EDMONTON - Premier Alison Redford says her plan to get Progressive Conservative party members more directly involved in crafting government policy doesn't mean other Albertans will be denied their say.
"I think all Albertans should have a say in government policy," Redford told reporters Saturday when asked about the issue at her party's policy conference at an Edmonton hotel.
"That's why we've put in place legislative committees (and) we ensure that our ministers and our members are accessible to the public wherever possible."
Redford made the comments a day after she announced to delegates the creation of new policy advisory committees made up of Progressive Conservative members.
The committees, known as PACs, will speak directly and deliver suggestions to government politicians on policy. They are expected to be up and running by the fall.
"With policy advisory committees, our grassroots will have an unprecedented opportunity to help define where we're going as a province," Redford told delegates to applause in her keynote speech Friday night.
"Our members will help craft decisions that will lead to new policies and actions that will benefit every Albertan."
On Saturday, Redford told reporters her party members are already consulted on a wide range of issues, and that PACs will be one more avenue to hear from them.
"I don't think that simply because a person is a member of our party doesn't mean they shouldn't have involvement," she said.
"We have opportunities and mechanisms for people that are members of our party to engage in dialogue on lots of interesting and important issues that they care about.
"We need to find a way to encourage that dialogue and make sure that it continues."
Delegates from across the province debated policy changes behind closed doors on Saturday that could be introduced at the annual general meeting in November.
Redford faces a mandatory leadership review and vote at that conference.
Those leadership reviews can prove fatal to party leaders. Former premier Ralph Klein resigned after receiving a lukewarm 56 per cent vote of support in 2006.
When asked by reporters if she feels she has work to do to ensure a strong vote of support in November, Redford said, "As leader of this party, I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that our members are connected, that it's a dynamic process, and that we're proud of who we are as Progressive Conservatives.
"That's a responsibility that I have every single day as leader of this party."
Earlier Saturday, Redford addressed the issue of the province's plan to run up $17 billion in debt over the next four years to pay for infrastructure.
"We're not incurring debt. We're financing capital projects," Redford told party rank and file in an open question and answer session.
"We're financing infrastructure for the long term to make sure that we don't end up with an infrastructure deficit. so that we can have the schools and the roads and the hospitals that we need today."
Redford said the projects won't burden future generations with red ink.
"We have a commitment to pay those projects off over the life of the project or — if we do better with respect to revenue — before the project's life ends," she said.
While delegates debated policy issues, about 300 protesters braved rain and cool winds behind the hotel to protest cuts in this year's budget.
The protesters, who hailed from Red Deer and beyond, listened to speeches and even played carnival games such as "Whack a Broken Promise" akin to whack-a-mole.
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