLAs,” Byfield said. “This thought process is well underway in our riding and many others.”
The Wildrose candidate said power lines and property rights are two issues that will be of great concern to voters in the Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock riding, as will be the issue of health care, which will be of concern to all Albertans.
“It’s our riding and every other riding that’s going through the same dilemma – how do you save the public system?” Byfield said, noting the Conservatives solutions have not worked and have tended to make things worse. “They pour money into the top of the system but somehow it doesn’t get down to the bottom of the system. It would be a mistake to say the system is in complete disarray because it is not. But there are serious problems. You’ve got people waiting for a year or more in pain while the system dithers around. That’s got to get fixed and the Tories show no ability or inclination to fix it.”
Byfield said he believes the reason the government has not fixed the system is because they are afraid of losing political control and credit for being the operators of the system. The Wildrose Alliance candidate said he believes the province needs to bring in management techniques that have been successful in other countries with public health systems, something he is confident the Wildrose Alliance will do if it gains power in the legislature.