United Conservative Party leadership candidates pitch dramatic policies to gain traction

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While political watchers are focused on whether the deal to unite the Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives will actually go ahead, some potential candidates to lead the hypothetical new party are trying to garner attention with dramatic policy proposals.

Doug Schweitzer, the Calgary lawyer who has already announced he will run for the leadership of the new United Conservative Party, called last week for massive cuts to Alberta’s corporate and personal income tax rates, as well as the elimination of the province’s carbon levy.

The tax policy comes on top of Schweitzer’s earlier plan to slash salaries of public sector workers across the board.

Meanwhile, Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who is mulling a run for leadership of the UCP on a libertarian platform, put out a news release last week called “Rolling Back the Nanny State” that suggested easing provincial rules on alcohol licensing, flavoured tobacco and helmet use on ATVs.     

Lethbridge College political scientist Faron Ellis said both Fildebrandt and Schweitzer will need to build up their profiles and stake out their territory in a potential leadership contest where Wildrose Leader Brian Jean and Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney have already made clear they intend to run.

“There’s no doubt that any candidate is going to have to put in more time gaining name recognition — and from there, support — than is either Jean or Kenney,” said Ellis this week.

 “They have a very healthy head start.”

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt.

Wildrose members will vote at a special meeting in Red Deer on July 22 whether to approve the agreement that would create the United Conservative Party, with 75 per cent the threshold for success. Tories will vote July 20-22 whether to ratify the deal, with a simple majority sufficient for it to be approved.

Ellis said the policy proposals of Schweitzer and Fildebrandt shed further light on what shape the proposed new UCP will take.

“It’s dedicated to being a more fiscally conservative party than certainly the PCs were … Wildrose never got a chance to prove whether it was going to live up to its pronouncements,” he said.

While Schweitzer has positioned himself as a moderate on social issues, his fiscal stance is firmly on the right, said Ellis.

His policy includes eliminating the current progressive income tax rates between 10 to 15 per cent for those making over $100,000, reducing their rate to a flat 10 per cent. Schweitzer would reduce the tax rate for those making under $100,000 from 10 per cent to nine per cent, while corporate rates would be cut from 12 to 10 per cent.

The longtime PC says he would pay for the tax cuts in part by chopping wages and benefits for all public sector workers making under $120,000 by three per cent. Those making over that level would see a six per cent cut.

“Lowering both personal income and corporate taxes, while holding the line on new spending is critical to stimulating our economy, ensuring Alberta’s finances are in order, and getting Albertans back to work,” Schweitzer said in a news release.

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Ellis said that while Schweitzer may be establishing his fiscal conservative bona fides with his policy measures, it’s a high-risk strategy because it could make him less palatable as an alternative to Jean and Kenney.

Fildebrandt, meanwhile, in his first policy pronouncement, is taking aim at areas such as liquor laws, which he said should be loosened around bar closing times and consumption on public property and at festivals.

The Strathmore-Brooks MLA also affirmed his support for legal marijuana and for lifting restrictions on flavoured tobacco aimed at adults. Fildebrandt also said a blanket requirement for ATV riders to wear helmets is “not reasonable.” 

“It is not the legitimate role of government to protect self-sufficient adults from themselves,” he said in his release.

jwood@postmedia.com

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