Following her announcement on June 8 of her intent to vie for the leadership position of the UCP, Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer elaborated about her plans, if chosen by her party, to lead very differently than previous leader, Premier Jason Kenney.
“I’m hoping to lead with the province. It’s such a huge privilege, but you can’t do it by yourself. You have to be able to understand the will of the people, listen to them, be there with them and participate,” said Aheer, who emphasized her intention to engage both with the UCP as a party, as well as with Albertans in order to rebuild the trust she feels was betrayed during Kenney’s tenure.
She said there has been a failure of the UCP to communicate, engage and lead through difficult situations, namely the COVID-19 pandemic. She added, however, that no leader should be crucified based on the results from the pandemic alone.
“You have to be able to take a step back and take a look at what’s going on and decide how you’re going to move forward and listen to our (experts), whether that’s Dr. Hinshaw, or Dr. Yu, or whoever, and be able to find out what our next steps are, and really take action quickly,” explained Aheer. “I was really heartbroken to see that there seemed to be no compassion or action or ability to even understand what was happening at the time. By the time September had hit, our ICUs were full, we were losing people head over (heels, and) it was just brutal.”
Aheer said gaining the trust back of Albertans who gave the UCP the opportunity to lead is paramount. To do this, she said the name of the game is to be transparent, available, communicative, and willing to listen to new ideas.
“Now it’s about … being able to show people that we’re not just this party that just leads and has an idea and is, you know, completely committed no matter what, to this thing,” said Aheer. “We have the ability to take a step back and understand where our mistakes were and improve from that and become better.”
She commented that the UCP did poorly to advertise the legislation passed, particularly at the entry of their government back into power in Alberta.
One thing Aheer intends to do is advocate for people to be able to better understand how legislation passed by the province will impact them.
Regarding the brute force tactics of the UCP under Jason Kenney to get legislation passed with little to no consultation, Aheer explained it was not something she had expected and feels it betrayed one of the defining factors which put the party in power.
“We got in based on the fact that the NDP had not consulted. It was one of the biggest core issues that Albertans had,” said Aheer. “The lack of consultation on so much of the legislation and then finding out that there was no validating people behind the legislation that we’re doing, you have to wonder where that legislation is coming from? Is it only helping out a certain small group of people? Is that a lobby group?”
Regardless of which new candidate leads the party, Aheer wants the culture of brute-forcing legislation through as quickly as possible and pushing an agenda, to change.
She said she would like to see more opportunities for debate of legislation and acceptance of amendments, even those which may be proposed by an opposing party.
“It is absolutely imperative for democracy to have that debate and to do it in a way where you’re actually building legislation that is good for the people,” said Aheer.
With regards to the Canadian Energy Centre, or the “Energy War Room,” Aheer has made it clear she intends to cease its operation, as adequate results from its establishment have not been made clear.
“It will not continue. It’s done … It didn’t serve its purpose and we have no outcomes from it to be able to prove that was worth it to Albertans,” said Aheer. “I was all for it at the beginning, I thought (it) was great because there were so many attacks coming from groups that are paying to shut really good resources down. The experiment didn’t work, we should have acknowledged that it didn’t work, we should have let it go and we should have dispersed that entire situation.”
Under Aheer’s potential leadership of the party, she intends to take another look at education and the newly adopted curriculum put forward for the public education system.
Aheer proposed to slow down and give teachers more time to look at the new curriculum and adapt, as well as to highlight things teachers and educators like, and use those points as pilot projects and examples of how to move forward.
“It’s really hard for school boards and other organizations to trust us to try and bring this curriculum forward,” she said. “So there’s a lot of work that needs to be done there to earn back the trust of parents and families and school boards and students and teachers.”
Aheer said she thinks Albertans are ready for someone like her to lead the province and that regardless of whether she wins the race for the party, she emphasized that she is humbled by the support she has received and the experience of putting her name forward.
John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times