Candidates debate the issues at forum

Four of five candidates in the federal election attended the Peace River forum Oct. 9. Left-right are People’s Party of Canada candidate John Schrader, Green Party candidate Peter Nygaard, Conservative candidate Arnold Viersen, and Liberal candidate Leslie Penny. The NDP’s candidate, Jennifer Villebrun, did not attend.

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

The federal candidates for Peace River-Westlock squared off at the Belle Petroleum Centre for a respectful public forum on Oct. 9.

It was a stark contrast to the televised leader’s debates, which often saw leaders interrupting and talking over each other.

A full room of people turned out to hear the candidates for the Conservatives, Green Party, Liberal Party and People’s Party of Canada. NDP candidate Jennifer Villebrun did not attend.

The Peace River and District Chamber of Commerce kept the event civil and well moderated as candidates gave opening statements and then answered questions from the floor. Rather than talking over each other, most candidates politely stopped speaking almost as soon as their 10-second warning bells rang.

The candidates also participated in a forum for the Grade 5-6 classes at Good Shepherd School earlier in the day.

However, despite the relatively tame Peace River forums, candidates still show major differences of policy and opinion and have not been afraid to call other parties and candidates out.

Incumbent Conservative MP and clear frontrunner Arnold Viersen says the country is at a juncture. He says this election will determine the future of the resource industry and with it, Canada’s prosperity.

“Since 2015 Justin Trudeau has declared war on northern Alberta,” Viersen says.

He says the Conservatives want to make sure Canada is the place where people come to do business. He adds the Conservatives will make life more affordable for Canadians.

“We need to get pipelines built and we need to get Justin Trudeau out,” Viersen says.

Meanwhile, PPC candidate John Schrader has been positioning himself as more conservative than the Conservatives, quoting Ayn Rand and speaking out against what he calls “socialist groupthink.”

“Many in our society think government has the answer to all of our problems. I am here to tell you that is not the case,” Schrader says.

Instead, he advocates that people contribute to society as individuals, and says free individuals vote with their dollars and get involved to change things themselves.

He also believes a PPC government is the only choice economically.

“Only a PPC government will lead Canada to unwavering prosperity,” he says.

He pulls no punches about the Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who beat out PPC leader Maxime Bernier before Bernier formed the new PPC party.

“Andrew Scheer is a liberal,” Schrader says.

Schrader adds he wants a law banning third trimester abortions.

Scheer has already been questioned heavily about his stance on abortion at the leader’s debates. In response, Viersen has posted on his Facebook and Twitter accounts that, “As a pro-life MP, I trust in Andrew Scheer’s leadership and freedom of conscience in our caucus. Unlike Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, our party has the freedom to vote on issues that are important to us.”

However Viersen says he will not bring forward a private member’s bill on abortion under Scheer, due to “political correctness.”

While Viersen says he has been hearing a lot about immigration on the doorsteps, immigration wasn’t brought up at the Peace River forum.

Green Party candidate Peter Nygaard spent a decade travelling the world on a bike with his wife and has written a book about his adventures. Despite the huge size of the riding, he has been riding his bike to some campaign events, walking his talk on climate change and environmentalism.

Nygaard says the Greens are about “honest, ethical and caring leadership.”

“I chose the Green Party because the Green Party thinks ahead,” he says.

Besides committing to fight climate change, Nygaard affirms his commitment to helping First Nations, oil and gas, and farmers.

He says farmers have been squeezed out by transnational corporations, and the Green Party advocates farmers getting a fair share of the consumer food dollar, and reducing food imports by half to help farmers sell more domestically.

“I want oil and gas workers to know I will fight for them. We can exploit our oil resources in a different way. We don’t need to ship out raw bitumen. We could manufacture goods here in Alberta,” Nygaard says.

He says that adding value to Alberta oil will fetch a higher price and mean we can ship products around the world without needing a pipeline.

He adds he and his party will help Albertans and especially fossil fuel workers transition into the clean energy sector, noting that at the height of oilsands production it only contributed less than three per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product.

Nygaard also points out as a Green, his party is the “wild card” and could work with any other government to collaborate.

Liberal candidate Leslie Penny is a former RN and a municipal politician [Barrhead town councillor] who is relaxed speaking in front of constituents and often makes gentle jokes. She was the only candidate to draw a few laughs from the Peace River audience.

Penny says having a rural Liberal MP would gain constituents more influence in another possible Liberal government.

At press time the Liberals and Conservatives remained virtually tied in the polls, making the possibility of a minority government more likely.

“I know it’s hard for rural Albertans to even consider voting Liberal, but when we don’t have any Liberal MP it’s very difficult to have a voice when the Liberals are in government,” she says.

“That’s one of the reasons you might want to vote for me.”

Penny believes the Liberals strike the best balance between “helping and protecting those most vulnerable in our society, and encouraging business to come to our various provinces and to our smaller communities.”

On pipelines, she says, “pipelines are a huge question mark in our entire Canadian economy.”

“We can’t even think about the kinds of things we need to do to green our economy without funds coming in to do that. We need to get some of our product to market.”

“People, we own a pipeline now, so we will get it built,” she says.

The election is Oct. 21.

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