SPRINGBROOK – The race is on to find a new United Conservative Party MLA for the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake riding.
Members of the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Constituency Association of the United Conservative Party (UCP) gathered to hear from UCP nominees during an all-candidates forum in Springbrook on April 20.
A total of six candidates took to the floor, introduced themselves and answered a variety of questions including those on agriculture, rural crime, education, parental rights, the carbon tax, and fairness and ethics in representing all constituents.
And there was a bit of controversy involving a seventh candidate.
Joel Loh, who announced his intention to run for the UCP nomination in early April, was removed from the ballot just prior to Friday’s forum.
Loh did not learn of the decision until after he arrived. He was given time at the end of the evening to speak to the crowd and his supporters in attendance.
“I want to address the elephant in the room,” said Loh. “I thought it would be best if you heard it from me.
“I came this evening fully expecting a seat at the table,” he added. “Upon walking in I found out that my name was removed from the ballot.”
Loh said he will appeal the decision made by the provincial nomination committee in Calgary.
“I fully intend to vigorously debate this appeal,” Loh told the crowd. “I am not fighting this because I want a career in politics.
“I was born and raised here and the reason why I’m going to fight this is because I want to secure a future for my family, for your family and for our province.”
Loh thanked the nomination committee for the opportunity to speak and told the crowd he hopes to rejoin the race again soon.
The Innisfail-Sylvan Lake nomination committee could not comment on the decision but said they did recently learn about the Loh developments.
“We were made aware of the issue. We were not made aware of a decision until today (Friday) along with everybody else,” said Pam Davidson, chair of the nomination committee.
She noted several attempts were made to reach Loh on his cellphone on Friday as well.
When asked about procedures and timelines for removing a nominee or a candidate, the committee said there are no definitive protocols and procedures in place for such events because the party is so new.
“They would normally let any candidate know as soon as they could. My understanding is (Loh) was emailed this afternoon,” said Jim Dick, member of the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake nomination committee.
Policies and procedures are expected to be in place after the UCP’s inaugural AGM, May 4 to 6 in Red Deer.
The committee said Loh has the right to appeal the decision. An arbitration board with the United Conservative Party in Calgary will handle that appeal.
The UCP forum began at 7 p.m. with candidates Devin Dreeshen, Joan Barnes, Victor Sloboda, Mike Walsh, Gayle Langford and Christine Moore.
“We are very pleased with the turnout tonight. I think it shows that we’re a leader in Alberta, being the first to really get going,” said Lee Eddy, president of the UCP constituency association. “We’re prepared and ready to go. I think the enthusiasm shows that people want to be involved in politics again.”
UCP members appeared impressed with the slate of candidates with some saying they may have a difficult time choosing their next candidate.
“It’s hard to have so many great candidates with such a short amount of time to talk, but I think it gave us an opportunity to get a feel for each of the candidates,” said UCP member Margaret Towers. “I’ve been impressed by a couple of them.
“I believe we do need to elect somebody who can hit the ground running,” Towers concluded.
The Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Constituency Association of the United Conservative Party will elect its candidate on May 2.
The vote will take place at the Penhold Regional Multiplex from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
There will also be two advanced polls on April 28, the first in Delburne at the curling rink from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the second in Sylvan Lake at the Lions Club from 3:15 to 7:15 p.m.