MacBeth speaks with undergrads

By Roman Zakaluzny

Students were given a chance to evaluate a candidate prior to a rumoured spring election last Thursday when provincial opposition leader Nancy MacBeth spoke with two undergraduate classes. The Liberal leader was at the university to kick off a series of town hall meetings on healthcare, but spoke candidly to students in two of Dr. Doreen Barrie’s political science classes.

"I think it’s important for people to meet politicians," said Barrie afterwards. "People tend to get quite cynical about them. In reality, their personalities might be quite different."

MacBeth, a U of C graduate, joined Premier Lougheed’s Tory campaign in 1982, and under Premier Getty entered the cabinet. By 1992, she became disenfranchised with a "schism" she saw developing in the Tory Party.

"There was a fork in the road," said MacBeth. "We were going to have to accept that healthcare is expensive, but healthcare and education had lost their preeminence in the public eye."

Macbeth quit the Tories after losing to Ralph Klein in a leadership race.

"I had absolutely no intention of coming back to politics," she said.
For MacBeth her departure was not personal, but ideological.

"The cuts [of 1992] were made picking up on an ideology the government holds which is that there is nothing the public sector can do that the private sector can’t do better," explained MacBeth. "I completely disagree with that."

But she did return to political life, with a new moniker and a new party. No longer Nancy Betkowski, and now leading the Liberals, MacBeth hopes to influence Albertans with her Town Hall series on healthcare and by visiting with students.

"I was impressed with the discussion," said fifth-year political science student Jeremy Clarke after the class. "She presented the facts as objectively as she could, without taking too much of a partisan stance."

Afterwards, MacBeth spoke with reporters about post-secondary education. While her town halls may have been about healthcare, MacBeth has stressed the importance of education issues.

"The improvement [of education] should be the first priority of any provincial government," she said. "I believe [liberals would] put it ahead of healthcare, having been an education minister and a health minister."

MacBeth’s day at the U of C came shortly after the Klein government announced an injection of $500 million to university research. While MacBeth said the money was important, she stressed that more has to be done to improve the status of education in Alberta.

"Let’s make sure that we’re dedicating the resources and the energy so that our universities–Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and Athabasca–are able to provide the highest level of education that we can possibly offer," said MacBeth. "The fact that we’re eighth in Canada [in terms of funding] is a black mark on the province."
MacBeth insisted that talking to students was important to her.

"It keeps me in touch with the things that are on young peoples’ minds," she said. "When government gets disconnected from people, whether they’re students or anybody, they’re in trouble.".