Rural Alberta politicians say the Premier Jason Kenney and his governing United Conservative Party need to start listening to and caring about the issues faced by ordinary Albertans.
"Listen. Listen to what people have to say," said Bill Tonita, a councillor with Strathona County council. "We are at a time right now where it doesn't seem to matter what the issue is, our government is not listening."
Tonita, Gabrielle Blatz-Morgan, councillor with the city of Wetaskiwin, Cam Gardner, councillor with the Municipal District of Ranchlands, and Karen Shaw, councillor with Sturgeon County, participated in a panel discussion Saturday at the 2021 Alberta NDP virtual convention.
Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips asked the councillors what their constituents would tell Kenney if they could talk to him face to face.
"They would say start doing the right thing for Alberta rather than for your party," Shaw said.
Blatz-Morgan said Kenney needs to take care of issues like the access to physicians and the new curriculum without turning them into political issues.
"I would definitely tell him it's time to start caring about the people that you serve," she said.
The Alberta NDP has started focusing on rural areas to get ready for the next provincial vote in 2023. Party organizers are setting up new constituency associations and reactivating old ones that have gone dormant.
They are also reaching out to people with progressive views, and hosting Zoom calls to discuss issues like physician shortages, a lack of high-speed internet, and coal mining in the Rocky Mountains.
The party lost all of its rural seats to the UCP in the 2019 election. But the NDP now sees an opportunity now that recent polls suggest both Kenney and the UCP have plunged in popularity.
Gardner, who ran as an NDP candidate in 2019, said the way to get elected in rural Alberta is look to for common ground in the issues most people are concerned about.
"Everyone wants doctors," Gardner said. "Everyone wants a curriculum that says that the earth is round, it actually circles the sun and that fossils aren't here to trick us."
Gardner said people in rural areas no longer trust Kenney and his government. Shaw suggested authenticity is also an issue.
"Putting on a plaid shirt does not make you rural," she said.
The 2021 convention is the first for the NDP since it was forced out of government two years ago.
The NDP usually holds conventions every two years but last year's event was cancelled due to COVID-19.
The party has been on an upswing in the past year. In addition to rosy polling numbers, the NDP out-raised the governing party by about $15,000 in 2020, and more than doubled the UCP's donation totals in the first quarter of 2021.
Provincial secretary Brandon Stevens told the convention that the NDP attracted 12,000 new donors last year.
On Sunday, the delegates will hear a speech from party leader Rachel Notley, as well as vote on her leadership.
Notley received 97.8 per cent support from delegates in her last review at the 2016 NDP convention.