By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Drew Barnes will not run in the current provincial election, but is not retiring from politics, the three-term MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat told Southern Alberta Newspapers on Thursday.
He plans to continue advocating on issues he began campaigning on 13 years ago – direct democracy, representation and the faults of party politics – through a foundation and political action committee.
Set up two years ago, they will be relaunched after Albertans go to the polls May 29.
As for the election, Barnes, who most recently sat as an independent after a high-profile ejection from the United Conservative caucus, said he won’t endorse a party, and chose not to run rather than rejoining highly managed party politics.
“It was clear, (constituents) were asking for principled, conservative effective representation, and through the party system … that’s not available,” said Barnes.
“I couldn’t meet the needs of Cypress-Medicine Hatters and I thought that it was best to step out.
“It’s a shame because in 2012 with the Wildrose Party, one of our top-three priorities was democratic reform, with free votes and the opportunity for MLAs to speak freely on their constituents’ behalf, but while I’m not running as an MLA, I’m not going away.”
The foundation, Fast Forward Alberta, is described on its website as an educational effort to “create a business plan for Alberta,” and is headed by Hatter Teri-Anne Bowyer, the head of Barnes’s constituency office.
Barnes, 61, said the focus will be democratic reform, an Alberta constitution, smaller government and answering public safety issues.
The action committee, End Equalization Now, is a third-party election advertiser registered in Alberta Elections, that launched to support the UCP position on the equalization question in the 2021 municipal election ballots.
Barnes pushed hard for a yes vote despite having been voted out of the UCP caucus the previous spring for continually criticizing then leader Jason Kenney.
After the party chose Danielle Smith as leader (she brought in another independent, Todd Loewen, and elevated him to cabinet) Barnes didn’t return and eventually chose not to seek the UCP nomination in the riding.
That left Hatters speculating about his future and the line-up in the election.
For the last six months, Barnes had said all options were being considered including an independent run as part of a loosely tied group of non-affiliated candidates to challenge party systems.
That proved unfeasible with the election approaching but talks continue, said Barnes, adding he did not engage with several right-of-centre splinter groups, such as the Alberta Independence Party, the Wildrose Independence Party, or the Solidarity Alberta movement.
“I’m not endorsing anyone, I’m a little bit happy with the (UCP’s planned) tax cut, said Barnes, referring to a proposed lowering of rates in lowest brackets announced this week by Smith, but adds more could be done.
Barnes was first elected as a Wildrose Party candidate in 2012 election that saw the upstart challenger to the Progressive Conservative become the official opposition under then-leader Smith.
Ahead of the 2015 election Barnes sought the leadership in a hastily organized race after Smith and other Wildrose MLA joined the Jim Prentice-led PCs. He won his seat under the Wildrose banner but the New Democrats formed a majority. The former realtor was an early supporter of the Unite the Right Campaign led by eventual United Conservative leader and premier Kenney.
After a decade of change on the Alberta political scene, Barnes was one of the longest serving MLAs when the election writ was issued this month.
“I think it’s been six premiers in my 11 years,” he said. “That shows the tumultuousness of the time, and Albertans are looking for change and principled conservatism, and they’re not finding it,” and that led to the rise of the New Democrats.
“When that’s offered to them, we’ll see some stability.”
Barnes won’t make predictions on the ongoing campaign, but has doubts about Smith and the long-term prospects of stability in the party.
“I hope so, but at this point I haven’t seen it,” he said. “When I signed up for this mission in 2011, it was about democratic reform, ending corporate cronyism and corporate welfare and governments spending less. Look at what we’ve seen recently.”
Barnes publicly opposed the recent budget that increases spending, and said he’s against the recently announced Calgary NHL arena deal and a potential program to aid oil companies with well abandonment.
“We see governments picking a whole lot of winners and losers. The economy works best when government stays out of it … and business ideas grow from the ground up.
“That’s what Cypress-Medicine Hatters have told me and that’s what I’ve worked for.”
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