Twelve of the 14 contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada were in Lethbridge Thursday, trying to make an impression in a room full of fence sitters.
The dinner, served at $125 a plate, was hosted by the Lethbridge Conservative Association and allowed the candidates to mix with the public as well as make a short address to the sold-out crowd of 250 people.
"I am one of those undecideds right now," says Melody Garner-Skiba, the former president of the local chamber of commerce.
"I'm really interested to hear what the candidates are thinking for their vision of, specifically agriculture and agri-food processing, how that's going to come into play with NAFTA and the other trade agreements."
Economic issues at the forefront
Pipelines, tax cuts, and agriculture were all issues on the table.
Candidate Brad Trost introduced himself as the "farm boy from Saskatchewan" and advocated abolishing the carbon tax, as well as slashing other programs and cutting funding of the CBC, as did Andrew Saxton.
Maxime Bernier talked about his plan to eliminate supply-management for agriculture sectors in the province, of particular interest in southern Alberta.
Lisa Raitt advocated following down the fiscal path set by the late Jim Flaherty.
Kellie Leitch chose to speak about her plans for immigration policy.
Bill Kaupp is a farmer and was in the crowd Thursday. He said he came primarily to hear about the candidates' economic policies, but that it was hard to keep 14 different platforms straight.
"I'd like to see it thin down before the end of April. It is a little tough for ordinary people to try and figure it out, " Kaupp said. "Let's face it, there's candidates that have no chance."
Talking to farmers and food processors
Garner-Skiba did get a chance to direct a question to Raitt asking about her policies surrounding agriculture and agri-food processing.
Raitt said Canada needed to brand itself under the slogan "Canada feeds the world," a slogan she'd picked up from a agriculture expo. "It's an incredible story we can talk more and more about," she said.
Steven Blaney took a chance to address the question as well, introducing himself as the son of farmers.
He advocated a policy that was open to global markets but avoided subsidies.
Nothing on disability policy
Scott Nishi has lived with cerebral palsy since birth. While Nishi has a great deal of interest in economic policy, he says he hopes that policy for those who have disabilities might becomes a bigger part of the conversation.
"Basically I haven't heard anything from any of the candidates as of yet," Nishi said.
Benefits and social programming are both areas Nishi said he'd like to hear more about.
"It's thrown under a carpet and you don't hear much about it until an election comes up."
Nishi served on the campaign for local MP Rachael Harder, who currently serves as the opposition critic for youth and persons with disabilities portfolio.
"I'm a fence sitter right now, however, if I had to choose someone right now, I would have to say Deepak Obhrai," Nishi said. "I think he'd be a good leader not only for the party, but for minorities."
O'Leary misses another Alberta event
Organizers of the event Thursday characterized candidate Kevin O'Leary's absence as a snub to Albertans since it was the third event in the province he'd missed in as many days.
Candidate Michael Chong was also absent for the event. Organizers said Chong sited familial obligations for his absence. Chong was present at events in Edmonton and Calgary on the previous two days.
"I would like to see Kevin here," Nishi said. "The fact that he's not here takes away from the vigour of the event."
"It's a black mark for him," Kaupp agreed.