INNISFAIL – Devin Dreeshen is ready to face new provincial government challenges in both Edmonton and the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake riding while Jason Heistad is going back to Innisfail town council.
Both worked tirelessly against each other to claim the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake riding in the 2023 provincial election campaign.
When all votes were counted on May 29, UCP incumbent Dreeshen won convincingly by capturing 16,397 votes out of the total 22,916 cast, which works out to about 71 per cent of the total vote.
Dreeshen is now entering his second full four-year mandate as the riding MLA.
“I’m just truly humbled and honoured by the support of people in the riding,” Dreeshen told the Albertan. “I know that I have a lot of work to do to represent and listen to them up in Edmonton, and that's my job for the next four years; making sure I'm bringing their concerns up to Edmonton, and also, I'm focusing on issues that matter to them.
“I will do my best in bringing strategic investments to the riding as well.”
Despite Heistad’s electoral defeat, his first ever in both the political and union arenas, he is holding his head high.
The NDP challenger and labour leader secured 5,724 total votes, which worked out to almost 25 per cent of the total final vote.
Four minor party challengers in the riding collectively earned 797 votes, or 3.4 per cent of the total.
David Reid, the candidate for the Independence Party of Alberta, collected 276 votes.
Jeevan Mangat, representing the Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta, had 246.
Brandon Pringle, candidate for the Solidarity Movement of Alberta, wound up with 143 votes.
And Randy Thorsteinson, who represented the Reform Party of Alberta, collected 132.
Heistad’s total vote count of 5,724, along with its percentage of the total cast, is believed to have eclipsed all previous provincial NDP records in the riding.
In 2015, NDP candidate Patricia Norman finished third and earned 4,244 votes, which came to 23 per cent of the total.
“I feel proud about what my team and I have accomplished in the area. We've never had these numbers before,” said Heistad on May 30 as he and his campaign team were collecting election signs from public areas. “It’s been a really positive experience.
“You know what? The sun came up today, and I carried on,” he said.
Heistad did admit to being disappointed with the final outcome but added he would “consider” running again for the NDP.
But first he’s back to work at town council this week, a move already being welcomed.
“I did send Jason a message today (May 30) and said that we're looking forward to having him return to council,” said Mayor Jean Barclay. “Let's face it, we're a very conservative riding and it takes a lot of courage to put your name out there. He should be very proud of himself for doing that.”
Heistad said being back in his council chair will give him a good opportunity to monitor Dreeshen’s commitment to represent riding constituents, especially those in the Town of Innisfail.
“I will be watching what Devin and the UCP are committing to, and I hope the government will work hard for rural ridings like ours,” said Heistad. “We've missed out on MSI funding for the last three years. It's been a big hit to Innisfail and communities like Sylvan Lake and Penhold, and across the province.
“Some citizens do not realize the pressure that’s on municipal councils to make up those shortfalls.”
As for the many promises Premier Danielle Smith and the UCP made during the election campaign, such as ones for healthcare and new infrastructure, Dreeshen maintains his government has a “track record of doing what it promised” and the party will be “judged” in the next four years on what it has committed to.
“Whether it's new transit, new transit, infrastructure, new roads that's something that we've costed out and worked on,” said Dreeshen, who was the provincial minister of transportation and economic corridors at the time the writ was dropped for the election.
“That's going to be a big undertaking but obviously we have to follow through on it and we have to make sure our infrastructure in Alberta is adequate for sure."
But what about that seemingly never-ending issue with the wrong-sized ambulance door at the Innisfail Health Centre?
“I've had multiple meetings with AHS (Alberta Health Services) officials and (they) continue to say that it's not a priority for AHS to build an ambulance bay door that actually fits an ambulance,” said Dreeshen.
“And when I respond to them, ‘well, the local MLA thinks its priority, the mayor thinks it a priority, and the constituents and the people in the area think it’s a priority.
“What does it take to be a priority for you AHS? And their response was, ‘well, if we fix this rural hospital ambulance bay door, then we'd have to fix other rural ambulance bay doors in other rural hospitals."
Dreeshen said the hospital’s ambulance door issue is a priority for him in his new mandate.
“Yes, unless they make smaller ambulances, you bet," he said.