Alberta’s economic prosperity and future were the main focus as the Red Deer-Lacombe candidates took the Lacombe Memorial Centre stage Wednesday night for the 2019 Federal Election Candidates Forum.
Incumbent Conservative Party MP Blaine Calkins, the NDP’s Lauren Pezzella, Liberal Tiffany Rose, and People’s Party of Canada candidate Laura-Lynn Thompson went before a crowd of well over 100 people, discussing their thoughts on topics ranging from uniting the country and dealing with western alienation sentiment, to climate change, rural crime and plans to help seniors.
Green Party candidate Sarah Palmer was not in attendance.
While each candidate had concern for Alberta’s economic prosperity, each had differing ideas on how to address it.
“This is the defining question for us in Alberta. Because of the punitive policies of the last four years, we now have a forced bust in our energy sector,” Calkins said, saying there’s no excuse why the province isn’t supplying Canada’s energy. “We used to be the place that people from around Canada and the world came to get a job. We can have that nice problem again by scrapping the carbon tax, getting rid of the tanker ban, Bill C-48, getting rid of Bill C-69 and….where we need to, we will use constitutional authority that a project is in the national interest to get pipelines built.”
Rose, however, said it was time to “choose forward” and work towards renewable energy. Pezzella agreed, saying it was time to move away from “endless boom and bust cycles.”
“The booms are getting less and the busts are getting harder, and despite what anyone else at this table might say, that’s not something we can fix,” she said.
“Right now we’re spending $3 billion in oil subsidies. Let’s use that money instead to train our workers for these jobs of tomorrow. We don’t currently have a single program in Alberta to train our workers in geothermal, solar, wind energy. We can be spending this money to ensure we’re the number one leader in this new era of economy.”
Thompson promised the PPC, like the CPC, would also cut the carbon tax and get pipelines built, but disagreed with the CPC’s plans to create an energy corridor across the country.
During a question on how to unite the country – particularly with growing sentiment about Alberta feeling left out – Calkins said an energy corridor may be the project Canada needs to tie the country together, enabling Canadians to buy electricity and fuel from each other instead of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. However, ensuing discussion turned quickly into calls from the NDP and Liberal candidates to see Alberta diversify its economy and rejecting the notion pipelines would unite the country, while the PPC claimed voting Conservative wouldn’t change talk of separation from Canada.
When asked how they’d work with a minority government, Calkins said he spent two terms as part of a minority government with Stephen Harper, and while they were able to find common ground with other parties on some issues, he didn’t believe that would be the case if the Liberals are re-elected.
Rose, however, echoed the Green Party Leader’s proclamation from Monday’s leaders debate. Green Party candidate Sarah Palmer was not in attendance.
“In the words of Elizabeth May, Andrew Scheer will not be Prime Minister in this election. The Conservatives are not going to win – the Liberals are. Alberta traditionally votes differently – and that’s OK. You don’t have to agree with everyone else in the country, but you do have to work with them. We can’t force the rest of the country to do what we want them to do…We have to be willing to compromise.
Thompson flat out said “there is not a thing I would do ever, ever, ever to support one Liberal policy ever, nor would I support an NDP policy ever.”
Thompson also said she didn’t believe there was a climate emergency, and said the PPC won’t support the Paris Climate Accord and the money it would require Canada to spend, given “climate is always changing.”
Rose said it was demoralizing to hear people say climate change is a lie.
“The science is clear – we need to take action. We can’t pollute our air, we cant have microplastics in our air and in our water. We cant’ rely on an energy source that is finite. We have to move forward,” she said. “We need to use the money we make from oil and gas and use to transition us into renewables. I don’t understand why we’re resisting that.”
Calkins said there’s no need to demonize the energy sector in Canada to address climate change, when the country could be helping the rest of the world, which accounts for 98.5 per cent of emissions.
“I’m so tired of the rhetoric that we need to hate oil and gas in order to be environmentally responsible,” he said. “We have some of the cleanest coal-fired technology in the world.
“We should be proud of our technology – we’re going to export our technology and make it available for the whole world…instead of beating ourselves up and beating down our energy sector which is the cleanest, greatest, most socially and environmentally responsible industry in the world.”
Pezzella called “clean coal” an oxymoron, and that the NDP would use oil subsidy money to spur investment in a low-carbon economy and accelerate adoption of clean technology.
On rural crime, Thompson pledged to give approval to fellow PPC candidate Paul Mitchell’s draft of a bill which would allow Canadians to use force against someone they believe is about to steal property.
“Criminals are getting bolder and bolder and Canadians are sick of this. It’s time for criminals to be afraid again – they are not afraid of the consequences,” she said. “When a family’s safety is on the line, they will be able to use their own legal firearms to protect themselves. We think this is fair. We think this puts the power back to the people.”
Calkins called the cause “near and dear” to his heart, having grown up on a farm and been victim of rural crime. As part of the Conservative-led Alberta Rural Crime Task Force, he and his colleagues issued a 40-age report detailing recommendations to deal with the issue, and had a motion passed unanimously for the Public Safety committee to study the issue.
“The Liberal-dominated Public Safety Committee whitewashed the whole thing and issued a two-page report that basically said rural Canadians are just a bunch of gun owners that don’t understand the law and get with the times,” he said, slamming the Liberal’s Bill C-75 which reduced sentences for break and enters, possession of stolen property and theft of stolen property over $5,000. “There is no consequences for criminals anymore. We need to put teeth back into the legislation.”
Calkins and Red Deer-Mountainview CPC incumbent Earl Dreeshen put forward Bill C-458 earlier this year to do just that by targetting criminals that target rural Canadians by making it an aggravating factor in sentencing.
Pezzella, however, said the answer to rural crime was not increased sentences, but prevent crime by stopping people from becoming criminals in the first place with support systems, as well as better fund the RCMP to address response times in rural areas.
Rose claimed rural crime had gone down – a comment which sparked laughter, none of which was in favour, from the crowd. She also referred to the Liberals’ promise to improve mental health supports.
“I think we are focusing too much on ‘us vs. them.’ I think we need to understand that even people who commit crimes are still part of our community,” Rose said. “We have a lot of people slipping through the cracks, and it’s not always their fault – we fail them as a society, we don’t include them, and we push them away when we don’t like their behaviours. We need to make sure everyone is cared for.”
On seniors, all four were in agreement that better care was needed for those who have invested and built the country to what it is today, but had varied ideas on how to accomplish that.
Pezzella said she wanted to make pharmacare free, and work on development of a national dementia strategy and elder abuse plan, as well as keyed in on addressing pension issues.
“Let’s introduce a mandatory industry-financed pension insurance program to ensure workers are not deprived of their retirement benefits,” she said. “Let’s create a pension advisory committee to develop a long-term plan to protect and enhance old age security, boost guaranteed income supplement and strengthen the Canada Pension Plan. At the current rate pensions are going, I’m not going to be able to rely on it – I’m going to have to save up for my own future.”
Rose promised the Liberals’ would increase old age security by 10 per cent by the age of 75, which she says will “help lift 20,000 seniors out of poverty,” as well as increase CPP by 25 per cent.
The PPC alluded to axing foreign aid and putting that money into seniors.
Calkins, meanwhile, said the Conservatives would reinstate a Minister of Seniors at the federal level, support new horizon senior programs so accessibility funding is available, as well as allow people to keep more of their old age security and support pension income splitting.
How to pay for promises
As for how each candidate and their party would work towards paying for promises made during the campaign, Pezzella said the NDP would roll back the Harper Conservatives’ corporate tax cut to 2010 levels and increase taxes on the wealthy. They’d also require web streaming companies like Netlflix and Crave to pay GST, and impose a 15 per cent foreign buyers tax on purchases of residential properties by foreign corporations and non-permanent residents or citizens.
Rose said the Liberals have another tax cut for the middle class and additional tax cut for the wealthy and ultra-wealthy, saying “everyone needs to pay their fair share,” including those with offshore tax havens and major corporations.
Thompson said the PPC would stop all foreign aid and use that money to address issues in Canada, while Calkins said the answer to paying for anything in the country went back to getting the economy back on track.
“Capitalism fully funds socialism,” he said. “We need to make sure we take care of our economy.”