Candidates discuss variety of issues at Brooks Chamber forum

Only four candidates were at the Brooks and District Chamber of Commerce forum on Wednesday evening. Jeevan Mangat of the Wildrose Independence Party did not attend due to closed roads.

Bob Blayone of the Independence Party discussed Alberta sovereignty, adding he dislikes the climate change agenda and feels emissions caps need to be removed to get the Alberta oil industry going again.

He said government should stay out of the way of businesses, let them do their thing, to create jobs and be innovators. He said believes bloated government departments should be dismantled to increase funding to the general populace.

NDP candidate Gwendoline Dirk says communities need to work together to make a diversified economy for Brooks-Medicine Hat. The shortage of labourers and young people fleeing the province were a common theme, which she says are all due to UCP policies. Dirk mentioned restoring the STEP program, creating a New Alberta Venture Fund, more tax credits and funding across the board. Additionally, the NDP would restore caps on utility and insurance companies

Dirk said she wants a re-index of taxes for inflation. She discussed how the UCP has slipped under the table that seniors now must pay for their own medical exams to renew driver’s licenses.

Leader of the Alberta Party Barry Morishita says his local knowledge, experience and ability will be used to properly represent the people. He says his plan is a solution-based approach, one that recognizes one process doesn’t fit all and trusts professionals and community leaders.

Morishita believes it makes sense to work together and consolidate funding to make it easier for small businesses to receive assistance. There are lots of unnecessary regulations, particularly for small businesses that are treated as larger ones, he says.

Candidates also discussed the amount of time needed to gain regulatory approval for new power projects, core affordability issues, such as insurance, and looking into why Saskatchewan rates are half of Alberta’s. Food security, working to secure agribusinesses and keep food in the province along with using oilsands surpluses to lower taxes were also discussed.

Morishita feels Alberta has great local stories to tell, citing several examples. He wants rural broadband, to address rural affordable housing and to partner with municipalities to provide economic incentives.

Premier Danielle Smith said she’s reintroducing the UCP to the public as the last few years have been rough. She added electing her would give the region someone at the table who is immediately in a decision-making role.

Smith said upgrading Highway 3 is essential to keep the corridor open between Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. She also wants good trade routes to the U.S. and better regional air service.

Smith also discussed high insurance and utility rates and assured the audience it was being investigated. She stated the NDP cost utility companies $4 billion and retrieving that money was now being seen on current bills. She said utility companies should buy long-term contracts to protect the most vulnerable, those on fixed and low incomes, and assured the audience the UCP is working on it.

Smith defended her sovereignty act, stating Ottawa has no right to regulate the province’s industry and discussed various plans within Alberta on reducing emissions that are innovative and more sustainable.

There are lots of problems to solve, said Smith, adding needs to have a seat in the legislature in order to start making changes.

SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News