The Sylvan Lake Chamber of Commerce hosted an Election Forum last Thursday night at the Community Centre, where three candidatesfrom three parties all hoping to win a seat in the Red Deer – Lacombe riding were present. Candidates at the forum included ProgressiveConservative candidate Blaine Calkins, Liberal candidate Jeff Rock, and New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Doug Hart.
During the forum residents heard candidates respond to a number of questions regarding current events and the economy. The eveningbegan with biographies from each candidate in which residents first heard from NDP candidate Doug Hart. The 65 year old Ponokaresident stated his background extends throughout a 40 year career of teaching and administration at Alberta Hospital, Red Deer College,and Grande Prairie Regional College where he served as acting president from 2006-2007. The former nurse and collegiate administratorholds an undergraduate degree in nursing and graduate degrees in Educational Administration and Health Promotion Studies from theUniversity of Alberta.
Up next on the microphone, residents heard from Liberal candidate Jeff Rock, a reverend with Gaetz Memorial United Church in Red Deer.The Liberal candidate holds a Bachelor’s of Science and a Master’s of Divinity from McGill University in Montreal. Rock stated his is alsoactively involved in the community serving on many different local and national boards and committees.
Last to give his biography was Conservative candidate Blaines Calkins who told of his background in the oil and gas sector prior tobecoming a park ranger. Calkins graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Scienvce with specialization in zoology. Helater became a tenured faculty member at Red Deer College. Following this Calkins served on Lacombe Town Council and eventually puthis name in the hat for the Conservative party in 2006 for the Wetaskawin constituency where has has remained the Member of Parliamentfor this riding until this year when constituencies were redivided.
The first question of the evening asked candidates whether they felt their party would enter into a coalition government if their partiesreceived minority governments. Hart spoke first on the matter stating, “In Alberta coalitions seem to have a negative connotation… I tendto be a common sense kind of person, if some one came to me and said they have an idea to stimulate the economy. I would be a fool notto listen.”
He added, “I would weigh the evidence, consider the constituents, look at the bigger picture and then I would make a decision at my ownperil – bottom line I would do what’s best for the constituents and the country.”
Calkins was up next informing he felt the party with the most number of seats after the end of the election should be given the firstchance to govern.
“We’ve seen a very successful minority government from 2006-2008, in those particular cases they worked very well with other parties…we [the P.C’s] had another minority in 2008 and again we governed well through some of the roughest economic times we’ve ever had,”said Calkins. “I know all too well the conversations that have been going on, saying if the Conservative Party does not get a majoritygovernment you will have a coalition government – it’s not a question of if, but when?”
Rock stated he felt using the “politics of fear to say the NDP and Liberals are going to form a coalition when Justin Trudeau has said wewon’t be forming a coalition is the exact kind of politics of fear we’re tired of.”
The next hot button topic was related to the low price of oil and whether or not candidates supported the continued development ofAlberta’s oil sands.
Calkins had the microphone first stating he has always been an advocate for Alberta’s energy sector.
“It seems the only party who cares about Alberta’s energy sector is the Conservative party in Canada – we have advocated continuously forthe building of pipelines. The best thing I could do as your member of parliament for Central Alberta is have pipelines going to the eastand west coast,” said Calkins.
Rock rebuttled by saying, “Stephen Harper has boon dogged the oil and gas portfolio so badly, the president of the United States isstopping the Keystone pipeline.”
“The Liberal party has been advocating for it [the Keystone XL] immensely, while strongly opposing the Northern Gateway pipeline [to thewest] which doesn’t make any sense – British Columbia is not treaty territory like we are right now. If the First Nations groups say no –then it’s a no and the pipeline won’t be able to succeed. It’s time we started focusing on pipelines that are possible like Keystone XL andEnergy East.”
Hart had the last word stating he felt one of the biggest problems with government is they don’t plan far enough ahead.
“I think we need to plan for long [term] and diversify our economy,” said Hart. “I think we need to more aggressively be looking atsustainable energy production – however in the short term, yes we [the NDP] promote our oil and gas sector in Canada. We need to domore to process and refine our products locally to create those jobs.”
Candidates were then asked three individuals questions. Hart was asked about concerns the heightened minimum wage would have onsmall businesses. He responded he could see the margins were small in terms of profit and loss when it comes to small business.
“Small increases in the cost of doing business can directly affect the bottom line – I think the best argument supporting the increase is toat least increase people’s salaries to a living wage. The Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance has done extensive studies into howmuch it costs to live in Central Alberta and they can tell you it costs… between $11.75 and $13.25 depending on where you live.
“The small increase in minimum wage increases the amount of disposable income for a lot of people and much of that will trickle back intosmall business when employees have more money to spend.”
Calkins was then asked a question regarding child care, stating having mothers return to the work force is important, but child care cancomplicate the hiring and staffing process asking why the P.C. party has yet to take steps to improve affordable childcare.
“The Conservative Party’s approach is to treat all families with children equally, not every family in Canada has a once size fits all solution– in fact, there are indicators telling us only 10% of families actually use or want institutionalized daycare,” replied Calkins. “This is a very,very costly program – so our approach instead has been to treat all tax payers and families with respect and provide them each with theuniversal childcare benefit which was $100 a month for every child in the family under the age of 6.”
Rock’s question was geared towards the Liberal party not viewing CPP and EI as a tax.
“Do you believe small business owners should adopt this thinking and not consider our source reduction contirbutions a task and if sowhat are the justifaction as we do not get to redeem our contributions made on behalf of our employees?” asked the mediator.
Rock used the exampled of his late grandmother who spent her life working as a farmer’s wife, but never had an official ‘employer’ otherthan a short period of time spent as a postal carrier to supplement the family’s income.
“The only thing that gave her a dignified retirement and kept her out of abject poverty was CPP and OAS,” said Rock. “It was a socialprogram that in a lot of ways saved her life and saved the government tonnes of money – I see CPP and OAS as a great benefit to givepeople a dignified retirement not as a tax. Of course as a business owner some times it might feel like a bit of a tax.
“To me it’s not a payroll tax, it is a social benefit even if to small business owners it seems like a bit of a burden.”
The evening was concluded with questions from citizens.
Residents of Sylvan Lake are reminded to vote on Monday, Oct. 19th with advanced voting beginning Friday, Oct. 9th.