The Lacombe Memorial Centre was a full house as four local candidates for the Lacombe-Ponoka constituency took to the stage during an all-candidates forum on April 27th.
A wide range of topics from healthcare and education, oil revenue to minimum wage were on the forefront of discussion for the four candidates: Peter DeWit of the PC Party, Doug Hart of the Alberta NDP, Tony Jeglum of the Alberta Party and Ron Orr of the Wildrose Party.
In his opening remarks, Jeglum stated the over-arching issue of this election remains the same as it did three years ago.
“Each election campaign is very much about money,” he said. “We need stable funding for our schools and hospitals. We cannot allow the price of a barrel of oil to predict our children’s education. That makes absolutely no sense.”
He said the Alberta Party envisions an education system that is admirably funded, “Where local voters are responsible for decisions when it comes to their schools. Teachers are entrusted to teach to students’ needs, not standardized exams.
“We believe our healthcare needs a better strategy,” he said. “We must invest in long-term care, family doctors, mental health and addictions treatments.”
He concluded a balanced approach on both sides, raising revenue and increasing corporate tax, is needed.
Orr began his address by ensuring voters that, “Their vote would not walk away from them this time.
“A vote for any other party is a vote for higher taxes,” he reaffirmed.
Orr said the province does not have a revenue problem, but an apparent spending problem. “The PC government collects more money and spends more money per capita than any other province in Canada,” he said. “Wildrose is the only party that actually has a detailed fiscal plan that will balance the budget by 2017 without raising taxes simply by cutting the billions of contracts, waste and mismanagement.”
He added Wildrose would not freeze enrollment funding for schools and would deliver on the proposed school for Blackfalds.
Hart started off his address by stating that the last five premiers in Alberta have mismanaged the province and the wealth of resources.
“Albertans have enjoyed some prosperity over the last few years, but it’s been not thanks to the Conservatives, but in spite of them,” said Hart. “In their platform, the PCs want to impose 59 new taxes, health levies and fees. They also want to cut school budgets, refuse to let school boards use their reserves and they want to cut health care budgets.”
He added the NDP would propose a revenue increase through a 2% increase in corporate tax and would also propose a progressive tax.
“We would also propose to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018,” he said.
For his opening statement, DeWit said Alberta is at a turning point.
“We have been using energy dollars to pay for our day-to-day expenses,” he said. “This approach is unpredictable and frankly, unsustainable. We need to take immediate action to put Alberta back on track.”
DeWit said the government needs to be better in order to secure a future for Albertans. Through five main action points, the PCs plan to bring Alberta, “Back on track,” with the first being by reducing government waste.
The second action point he noted was investing in infrastructure.
“We need to invest in schools, hospitals and roads,” he said. “Now is not the time to fall short on these important and much-needed projects.”
The remaining points he indicated were protecting jobs, diversifying the economy and doubling the savings in the Heritage Fund by 2025. “We have a plan to successfully deal with these challenges,” said DeWit.
In response to a question regarding what their particular party plans to do to keep rural Alberta vibrant, DeWit stated the topic is near and dear to his heart and he would bring the issues from rural Alberta forward to the Legislature.
“The PC party is committed to rural Alberta in several ways,” he said. “It is committed to diversifying the local economy, to making sure there are local jobs and we are very proud of the industry and agriculture that is in this area.”
Hart responded by stating that the NDP is all about sustaining rural communities.
“Sixty per cent of the GDP originates in rural Alberta — the beef, the oil, the gas, the dairy, the wheat — and it turns into jobs in Edmonton and Calgary for our young people from rural Alberta,” he said.
He added urban drift is a huge problem in the area, in particular in Ponoka which has a higher than usual senior citizen population.
“I think we can do lots to diversify the economy, to create jobs for young people to stay in small town Alberta, but we also have to have a politician that will go to Edmonton to say this urban drift is taking the money from rural Alberta,” said Hart.
In response to a question regarding supporting public funds being used towards private education and healthcare, Jeglum stated the Alberta Party does support private schools as long as they are inclusive.
“We do not support public funds going into the private healthcare system,” he stated.
Orr responded to the same question, indicating Wildrose is in support of choice in regards to education.
“Yes we support public funds being used in private education,” he said. “But we also support public education.
“We believe it is entirely possible that in terms of healthcare, public dollars can be administered and healthcare can be delivered by means of private operators.”
He added that currently Albertans fly out of province to receive healthcare treatments.
“Why shouldn’t it be offered here?” he questioned.