Considered a dark horse in the United Conservative Party’s leadership race, Doug Schweitzer is hoping to come from behind and win this week’s election.
Schweitzer has less name recognition and political experience than opponents Brian Jean and Jason Kenney, but the “new blue” candidate says his progressive view on social issues sets him apart.
The Calgary lawyer says many conservatives believe winning the next election is as simple as joining the PCs and Wildrose, but that line of thinking doesn’t recognize a changing electorate in places like Calgary, where voters care more about social issues than they may have in the past.
“Younger voters, moderate voters, they’re looking for us to lead on divisive social issues right now that the NDP want to focus on,” Schweitzer said.
“We need to take those divisive issues off the table. Whether it’s gay-straight alliances, as well as advocating for women. We have one of the highest domestic violence rates in the country here in Alberta.
“Let’s take those off the table, advocate for them. Being silent on them or saying, ‘I’m not going to comment on that or I’m not going to legislate’ isn’t going to work.”
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Mount Royal University political analyst Duane Bratt says Schweitzer is the only progressive conservative on the ballot.
“He has supported fiscal conservatism and socially liberal,” Bratt said. “I am not sure, however, how many UCP members want socially liberal. Think of the battles over school curriculum and GSAs.”
Schweitzer says his plan will enable the party to win the next election and to “get Albertans back to work and create the most competitive business environment in Canada.”
Part of his plan is to provide “the biggest tax relief in Alberta history immediately,” while balancing the budget within four years.
“It’s about competing. We need to make sure we get this place working again, Alberta working. I remember 10 years ago how confident people were in this province, how many people were coming here, wanting to be here.”
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Schweitzer says Alberta is spending about $2,700 more per person than British Columbia, so his campaign is proposing maintaining the same budget for four years, which he says would balance the operating budget.
“It’s a matter of holding the line and then putting in place a hiring freeze. We want to make sure the public sector knows we’re not going to come in here and fire people. We want to make sure they know it’s going to be a hiring freeze for management,” Schweitzer said.
All three candidates are promising to balance the budget and provide tax relief, but Bratt has a difficult time figuring out how that will be done.
“The budget could be balanced with significant and sustained spending cuts over several years. But I don’t see how you can cut taxes at the same time,” Bratt said. “Unless you believe in the discredited Laffer Curve.”
The Laffer Curve is a theory developed by economist Arthur Laffer that claims the more an activity is taxed, the less of it is generated, and the less an activity is taxed, the more of it is generated.
WATCH BELOW: Doug Schweitzer appears on the Ryan Jespersen Show on 630 CHED
Albertans want a government that stands up for the province, Schweitzer says. He believes the NDP government’s strategy of collaborating with the federal government and other provinces has been a failure.
“Our way of life is being threatened by other jurisdictions. We got to fight for Alberta,” Schweitzer said.
Jason Kenney has suggested a national unity battle if elected premier, which could include cutting off oil to British Columbia. Schweitzer said that’s a last resort.
“With B.C. in particular, they’ve started a trade war with Alberta. They’re completely offside, the New West Partnership Agreement. We should remove them, kick them out of the New West Partnership and if they want to get in a trade war, bring it on,” Schweitzer said.
The New West Partnership Trade Agreement is a trade agreement between Alberta, Saskatchewan, B.C. and Manitoba to integrate the economies of the provinces.
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Bratt doesn’t believe Schweitzer will win the race because of how late he entered the campaign Bratt said he has also has less experience, organization and funding than his opponents. However, the political analyst believes Schweitzer can play the role of spoiler.
“If there is no winner on the first ballot, his supporters will choose the winner,” Bratt said. “You have to remember, people run for party leaders for lots of other reasons, for example, to raise their personal profile in the party, which Schweitzer has done, or to raise issues in the campaign, which Schweitzer has, regarding social issues and GSAs.”
Schweitzer says he plans on running for a seat in the legislature if he doesn’t win the UCP leadership race. He believes the UCP is the party for Alberta’s future.
Voting to select the first UCP leader will begin at 9 a.m. on Thursday. Voting ends at 5 p.m. on Saturday. The leader will be announced at a media event in Calgary soon after voting closes.