Three of the five candidates contesting the Red Deer-Lacombe riding appeared at the Oct. 8 organized by the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce.
A fairly partisan crowd was on hand at the Ponoka Royal Canadian Legion auditorium, many showing their support for their candidate by wearing buttons.
The incumbent Member of Parliament, Conservative Blaine Calkins, was joined on the stage by the NDP’s Lauren Pezzela and Laura Lynn Thompson of the People’s Party of Canada. The Liberal candidate Tiffany Rose informed organizers that she was unable to make it. The Green Party’s Sarah Palmer was absent.
Each candidate was provided time for an opening statement as well as a closing statement with audience questions taking up the space in between for the two hour event.
Calkins focused his statements on pointing out that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is the leader that understands the dynamics of Canada and knows what Alberta needs as well as that people in this province don’t feel like they are being treated equally.
“We have been feeling like we are not true, equal and fair partners in this confederation due to the policies the current government has put in place,” he said.
“We need to start thinking about each other first and getting back to being Canadians, because unity is at stake I think in this election.”
In addition, Calkins believes his party’s “national energy corridor” strategy will be a unifying force, bringing the country together, while allowing pipelines and electricity to run across the country.
“It would create predictability and certainty in an environment where the present legislation is providing uncertainty and economic hardship for Alberta,” he explained.
“It would reduce the time to get a project built as we would have all of the issues resolved ahead of time, bringing everyone in as partners.”
Thompson, the other conservative in the race, attacked Scheer’s stance that his party would not impose pipelines through the constitution and the timeline suggested to balance the budget.
“(PPC leader) Maxime Bernier stood up strong (in the debate) and is the only one that has said it is the only way to get pipelines built. We know that we are not going to have agreement from Quebec, from B.C.,” she said.
“That’s why I trust Bernier. It’s not very popular to say you are going to impose pipelines in Quebec, but he says it because it is in the national interest and it has to be done.”
She also stated the PPC would balance the budget in two years, specifically by abolishing all foreign aid.
“How do we do it? We stop paying $600 million for abortions across the world and the $2.5 billion for climate change that is currently going overseas,” Thompson said.
“We say stop all of that and bring those funds back home.”
For Pezzela, the main issue was wanting her generation, and generations down the road, to have a future and opportunities that her parents had.
“I want to build Canada up into a country of hope and prosperity. Alberta has been an economic powerhouse for as long as I’ve been alive, but we are passing by opportunities to train our workers in new technologies and new cleaner futures,” she said.
“We are doing this by supporting industries that people worldwide are actively trying to reduce their dependency on. Maybe its just the business student in me, but that doesn’t seem right. I want to help bring Alberta into a new economic future where we are leaders and not just citizens desperately clinging to a dying resource.”
She also wants to improve the lives of Canadians, whether through expanding health care and medicine coverage, more affordable housing options, cheaper access to childcare and investing in the economy to “take better care of each other.”
“But quite frankly, it’s more important to me that we do those things in our own backyard,” she added.
What was left was about an hour and a half of questions from the audience that ran the gamut from energy, immigration and foreign policy to agriculture, crime and medical care.
When it comes to crime Pezzela would like to see more prevention and programs that would address issues that cause people to turn to crime, while punishing those that maliciously target people.
Meanwhile, Calkins is concerned about criminals repeatedly getting out too soon and would increase resources to fight gangs, drugs and illegal firearms.
As for Thompson, she feels criminals need to feel scared, that the consequences currently are not strong enough and that people need to be allowed to defend themselves using legally owned firearms.
On the pipeline file, Calkins explained his party would use the constitution to get construction moving if it is in the nation’s interest and that the Liberals changed the rules to essentially kill projects previous Conservative governments had in place.
Thompson attacked that point, noting Scheer has said he is confident that agreements would be reached. She added she trusts Bernier and his plan to impose the pipelines on jurisdictions. Pezzela declined to provide a response.
One question on pharmacare had all three candidates nearly on a similar page.
Calkins supports the idea, but not for everyone as he quoted statistics that only about 15 to 20 per cent of Canadians are without extended health benefits. He would rather focus on working on bulk purchases and new technology to help provide lower-cost medication for those people.
For Pezzela, it’s not just that 20 per cent, but those that have insufficient coverage also need help. Referencing that 57 per cent of diabetics either skip doses or use a smaller amount because insulin and related items are too expensive, she stated the NDP platform would institute comprehensive and universal coverage by next year.
The position of Thompson’s party, she stated, is that the provinces are responsible for maintaining an efficient and cost effective system. However, she added the regulatory structure that allows companies to charge high prices for drugs while not allowing some medications and natural products into the market need to change for the sake of people’s health.