They come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, but Oneil Carlier and Rick Strankman share some common ground.
For starters, both know farming in dry country.
Strankman’s operation is near Altario (roughly halfway between Medicine Hat and Lloydminster) while Carlier grew up on a cattle and grain operation in Val Marie, Sask., 120 kilometres south of Swift Current.
On the day of his interview, Strankman was picking rocks.
That job is a “character builder,” said the 61-year-old, but there was no doubt he was relishing the chance to get out on the tractor.
“I’m still involved in our farm — that’s my first love — but I’m back and forth regularly to Edmonton for meetings,” he said. “With my involvement in politics, it’s really difficult to be on the farm to manage that side of things.”
Meanwhile Carlier, 52, was reminiscing fondly about his days with the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, which he joined at age 19, spending most of his time as a geotechnical technician.
“I was a quality control technician on irrigation projects, some very large ones here in Alberta, including the Bassano Dam rehabilitation, the Crawling Valley irrigation system, and the Blood Tribe irrigation project,” said Carlier.
From there, he took on a labour relations role with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which has “a lot of members within the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and folks at the research centres for Agriculture Canada.”
The two men are also unlikely politicians.
NDP candidates in Whitecourt-Ste. Anne used to be the definition of ‘lost cause.’ The party barely won five per cent of the vote in 2012, but Carlier rode the Rachel Notley wave to garner 36 per cent support in the May 5 election. And with the Wildrose and Tory candidates roughly halving the rest of the vote, he was suddenly an MLA — and then a cabinet minister.
Strankman’s experience in civil disobedience — he served one week of a 180-day sentence for violating the Customs Act by hauling some wheat across the border in 2002 — prompted him to run for office a decade later.
“I’ve learned in my experience seeking out policy change that you have to be firm, direct, and open in your requests and beliefs,” he said.
Strankman, too, faced long electoral odds — the Tories had captured nearly 70 per cent of the vote in Drumheller-Stettler in 2008.
But like Carlier, Strankman woke up the morning after the vote with a brand new job.
“It was never really my goal to be an MLA,” he said. “I’m just living my heart to the fullest, and it’s important that we as Albertans do that.
“It’s always been with the bent to make things better for my family and my surrounding neighbours.”