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Calgary-Varsity candidate Pete Helfrich talks front-line health care, post-secondary funding and provincial politics

By Fabian Mayer, April 29 2015 —

Pete Helfrich is running in Calgary-Varsity as the candidate for the Alberta Liberal party in the upcoming provincial election. We sat down with him to talk about student issues and how his experience as a paramedic shaped his views on Alberta’s health care system. Polls open May 5.

The Gauntlet: Why are you running and how is the campaign going so far?

Pete Helfrich: I used to work as a paramedic. It’s basically what I’ve experienced at work as a paramedic with senior’s care, homelessness and the health care system in general that was the catalyst for me running.

The campaign is going really well. Calgary-Varsity has been a very Liberal riding. Harry Chase was the [Liberal] MLA here from 2004 to 2012 so I’m running into a lot of people who are still very Liberal and very supportive of the Liberal Party.

There’s definitely still a great deal of PC support out there, but there’s also a lot of undecided voters. There’s people out there who I think were former PCers who’ve never really voted anything else and they’re kind of confused, so I’m trying to talk to them about voting for me.

Why should Calgary-Varsity residents vote for you?

What I offer the people in Calgary-Varsity is somebody who has experienced first hand how the decisions MLAs make in Edmonton affect peoples’ lives. I’ve seen it and experienced it myself.

I am an Alberta Health Services employee so when the government makes decision that affect AHS employees I’m experiencing that first hand. When governments makes decisions about health care, opening or closing a hospital, providing funding for certain programs, senior’s care or funding against homelessness, I’m experiencing that first hand.

The reason I want to become an MLA is because I want to take the passion I have for those things to Edmonton and look at the people across the floor directly in the eye and make them understand what I’m experiencing and what Albertans are experiencing.

Why should students in particular vote for you?

What I would say to students is that while I don’t understand and I’m not going to pretend to understand what it’s like to be a student, I see the absolute value in education. I am tired of government continuing to refer to education as a cost. Education isn’t a cost, it’s an investment. And if you invest in education now you will reap rewards down the road.

I know that the costs of being a student are skyrocketing, and not just in fees. As the cost of education goes up it’s also harder to find a place to rent because those costs are going up as well.

That all has to change and I think the Alberta Liberals recognize this. They recognize that a progressive tax is where they’re headed. They believe that a progressive tax will help bring in the revenue that the Albertan government needs to properly fund post-secondary and other educational resources.

In the budget the government said they’re looking to make post-secondary institutions less reliant on government funding. What do you think should be the funding model for post-secondary institutions?

I think that’s just ridiculous. One of the reasons we pay taxes is to go to education. I have no problem with private industry being a part of helping educational institutions, but that’s an extra. Government should accept full responsibility for educational institutions and funding. I think it’s archaic that this is where the PC government has gone over the last number of years.

What’s your assessment of how the government has handled the health care system?

I work as a paramedic and I’ve worked in Calgary as a paramedic since 1996. I’ve watched slowly over time how things have degraded. Health care doesn’t require any more money.

The wrong thing for any government to do would be to cut the front line. So that leaves the middle. There needs to be some trimming and inefficiencies found and corrected. Under a Liberal government or with an effective Liberal opposition, that’s definitely where we’d put our sights. Those inefficiencies are there, I’ve seen it first hand. I know the Liberal party’s research indicates there’s at least $1 billion to be found in inefficiencies that could then be reinvested back into the health care system by getting more nurses, more staff and more beds.

Polls are showing a three-way race between the Wildrose, the PCs and the NDP. Why should voters vote Liberal when voting for other parties might have a greater impact on who forms government?

I couldn’t agree with you more that polls provincially would indicate that. But I would suggest that Calgary-Varsity students and residents look closely at the Calgary-Varsity polls, which show a very different game. It shows that there’s a race between myself and the PC candidate.

The NDP have never had a strong base in Calgary-Varsity. In order to win Calgary-Varsity you need about 7,000 votes. The PCs and the Liberals have jockeyed for that position over the last four or five elections. So we have a strong base and the PCs have a strong base. By a strong base I mean around 5,000 people that generally vote PC or Liberal. The NDP has about an 800-person base so unless people in Calgary-Varsity truly believe that it’s going to be a complete landslide and that the NDP candidate is going to gather about 7,000 votes, the best place for them to put their vote if they want to send somebody up to be an effective member of the opposition is with the Liberal party.

Edited for clarity and brevity

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