Advanced polls have now opened in the Brooks-Medicine Hat provincial byelection that is featuring a matchup between local candidates and imported UCP leader Danielle Smith.
Among those running in his home riding is Barry Morishita, leader of the Alberta Party. He's no stranger to Cochrane or a province he has toured extensively over the years. It wasn't that long ago that he participated in the first-ever Pride Parade here, and previously took the Outhouse Race challenge while he was mayor of Brooks and president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Assoc. (now ABmunis).
A proud third-generation Japanese Canadian, Morishita's paternal great-grandparents’ immigrated to Canada in 1913. They, along with his grandmother, spent several years confined to a Second World War Japanese internment camp in Tashme, B.C., during which time his father was born. Once released, they chose to move to Alberta in 1947 and eventually settled in the Rosemary area. His mother immigrated from England in 1952.
We connected to briefly talk about his own campaign in Brooks-Medicine Hat and at length about the Alberta Party's belief in how to govern the province. The full audio of the interview is attached.
Since Barry Morishita was elected leader of the Alberta Party last September, it has been building toward the next general election.
"We're getting set and we're going to have some really great candidates," says Morishita. "The Alberta Party is listening to Albertans, we're paying attention to what they say and we know we can build solutions together, so we're excited about the future."
With a byelection called in the Brooks-Medicine Hat, that future is now.
"I'm excited about that opportunity to speak to Albertans as well as the residents of Brooks-Medicine Hat and to listen to what they have to say and explain our party's approach to problem-solving and get rid of the divisive and fighting nature of what we've had for politics for a significant period of time and get back to fixing things because that's what needs to be done," says Morishita.
"Once you talk to people about the approach, it makes sense to them."
He believes people are tired--no, fed up--of Alberta politics being about creating divisiveness, about fear-monger, and about saying sensational things to try and garner votes.
"People are frustrated by that conversation. They are frustrated by the lack of transparency of our elected officials. They don't trust what politicians say and they have every reason to mistrust that when not even a few weeks apart you say one thing, and then you say another. You say one thing that gets you elected and then you do another thing when you have the authority. You know, Albertans are tired of that. I'm tired of that."
He says the Alberta Party believes in prioritizing spending to make sure things like health care, education, and support for people on a fixed income are taken care of.
"The other parties say these are our priorities but yet we still spend billions and billions of dollars on nonpriority items. Why aren't we investing in the ones that we claim are priorities? The Alberta Party will do that. We'll have a budgeting process that is open and transparent and we're just going to change the way we approach provincial government because people want that."
He points to the support provided to the disability community as just one example.
Morishita says to the NDP's credit, they indexed AISH funding and other supports, but what they didn't do was reform the system and left it vulnerable. Now, the new government deindexed it and has made it difficult to access.
"The purpose is to provide hope and opportunity for those who want to better themselves to have a higher quality of life. None of those systems have been fixed. There are solutions, but no one is acting on those solutions. The Alberta Party will make sure that happens because we have to get to the core of what the government is supposed to be doing."
Morishita is well-versed in the challenges faced by municipalities.
He says the relationship between the provincial has been terrible for years, including his entire term as AUMA president.
"We've had successive governments that weren't willing to bring us in and actually truly partner with municipalities, both urban and rural, to build solutions that would work. Instead, we got constant spending cuts, we got downloaded responsibility over the last six, eight years, and we've been told what we want instead of being brought into the conversation," pointing to the push for a provincial police force as one of those conversations
Meanwhile, he says they have cut funding to municipalities by nearly 37 per cent over the years.
"They're just not listening. Communities and municipalities are great assets to be partnering with. We could do so much and become so efficient if we worked with those committed elected officials and communities across this province. I've travelled this whole province, I know that for a fact."
He believes municipalities must be recognized as a level of government in the Alberta Constitution.
"They aren't the poor third cousin, they're not children of the provincial government. They should, in fact, be recognized for what they are, which is a governing partner. I would assure that this happens in the constitution."
He believes there should be more flexibility to allow municipalities to address issues that are unique to them, but it doesn't happen.
"It's because we have a provincial government that does not trust professionals, and we have a leader in Ms Smith that came right out and said that she doesn't trust them to do their job. I think that's a terrible way to work together."
He believes by creating meaningful partners there's an opportunity to get more done, quicker, and more efficiently without all of the tired old noise of politics that most people have long rejected.
A full interview with Alberta Party leader Barry Morishita on his party's approach to creating meaningful partnerships with Albertans and municipalities to get the job done.