The economy, health and oil are three pillars of public concern according to a virtual forum for Grande Prairie–Mackenzie ahead of the federal election Sept. 20.
The forum was hosted by Grande Prairie and District’s Chamber of Commerce’s (GPDCC) last Tuesday.
CPC Chris Warkentin, PPC Shawn McLean, Rhino Donovan Eckstrom, Maverick Ambrose Ralph and NDP Jennifer Villebrun were in attendance. Liberal candidate Dan Campbell was absent.
GPDCC chair Larry Gibson moderated the night of questions that gave the candidates a chance to tell the public their platforms and solutions on issues federally and locally.
“I think that it's time for us to get this country back on track,” said CPC incumbent Chris Warkentin.
“We need a government that will impose serious penalties on politicians who break the law and put an end to special deals and contracts for politically connected Ottawa insiders.
“I need your help to help elect the Conservative government that will focus on rebuilding our economy and make life more affordable for every Canadian.”
NDP candidate Jennifer Villebrun said she believes it’s time for new representation in Ottawa.
“I believe that we need new leadership in this community; what I will commit to is that I will be here in the community.
“We're a community working with you to meet the goals set out by the NDP, and our platform is solidly based on investing in the people of this community. Our greatest asset is our hard-working people.”
“At the end of the day, what everyone is worried about is how they're going to make sure that their family is able to meet their basic needs and how they can get ahead in the world.
“Please join me in helping support the NDP in creating a government that is going to invest in people first and ensure that we can pass a positive situation on to our children.”
Shawn McLean, PPC candidate, has his sights on freedoms.
“The real choice we have in this election isn't liberal or conservative; it's globalism or freedom, and really, we need freedom,” said McLean.
“I have had people coming up to me, telling me that they are concerned with where they're going.
“A lady yesterday talked to me about how her daughter is going to lose her job with a particular company because she won't get vaccinated, and she doesn't want to.
“We need to bring our people together and, as a voice, shut down this globalism that's killing our country.”
“The People's Party of Canada is going to take care of the country by basically cutting down the funding of the CBC and foreign aid packages.”
Donovan Eckstrom, Rhino candidate, explained that his party is satirical.
“We are going to be your option for a protest vote when it comes to figuring out what the heck should we vote for,” said Eckstrom.
“The fact is that there are over 20,000 folks here in beautiful Grande Prairie-Mackenzie, who didn't vote in 2019, and I'm aware that a lot of them are frustrated with everybody involved.
“I encourage you if you want to give a middle finger for the established parties that are around, vote Rhino.”
Maverick party candidate Ambrose Ralph said the large area of the GP-Mackenzie has not been properly represented.
“Maverick is a western-only federal party western agenda first, no exceptions.
“Honestly, and not to be rude, but I really don't give a damn how the East and Quebec vote any longer. It's time for the West to stand on our own two feet and say enough is enough,” said Ralph.
“We were born out of the frustration experienced by Western Canadians at the favouritism shown toward Quebec and toward eastern Canada by consecutive Liberal and Conservative governments on issues like the Paris Climate Accord, farming, gun control, equalization, property rights, carbon tax and our oil and gas industry.”
On the topic of privatized health care, the candidates’ views varied.
“I believe in the Canada Health Act first, and obviously it must be a system by which every person who can access healthcare, no matter who they are or what they make across the country,” said Warkentin.
“What (CPC recognizes) is that there have been innovations that have been developed by provinces obviously healthcare does fall into the provincial jurisdiction; what we will not do is impose an Ottawa-knows-best solution to Alberta or other provinces with regards to their plans,” he added.
“NDP has always been an advocate for a publicly funded health care system, and that has not changed,” said Villebrun.
“We are against the creeping threat of privatization and user fees being adopted in our healthcare system.”
The PPC say they would vote for a shrinking federal government with less provincial overreach, said McLean.
“The PPC plans on transferring the GST to provinces so that they can utilize those funds in order to be able to better serve their community and their healthcare industry.”
Eckstrom says a Rhinoceros government will “eliminate waiting rooms to speed up wait times; as well, with the difficulties of doctor and nurse shortages, our government will provide steroids to all healthcare employees to increase performance.”
Maverick candidate Ralph noted that healthcare is a provincial responsibility, and it was time that the federal government stopped infringing on provincial jurisdiction.
“It's a provincial responsibility. We have lineups at our health care facilities, and we have lineups at our hospitals to immediately stop this all we got to do is spend our own money on ourselves.
“Hire more nurses and more doctors. The past 11 years, we have spent $250 billion that we have sent to Ottawa to support Quebec and to support eastern Canada,” said Ralph.
Of oil and gas…
Do you believe that Canada can have a thriving oil and gas sector and a robust renewable sector, and how do you see the two intersecting?
“We truly believe in the power of a pipeline, we're thinking more towards the ability of using a beer-powered pipelines, and beer-powered vehicles that way too it would be kind of fun to just stop by the gas station,” responded Eckstrom.
“It's absolutely impossible to have a thriving oil and gas sector in this region while we are signed on to the Paris Climate Accord,” said Ralph. “We should withdraw from it immediately and put jobs back in this community.”
Meanwhile, Warkentin says, “I would suggest that the renewable sector only can exist because of the oil and gas sector.”
“The innovations that have happened throughout the industry over the last number of decades make us a leader in the world in terms of energy developed, and in terms of reducing emissions and creating efficiencies that never existed before.”
NDP's Villebrun sees it differently.
“I absolutely believe that they can be balanced and I think that they should be, and it's my perspective that in the past we haven't achieved that goal.
“We also have to face the reality that the oil and gas needs in the world have been changing. We can look at the vehicle industry and recognize that many prominent companies are advising they'll be a completely electric fleet within the next 10 to 20 years.”
McLean said, “the problem we've got with our oil and gas industry is the way the government in the past has basically utilized it where we're bringing in oil from Saudi Arabia.”
“We need to have our own oil and gas system up here, and the oil and gas system is a big component in the renewable sector.”
Candidates were also asked about their platforms on the economy.
Warkentin said his priorities were “rebuilding the economy, and then balancing the budget within 10 years, making sure that we make responsible decisions to ensure that Canadians will not have to see massive tax increases to pay for the last number of years we must reverse some of the excessive spending.”
“The NDP has a plan to increase taxes with respect to the ultra-rich,” said Villebrun. “People who make over $10 million annually would be subject to a one per cent tax increase.
“What that means for them is they would pay about an extra $10,000 a year, so when you're looking at a $10 million income, that's not a huge amount, but the benefits of it would easily top $10 billion.”
“I think People's Party account is the best platform point on this one,” said Mclean, “we get rid of the CBC, there's a billion dollars there, we would cut our foreign spending and focus it on Canadians, then we would stop doing the corporate bailouts.”
“(Our policy is citizens first, foreign countries last, no exceptions,” said Maverick’s Ralph.
“We could easily fix our deficit in Western Canada by ending equalization, we send billions of dollars east every year, and we don't get nothing in return.”
Liberal candidate told the News the reason for his absence at the forum was due to not being invited.
GPDCC said that they contacted the Liberal party and received no communication back and could not find Campbell’s contact information.
“There is never any intention of excluding a candidate,if they are on the ballot we try to get a hold of them to participate, we had hoped doing the forum virtually this year would have made it even easier for all candidates to take part,” said GPDCC in an emailed response.
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News