The economy, health care and GSA’s were among the topics discussed by the Lacombe-Ponoka candidates in front of a full crowd at the Lacombe Memorial Centre Wednesday night.
Over 400 people turned out to the Lacombe Chamber of Commerce’s All Candidates Forum, listening as the NDP, UCP, and Alberta Party candidates shared their views for the province’s future, as well as from candidates of the three “long-shot” parties in the Alberta Advantage Party, Alberta Independence Party and the Freedom Conservative Party.
Chief amongst questions was one on the controversial carbon tax, which only saw NDP candidate Doug Hart – making his fifth attempt at representing the riding – in favour.
“I support the price on carbon and surprisingly more and more jurisdictions and industries are,” he said.
“In Alberta, our carbon tax is revenue neutral. Individuals with less than $47,500 get rebated and (for) those who don’t get rebated, the money goes into green initiatives including some major solar farms. It’s seed money for innovation and research into a number of technological and energy-related advances.”
Incumbent UCP MLA Ron Orr, whose party has made it clear axing the carbon tax will be their first act if they form the next government, quickly corrected him.
“Revenue neutral means you reduce other taxes to the same amount of what you’re collecting. The NDP haven’t reduced a single tax – it’s not neutral at all,” Orr said.
Alberta Party candidate Myles Chykerda referred to his party’s newly released carbon tax platform, which says they would keep it in place for large emitters, but cancel it for small businesses emitting less than 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases, non-profit organizations and municipalities. It will also be eliminated on home heating, gasoline and propane used in vehicles and heating in a move Chykerda says will “make it more understanding of what it’s like living in a cold climate.”
Meanwhile, Alberta Advantage Party’s Shawn Tylke said his party would phase the carbon tax out over three years and use it to pay of Alberta’s current debt, while the other two parties called it a tax grab and said they would also axe it.
On how each party would work towards balancing the budget and how it might affect the provision of civil services, Hart said “aggressively diversifying” the economy was key to making sure services can be continued to provided.
Orr, meanwhile said they needed Alberta to become business friendly again by taxing at a lower rate to make the pool larger, stand up the oil and gas industry, speed up well approvals and a reform of the Alberta Energy Regulator.
Privatization of health care also came up.
Part of the UCP’s platform it came as new secret Orr was in favour of it.
“We have a fear in this country that somehow we’re going to destroy the system if we embrace multiple ways of doing it,” he said. “We’re going to protect the universality of health care, but if we can deliver it to you at equal value or less through any kind of private service, we absolutely will…Every measure of wait times in this province has increased and people need to get service.”
Parrill agreed, saying that while a two-tier system wasn’t ideal, it was the reality in other provinces and in the U.S. and anything to reduce wait times was OK with him.
Chykerda noted privatization of some services already exists
“Basically, the Alberta Party is saying there are some areas where the private sector can deliver some things cheaper and more efficiently, but it still has to be regulated,” he said.
Both Tylke and Szwagierczak said they weren’t in favour of privatization at all, nor was Hart, who said he was opposed to the privatization of any essential service.
On education, it was yet again another UCP platform point that drove the line of questioning, including on the topic of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA’s)
“It’s easy to take extreme positions on this, but we have to find a good balance here,” said Orr. “We have said we absolutely do not believe schools should tolerate bullying. We support the existence of GSA’s – all parties voted to support the original Bill 10 in the Legislature.
He said children often need parents, and sometimes someone else to talk about their parents, and so their proposed plans are not about “outing” students, but finding a balance of where parents are informed – when it’s in the best interest of the child.
Hart said Bill 10 had a lot of conditions that were eliminated in Bill 24, and said legislation wasn’t needed to allow a child talking to their parents about sexuality, but it was if a child felt uncomfortable in doing so.
Chykerda agreed Bill 24 was needed, but said he didn’t like the way it was rolled out.
“What I don’t like is how Bill 24 has been implemented and turned into a blunt instrument to smash through LCS and CACHS who have worked very hard to put together Safe and Caring policies,” he said. “They worked in collaboration with Alberta Education and those were ultimately shut down by Minister (David) Eggen without much explanation so I’d like open dialogue here, communication and fine that balance.”
Tylke and Parrill unequivocally supported parents knowing at all times what their child is up to until the age of majority, while Szwagierczak said the AIP – who have a transgender candidate running – would repeal it, but allow a measure for students to report to a teacher or counselor and fill out a confidentiality form if that student felt they couldn’t speak to their parents.
Other topics included the now-halted UCP platform policy to return diploma exams back to a weight of 50 per cent from 30 per cent, the helmet exemption for Sikhs, and conservation of parks.
Speaking with the media afterwards, Hart didn’t deny that he was hearing a lot of concern for jobs and the economy, but made it clear he didn’t believe the UCP would do better than the incumbent NDP.
“The conservatives are taking the approach that if we reduce taxes more, then we will attract business and the economy will recuperate…Simply reducing taxes for business puts a bigger hole in our budget and gains nothing back in return,” Hart said.
“What we’re offering is support for our existing petroleum industry, expanding our refining products at home, expanding petroleum value added jobs, but also getting our pipelines build and product to tide water.”
Hart slammed UCP leader Jason Kenney for fear mongering in the campaign over the economy, doing nothing for Alberta when he was part of the Stephen Harper government and said that’s why his party has spent so much time attacking him.
“It’s him I call the ‘Henny Penny Kenney’ – he’s the one who is saying the sky is falling and it’s not,” he said. “Jason Kenney is embroiled in all kind of controversy – controversy in nomination campaigns, controversy in the ‘Kenneykaze’ and the fear that he is imposing on people – he’s leading the league in fear mongering.”
Meanwhile, the Alberta Party’s Chykerda was just trying to show voters have a choice.
“There (are) a lot of tales here that this election is a two-horse party and that’s just not the case. From the UCP and the NDP at a lot of different debates…there’s some ideas there but they’re usually going after each other, attacking each other and more or less saying we need to spend money on the exact same things,” he said.
“The Alberta Party is trying to put forward a lot of new ideas, novel ideas and change how we’re doing things in Alberta.”
Riding that centre line between the NDP and UCP, however, does come with some criticism of being “wishy washy” according to Chykerda.
“Where I see our ‘riding the middle’ sort of thing is putting the province first before ideology and finding good ideas wherever they may be,” he said, noting some policies put forward have been ‘left wing’ while others have been right wing.’
Media was not able to speak with the Alberta Advantage Party and Alberta Independence Party candidates following the debate, but did speak with the FCP’s Parrill, who had a yet a different take on what the election was about.
“The main message today is less Ottawa and more Alberta,” he said. “Derek Fildebrandt has talked about being a nation inside of a nation in Canada – I fully support that. Alberta has a lot to offer Canada.”
Parrill, in speaking to the Lacombe Globe previously, said he was a separatist supporter during the 80’s when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister. Now, he just wants Alberta to get a fair deal – and if they can’t get it done, then consider separation.
When asked how realistic he thought it was for Alberta to actually receive that kind of autonomy from Ottawa he said he can’t see why it wouldn’t work.
“Quebec did it and they got a sweetheart of a deal. I’ve got nothing against Quebec – I love what they have. I’m jealous and I want the same thing,” he said. “I can’t see, after a precedent has been set, why Alberta can’t shorten the process, not have to go through the Supreme Court….and do the same thing. I think it’s realistic otherwise I wouldn’t be here preaching it tonight.”
He said separation sentiments tempered with former prime minister Stephen Harper as the federal leader, but he was warning people they’d one day find themselves under another Liberal government and they’’d be “back at square one,” and it was time for Alberta to stop the cycle of having a Liberal government with their hands in Alberta affairs.
Incumbent and UCP candidate Orr acknowledged rising separatism is a concern, but dismissed it as being the answer to solving Alberta’s problems.
“Alberta has, for many years, felt misunderstood and mistreated by Ottawa. There’s this attitude of colonialism,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think it will solve many problems. In fact, it’ll probably create more problems than it solves. What we need to do is struggle and work for a fair place in confederation and I think that’s achievable and attainable.”
Asked about the NDP’s focus on Kenney, he chalked it up to just how the party is playing the election.
“From our perspective, the NDP strategy so far has really been one to try and discredit or the wild character assassination of one candidate after another,” he said. “Our goal is to stay focused on the objective of getting the economy going and jobs back in place.”
A forum was previously held in Ponoka on March 28, however the debate did not feature Freedom Conservative Party candidate Keith Parrill, who was not yet listed as a candidate.
An Election Forum will also be held by the Blackfalds Chamber of Commerce at the Blackfalds Community Centre on Monday, April 8 at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Full transcription of the forum can be found here.
Candidates at a glance – including profiles and other key links – can be found here.
The 2019 Alberta Election will be held on Tuesday, April 16.