Man of the Land looking to become a ‘Man of the People’

Long retired from being the superintendent of Banff National Park and previously the warden of Waterton National Park, former Jasperite Kevin Van Tighem is hoping to put his name back into public service as the NDP candidate for Livingstone-Macleod in the next provincial election.

It turns out the prominent Alberta environmentalist, naturalist and conservationist simply couldn’t remain idle when so much is on the line. Even during retirement, he has maintained his passionate voice by penning essays, articles and books including “Our Place: Changing the Nature of Alberta” and “Wild Roses Are Worth It: Reimagining the Alberta Advantage.”

Since Van Tighem hung up his hat in 2011, he has volunteered on the boards of conservation and landowner groups, volunteered in leadership roles for the Nature Conservancy of Canada and for the Southern Alberta Land Trust Society, and he has been vocal against the UCP’s decision to permit coal mining on the Eastern Slopes.

Now living in Canmore, Van Tighem said he is trading up his lifelong passion for stewardship of the land up to stewardship of the province as a whole.

He spoke about watching the current UCP government make bad policy decisions on Alberta’s parks and coal mining while spending billions of our dollars on a pipeline, all during a major public health crisis.

“We went from a government that understood its job – that was actually doing its job – to one that was basically running agendas and tilting at windmills,” Van Tighem said.

“They had their inquiries into these mysterious enemies that were out to kill the oil patch, and they had their war rooms, and they had their big fights with doctors and nurses. This was all happening over top of the pandemic.”

Van Tighem described this period as “a really disruptive time for Albertans.”

“I reached the point when I realized that as much as I enjoy my retirement, much as I enjoy fishing and hunting and sleeping in and reading books, well, that's fine. It's nice for me that I'm able to afford it, but it's wrong to sit around doing nothing when the place that I love so much is under so much stress and my friends and my neighbours are dealing with so many problems, and the solutions aren't coming to us,” he said.

“That's why I stepped up. I just couldn't sit it out.”

It’s a big step perhaps for a guy who hasn’t pined for politics all his life. He volunteered on the campaign for the NDP candidate during the 2019 election but felt like an intruder knocking on people’s doors.

He has already started knocking on doors to support his own campaign, and the awkwardness has definitely dissipated. He said constituents are desperate for proper representation.

“This time around, when you get to the door, more often than not, people will either step out on the porch or pull me in… and into the living room and talk our heads off,” he added.

“They were talking about the things that were stressing them out. It's just a whole different feeling. I realized a lot of people have been alone through the pandemic with their fears or their worries, their uncertainty. Now they're dealing with all the cost-of-living issues. We ran into people that didn't have family doctors and had no clue about how to get one anymore.”

Proper representation requires someone who has an eloquent, passionate and experienced voice. Van Tighem believes he has that voice.

“I came into this definitely from a conservation background. I chose Livingstone-Macleod because it's probably the centre of my universe; it's one of the places where a lot of good things are still around that have been lost elsewhere. That’s based on most of my identity is around land, nature, fishing, hunting, conservation.”

Van Tighem noted how talking to people on their doorstep has deepened his sense of how important it was to start getting government right again.

“A lot of people feel powerless right now. It just seems like they're not able to get what they need and influence things that matter to them,” he said.

“And it just shouldn't be like that. It's supposed to be a democracy, right? Government is supposed to be there to serve us, and for some reason, the current government we got is too busy finding enemies to fight with, battling swords and trying to sell our resources out from under us to actually pay attention to their responsibilities to the people they serve. That's just got to change.”

The riding in the province’s southwestern corner serves the communities of High River, Pincher Creek, Fort Macleod and the municipality of Crowsnest Pass. It is home to Premier Danielle Smith, though she decided to try to gain her MLA seat by running in an upcoming byelection in Medicine Hat-Brooks riding.

Next spring, Van Tighem will be running against the riding’s current representative, UCP MLA Roger Reid. The provincial election takes place on May 29, 2023.

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh