UCP field down to six

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

“Were all on the same team,” said candidate Juliette Noskey, at the United Conservative Party (UCP) candidates’ forum in Slave Lake last week. “But we need a captain and I want to be that captain.”

Noskey is one of six UCP members vying for the party nomination in the Lesser Slave Lake constituency. There had been seven, but Chris Williscroft of High Prairie had withdrawn prior to last week’s forum.

Noskey’s was an apt metaphor, because the six candidates did seem for the most part to be on the same page.

Against the carbon tax? Check.

Don’t like the high minimum wage? Check.

Support pipelines for getting more oil to market? Check.

Pro business? Check. Want to bring back the ‘Alberta Advantage’? Check.

Support parental choice in education? Check.

All of that could pretty much be taken for granted in a field of conservatives. The forum was perhaps more useful for getting to know the candidates by seeing how they performed in front of a crowd of people.

And it was quite a crowd, with the Royal Canadian Legion being about as full as it could have been. People had to keep wheeling out more chairs as folks kept coming in, well after the 7:00 p.m. starting time. Ken Vanderwell, the constituency association president, tells The Leader 105 people signed in, and the crowd was probably bigger than that.

“It demonstrates there’s an interest,” he says.

The format had each candidate introducing her or himself for 10 minutes (or less). Then it moved to a question and answer session (written questions only), followed by a wrap-up statement from the six on the hot seats.

Noskey went first. She spoke softly, but confidently and with an obvious sense of humour, which seemed to be appreciated. The CEO of the Loon River First Nation spoke about herself as a “servant leader,” and said she has a “strong vision” along with “integrity, honesty and perseverance.”

Brenda Derkoch, the long-time resident of the Slave Lake area, dealt right off the bat with a couple of issues she knows people have been wondering about; one is her brief tenure as a town councillor back in the 1990s and the other was her absence from the party fundraiser a few weeks ago at which all the other candidates were introduced. In the first case, she said, she was young and unprepared for the demands of council. She’s come a long way since then, she said, and fairly recently went back to school and qualified as a teacher. As for the party function she missed, that was due to an earlier commitment she was unwilling to break.

“I’m more than ready,” Derkoch said.

Derkoch added that “this will be the hardest riding to win back (from the NDP),” and she thinks she’s the one with the best chance of doing that.

Garrett Tomlinson – relatively unknown in this area – made a good impression by being the only presenter to speak without the aid of notes. He said he is from Little Buffalo, and works in the consultation field for the Metis Nation of Alberta. He also mentioned he had been the reeve of Northern Sunrise County. Originally from Lethbridge, he said he has been a conservative since his college days, and believes “there are other ways to fix things than throwing money at them.”

“Some call me an over-achiever,” said Pat Rehn, opening his remarks. He went on to say that as a successful businessman, he doesn’t need a job and isn’t looking for the perks. He spoke against what he called the NDP imposing its ideology into school classrooms and suggested health care costs could be cut by eliminating management positions, at the same time as improving outcomes. Rehn also mentioned he has been endorsed by MP David Yurdiga and former Wildrose Party candidate Darryl Boisson.

John Middelkoop, the High Prairie accountant, spoke about his shock upon seeing the NDP government elected in 2015. That government’s interference in parental choice in education is obviously a big burr under his saddle. Middelkoop went on to talk about how as a financial advisor he gets to see “thousands” of people in the midst of their difficulties. He said (or implied) that this gave him insight into what Albertans are facing that his opponents might not have.

Jim Sparks – perhaps taking advantage of being drawn last to make his opening statement – distinguished himself from the crowd a bit by thanking the Legion for hosting the event and praising the organization for the role it plays in the community.

As to why he would be good for the job of UCP candidate, Sparks said lessons learned in the real estate business would serve him well.

“I’ll be a great negotiator for you,” he said. “You know that uncomfortable silence in a negotiation? I like that.”

One of the questions from an audience member was how the successful candidate would “improve opportunities for Indigenous groups.” It produced distinct types of response.

Rehn and Middelkoop both presented a fairly standard conservative philosophy – along the lines that everybody benefits in an improved economy. Derkoch and Sparks both talked about the importance of listening to the people first and making decisions based on what they say.

Tomlinson said what he’s hearing is that Aboriginal governments want more autonomy in spending government money.

The easiest and quickest way (to improve things for Indigenous people), said Noskey, “is to vote for an Aboriginal person (meaning me)!”

Another questioner asked the candidates what they saw as the biggest challenge in defeating the incumbent MLA in the next election. The answers strayed quite a bit from the question, but some were interesting enough.

“I’m the guy!” said Sparks.

“It doesn’t matter how well she’s liked,” said Tomlinson. “It matters the job she’s done.”

“She thinks she has First Nations in her back pocket,” said Noskey. “It’s not the case.”

“Out-hustle her,” said Rehn.

Candidates for the Lesser Slave Lake United Conservative Party nomination presented themselves to the public on Oct. 29 at the Royal Canadian Legion. From left to right they are: Brenda Derkoch, John Middelkoop, Juliette Noskey, Pat Rehn, Jim Sparks and Garrett Tomlinson.

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