CP – Notley candidates debate the issues

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

Candidates pretty much stuck to the issues at an all-candidates forum at Donnelly G.P. Vanier School May 16.

The three parties (Independence Party of Alberta – IPA, Alberta Party – AP, and Solidarity Movement of Alberta Party – SMAP) opposing the two front runners – the United Conservative Party (UCP) and New Democratic Party (NDP) took the brunt of the shots at their foes, despite the absence of UCP candidate Todd Loewen. NDP candidate Megan Ciursek was especially critical of the UCP, while the other candidates took numerous opportunities to attack the UCP and NDP.

Vanier hosted the forum and asked submitted questions to the candidates from students and residents. In all, 17 questions were submitted but time did not allow all questions to be asked.

Each candidate opened with a speech, except for Loewen, who sent regrets. His speech is published on this page, and referred many times to the danger of electing an NDP government.

Nancy O’Neill of Solidarity spoke first. A 17-year Peace Country resident, she first spoke of the major issues. She wanted to improve health care, and bring back jobs in health care lost to COVID. She added the federal government is meddling with Alberta’s resources and wanted all provinces treated equally – something which is not currently occurring. A fairer deal on the province’s resources would increase revenue, she added.

“We want law enforcement to be standing up for the people,” O’Neill added, referring to dealing with crime.

AP candidate Lynn Lekisch was next and said she followed her party since its inception in 2001. She first admitted to supporting the NDP until recently when she was approached by the AP to be a candidate.

Lekisch wanted to work toward a world class education system, protecting rights to resources, improved infrastructure, and examining all opportunities to the transition away from the oil/gas/mining industries “to be more diversified” in the economy.
odney Bowen of the IPA spoke next and first reminded the audience they were not attached to the former Wildrose Party in any way. He admitted to being new in politics.

“We do not want politicians,” he said, hinting that current parties have their own agendas.

“You tell us your concerns. We want you people to tell us what to do.”

He promised to defend Alberta’s rights against Ottawa.

“We want truth, freedom and prosperity. If we are independent, we can be self-supportive. It is all here. We have smart students. It is all here.”

The NDP’s Ciurysek was last to speak and said she wanted to be an effective advocate for the people. A 20-year volunteer in politics, she said Alberta was ready for a change and needs to build a better future.

Ciurysek said the ruling UCP has spent much of their mandate fighting with doctors and nurses, fighting with teachers, and fighting with municipalities over tax assessment. The option, she said, was to have “competent, passionate leadership” with Leader Rachel Notley.

“We will do so by ending the chaos,” said Ciursek, a term she used frequently at the forum.

The first question was how their party would address the lack of professionals in rural areas.

O’Neill replied it was simply a matter of priority for the governing party.

“We need to start putting (more) into communities,” she said. “Children and families are not being put first.”

Lekisch wanted to mandate corporations and large businesses to develop platforms to be able to allow employees to work from home. This way, she argued rural Alberta would be more attractive to professionals.

Bowen had other ideas.

“You can’t force people to move into rural centres but you can encourage them,” he said, adding rural life was attractive.

“Hey, it’s quiet out here. There is a lot of wildlife. Out here there is a lot of neighbourly love. It did exist at one time and we can recreate it.”

Ciurysek admitted recruiting professionals to northern Alberta is a problem, especially northern Alberta.

“The NDP is committed to rebuilding public health care. We will hire 4,000 new teachers and 3,000 more assistant teachers.”

She added the NDP would also recruit health care professionals to northern Alberta.

The discrepancy between urban versus rural cost of living was next and what the elected government could do. It drew a varied response from the candidates on a variety of issues.

Lekisch advocated for better access to post-secondary education and promised to retain the current cap on tuition.

Bowen wanted to get to the root of the problem and find out why expenses were so high.

“Find out exactly where we need to spend the money. “Let’s figure out what the problem is. Often, money is there and not the problem.”

“The NDP is committed to ending the chaos,” said Ciurysek.

“The NDP is committed to adequately funding education. Our children are spending too much time on the school bus. (Parents) can’t afford. . .to pay extra fees out of pocket,” she added.

O’Neill realized rural schools are not funded the same as urban school and promised to work toward a solution. She said part of the problem is policies are made in Edmonton which do not recognize and deal with the problems faced by rural school boards and that is something that needs to change.

The high cost of fuel and insurance was next and what each candidate would do to solve the problem.

Bowen said his party was not in favour of capping insurance but added they would scrap the provincial fuel tax.

“As soon as truckers have to pay, food goes up,” he said.

Ciurysek said there was no simple solution but committed to capping insurance rates. She did not address scrapping a provincial fuel tax.

O’Neill said it was “ridiculous” for Albertans to be paying the high fuel prices they are.

“We are suffering the most right now. . .,” she said adding the UCP and NDP are not addressing the problem because they are unwilling to make real change.

Lekisch promised insurance caps. She added her party was examining fuel credit for farmers. Before other decisions are made, the government needs to find out exactly what each constituent needs.

A similar question asked candidates to address the high cost of living.

O’Neil said current rebates are not enough and blamed big companies for wanting huge profits at the expense of the people.

“These large companies are ruining this country,” she said. “Big companies are running the economy. We need to remove this party. . .”

Lekisch spoke of a current rebate program that had people paying it back. She said it was not right and better policies are needed to address the matter.

On a similar note, addressing the high cost of living was next question. O’Neill addressed the problem but not necessarily the solution.

“The large companies are ruining this country. Our systems are only for the rich. (Big companies) are ruining the economy. We need to take the resources back and return them to the people.”

Lekisch again referred to the nonsense of paying back a rebate.

Bowen favoured scrapping the carbon tax which is responsible for much of the increased cost of living but it was not enough.

“It’s kind of a gimmick by the UCP to make it look like they were doing something. It was so small it really doesn’t matter.”

Ciurysek distanced the carbon tax saying it was a federal tax, not provincial, and that Alberta could just not opt out of paying.

“It is a disgrace that the UCP did not have a rebate,” she said, adding the NDP will cap all utility bills.

Another similar question regarding utility costs compared to Edmonton gave candidates another chance to respond.

“We need to look at specific rebates for citizens,” said Lekisch.

“Regulate utilities again,” she added.

Bowen replied an independent Alberta would not pay Ottawa billions of dollars in transfer payments each year allowing Alberta to save on costs.

Ciursek reiterated her party’s cap on utilities.

“I will advocate in the most effective means I can,” she promised.

O’Neill said Alberta needed to stand up for itself against Ottawa and said a stronger provincial government would argue against Ottawa for better rates.

And a topic on everyone’s minds: public or private health care. Some chose to address the question directly while others said existing money could be better spent.

“The IPA supports a combination of the two,” said Bowen.

“In Europe, it seems to work fairly well.”

Bowen questioned the distribution of money allotted by government saying much of the money is not getting through to hospitals and it needs to change.

Ciursek again referred to the “chaos” created by the UCP and said her party opposed private health care and they would work toward one million more Albertans having access to a family doctor.

“The NDP is committed to public health care.”

O’Neill said Alberta could do better.

“Alberta is not getting what we’re entitled to,” she said, adding there should be a mix between public and private health care.

She added too much money goes to administration and not enough money trickles down where needed – the front line workers who provide the services.

Lekisch promised to work toward training more medical doctors in Alberta for rural areas. She also advocated for building more hospitals and shortening wait times.

Tuition was also questioned.

Ciursek added the NDP had a cap on tuition, which the UCP removed.

“The NDP will put it back on,” she said.

O’Neill promised a system where family income would be applied to tuition costs, meaning lower income families would pay less. A high-end cap would also be implemented.

Lekisch favoured eliminating tuition fees for any upgrading students.

Bowen wanted a system based on income starting at over $30,000.

“I think that would help a lot of families deal with rising costs,” he said.

Loewen provides statement in his absence

First, I want to share my apologies for not being with you (today). Like many folks in our constituency, my family has been evacuated and right now my focus is on keeping communities safe and supporting our firefighters and first responders that are fighting for us.

I also appreciate the opportunity to share a message about our party’s commitment to make life better for Albertans.

On May 29, Albertans will make a choice. It is the choice between a UCP government that will cut your taxes and make your life more affordable, or the NDP that would make you pay more for everything from electricity to taxes to fuel, groceries and more.

It is the choice between a UCP government that will keep hard drugs off our street, or the NDP that is soft on crime with MLAs who want to defund the police.

And it’s a choice between a UCP government that will protect public services like health care by building a saving for our future and paying off debt, or the NDP that would endanger our public funded health care system through its reckless spending and deficits.

It’s a choice between a UCP government that supports our farmers and agriculture industry – or the NDP that brought in Bill 6 and are threatening do it again.

This election is a choice between moving Alberta forward by building a brighter future or returning to the NDP’s costly and failed policies.

We can’t afford to go back and with your support we won’t.

-Todd Loewen, United Conservative Party.

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