Leela Aheer And Alberta's Future
“Nobody even knew who I was. We door knocked 10,600 homes, that’s how we won this thing.” – Leela Aheer, Wildrose MLA for Chestermere-Rocky View
It’s been two months since Alberta’s epic, election night status quo shake up. Much of the focus recently has been on Alberta’s new NDP government and the untested candidates, along with out-of-province advisors involved behind the scenes. For those of us –myself included– who are bracing for the worst, we can take comfort in knowing that the official opposition is made up of representatives dedicated to maintaining the spirit of the Alberta Advantage. These representatives are all members of the new Wildrose Party, and Chestermere’s own Leela Aheer is at the forefront of this vanguard. She took some time to sit down with me recently at the Waiting Room Cafe in Chestermere.
“I grew up around farmers and oil men. I made money babysitting and mowing lawns.”
First, a few background facts about Leela.
Her father immigrated from India to Canada in 1963 in order to study chemical engineering at the University of Alberta.
Leela was born in Edmonton in 1970 and her family moved down to the Chestermere area in 1971.
Straight out of highschool, Leela went solo travelling through India. The experience informed not just her politics, but her worldview in general.
Leela studied political science at the University of Calgary, but decided to pursue her love of music and travelled to Winnipeg to study full time.
Leela has been married for 21 years, has two kids and runs a variety of successful businesses in Chestermere.
Leela is in a band called Minerva. Check it out here!
Politics began to return to Leela’s life in a big way last year. Leela was a part of the constituency association for the Wildrose Party and, after Bruce McAllister crossed the floor and joined Jim Prentice’s PC Party, the Wildrose Party was launched into rebuild mode. The hunt for a suitable candidate for the Chestermere-Rocky View riding was in full swing. Unfortunately, an early election was around the corner and the need for a candidate to show up quickly was putting pressure on everyone involved. On January 27th, 2015, Leela arrived home to a greeting party of friends involved with the Wildrose. They told her that they’d found the perfect candidate.
She asked, “Who is it?”
“You!” they replied.
After recovering from the shock, Leela realized that she had to accept the offer.
“Wildrose wants people with clear eyes and no preconceived notions. Basically, my job is to learn and listen.”
Leela has had a busy schedule recently. Shortly after the election, she was appointed Energy Critic by new Wildrose leader, Brian Jean. Alberta’s energy sector accounts for roughly 25% of our economy, so this portfolio is extremely important to the well being of average Albertans.
“I’ve had 11 or 12 meetings in the last 9 days. The oil and gas industry is full of brilliant people. From small business owners to large corporations. Imagine what we can do if government and industry work together.”
I’m not sure if this statement is a bit of a dig at past administrations or a warning to the current one, but there is no doubt that Leela is unimpressed with the recent history of the PC government. When speaking of Ed Stelmach’s royalty review in 2008, Leela pulls no punches.
“They didn’t take business interests into consideration. All of a sudden they wanted more money for Albertans without considering the consequences to the industry. The recovery process in terms of losses will never be made up.”
And with another royalty review in the making –led by the NDP– Leela has a lot of defence to play.
Leela outlined 4 priorities in her role as energy critic.
#1. Police the Royalty Review.
Conservatives will be glad to hear this first point, as the NDP are sure to stack the deck with anti-oil types looking to squeeze every dime they can out of Alberta’s most important industry. We need voices to stand up for common sense and economic/environmental balance. If the extreme ideologies of the NDP take centre stage during the royalty review, then investment will be sure to dry up and unemployment will rise. In an environment in which the oil and gas sector is already struggling with low prices and wildfires, the last thing Alberta needs is a hostile group of reviewers, looking to punish an industry for having the audacity to exist.
#2. Creating a fair regulatory environment.
This is another good priority. The uncertainty around the royalty review is bad enough already and nothing has even changed yet. What Alberta needs is a reasonable and fair regulatory process. Businesses can plan and deal with a transparent policy and a level playing field. Adding piles of red tape for the sake of ‘action optics’ is unnecessary and counter-productive. Government picking winners and losers based on backroom deals is not what makes for successful free enterprise.
There has been an irrational debate around pipelines for the past five years. Much of the drama has been funded by foreign interests attempting to stifle Alberta for the benefit of profiteers in the United States, oligarchs in Russia and undemocratic rulers throughout the Middle East.
Alberta is a landlocked province and moving oil and gas through pipelines rather than by rail makes sense. We need to advocate for safe and efficient pipelines and stop using an industrial delivery method as a political football.
#4. Building relationships.
Sometimes “building relationships” can be an empty buzzword, especially if the people or groups you try to build relationships with, have a vested interest in not co-operating as a matter of principal or monetary gain.
Leela has a very welcoming and honest presence and open dialogue is exactly the type of communication that will be necessary in future negotiations. More communication and face-to-face meetings need to take place in order to build respectful understanding.
Cronyism and backroom deals need to come to an end. Authoritarian approaches need to stop. If things are to get done, politicians need to put in the time and effort to establish solutions that are beneficial to everyone. Transparency, fair dealings, and discussions are required to change the way business is done in Alberta. This is crucial and needs to start now.
I was also curious about the non-oil and gas sectors.
The NDP’s war on the coal industry is unhelpful in a province with huge deposits of this resource. 43% of Alberta’s electricity is produced from coal fired power plants, but nevertheless, the NDP wants to shut it all down in order to fight global warming or something. When I asked Leela about the coal industry, she told me she has been focused on the oil and gas industry and that the coal industry hasn’t approached her yet. Perhaps someone from the COAL association would like to give her a call and set up a meeting? Your entire industry is about to get a Kathleen Wynne-style curb stomping. Perhaps reaching out to some potential allies makes sense when your industry is in the crosshairs?
Despite having a great track record and being the cleanest source of large scale energy around ...nuclear power isn’t on the table. There are reservations about the dangers associated with nuclear power, but surely these reservations could be addressed by experts from Canada’s nuclear industry. Leela mentioned that she’s open to listening to the industry about options and/or opportunities in Alberta...but again...no one is reaching out. Maybe someone from The Canadian Nuclear Association could give her a call and advocate for their industry. She will probably be the Minister of Energy in 4 years time. It might be a good time for saying hello, no?
Issues in Chestermere-Rocky View
Property rights and education are two of the big issues for this rapidly growing community. The PC party method of education development, recently consisted of showing up for the newspapers, sticking a shovel in the ground, and promising a school sometime in the future. Then nothing.
Property rights are a big issue for rural Alberta and we saw former PC minister, Ted Morton, trounced in the 2012 election primary due to managing property rights with an authoritarian moxie.
That’s where we’ve been. Where we’re going is much better.
“The Wildrose party is a huge protector of individual’s property rights. With education we want to make sure it’s a parent’s choice. We don’t want the government making decisions for us on how to parent our children in the school system.”
With a burgeoning young population, Leela doesn’t want to see anymore crowded classrooms in makeshift buildings that so many of us have heard about anecdotely or experienced first hand. Investments need to be made and quality needs to be raised. Options need to be offered and solutions need to be found. Leela is looking forward to hearing from constituents about these and any other issues people may have.
“If you look in the dictionary, you’ll see that “politician” is defined as, “One who deceives”. Isn’t that awful? I want to change that. 12,000 people in this riding didn’t vote for me and I’m going to do my best to win their respect.”
If you have questions or concerns call Leela and introduce yourself. You can find all her info listed here. The next four years will see the Wildrose Party preparing to form government and restoring the Alberta Advantage. Give her a call and get involved today.