Two community members have announced their intention to run as Alberta’s New Democratic Party (NDP) nominees in the provincial Grande Prairie riding: Melissa Byers and Todd Russell are both vying to be the party’s candidate.Russell ran for the Grande Prairie-Smoky riding in the 2015 provincial election but lost to current MLA Todd Loewen. With the Wildrose Party, Loewen won at 33.2 per cent of the vote (5,343 votes). Russell came second with 31.1 percent (5,009 votes), as the NDP candidate.Russell said it was a hard decision whether or not to run again — the nominee talked it over a lot with his wife Frances and their three kids, viewing it as “a commitment of all five of us.” This time around, he said he’s gained experience from that initial “steep learning curve” and he now wants to continue investing in the community.“To me, the big thing is the values are the same. The priorities are the same, none of that has changed,” he said. “And I think the values will stay for Alberta all the time, you know, protecting families, fighting for our interests, supporting business – that’s not going to change.”In 2015, Russell said he found that voters couldn’t always see the NDP potential. Now that the party is in power and has shown some of what it can do, he thinks it will make for a different type of election.
Todd Russell is seeking the Grande Prairie NDP nomination for the upcoming election.
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Russell moved to Grande Prairie in 2001 when he began working with the Grande Prairie Fire Department – where he is employed as a captain today. Over the last 18 years, he’s volunteered with over a dozen charities and was a founding member of both the Grande Prairie Fire Fighters Charitable Foundation and the Grande Prairie Pride Society.For the upcoming election, a key issue for him will be education.“I have three young kids, like I mentioned, so 6, 4 and 20 months. And so education is, obviously, a really big piece for me.”He said that he’s seen the challenges in education over the last decades, through the experiences of his friends in the field and fellow community members.“The expectations on teachers and the needs of students are just growing and now is not the time to pull back,” he said. “To me, I see that the return on investment there is just so good. And it’s such a good opportunity. So that’s a really, really big piece for me because I can personally relate.”Russell said other areas he’ll focus on include child care, health care and regional economic growth and business opportunities.Melissa Byers is also vying for the nomination. Byers is the executive director of the nonprofit HIV North which she said has shown her how the economy, families, mental health and poverty play into “the bigger social structure.”“So experiencing, kind of, the far side of what poverty can do to people, families and communities, I really want to be a part of Rachel Notley’s fight for pipelines, for economic diversification and just part of that fight to make sure that our families are protected and that our communities feel safe and that Alberta can move forward in a healthy, thriving way.”In October, Byers was approached by the NDP party about potential candidates in the area. She thought about it for a month or so before submitting her nomination papers — it is the first time she’s run for a political position.“I’ve always been very politically-minded and always really focused on creating healthy communities and really focused on social justice. So it just kind of made sense to me to go forward and take the next step in what I believe is right.”“I see this as an extremely important election as we have two really dominant forces. And I believe in Rachel Notley’s style and her leadership potential to take this province to new heights,” she added.
Melissa Byers is seeking the NDP nomination for the Grande Prairie riding in the upcoming provincial election.
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Byers came to Grande Prairie seven years ago on a “four month tour.” At the time, she intended to get her oilfield medic tickets, earn some money and then move on to international travel and studies. But she said the plan quickly changed.“I came here kind of wanting to cash in on the prosperity of our region. However, [I] found out how much I loved it here and made it home.”Six years ago, Byers started as a front line worker with HIV North but then moved up in the organization and has served as executive director for a few years.“I just found a passion for Grande Prairie through HIV North and, really, was able to establish myself and make this home. I love our community and I love everything it has to offer,” she said. “And I want to see that continue for new people like me who moved to the community as well as people who have been long term residents or people who were born-and-raised here.”If Byers secures the candidate spot, main areas she will be focusing on are employment and getting a pipeline developed, she said. “I want to see our area continue to experience economic prosperity. I don’t want to see people lose their jobs. I don’t want to see people lose their homes. I don’t want to see their families break apart,” she said. “So I will do, basically, anything in my power and really focus on developing the oil and gas sector, diversifying our economy and making sure that we get fair market price for our products.”Other issues that Byers is invested in include health care and education. She said the main challenges she can foresee include some political polarization in the community and finding her “political footing” as the “new kid on the block.”Both candidates said that they will support each other moving forward, regardless of the nomination meeting result.The meeting was tentatively scheduled for Feb. 3 but a party official confirmed that the details have yet to be finalized. The Grande Prairie riding has two other political candidates in place: Grant Berg was named the Alberta Party candidate earlier this month and Tracy Allard was named the United Conservative Party candidate in July.