Candidates square off during political forum

COLLECTING SUPPORT- Candidates for the upcoming election on May 2 spoke Monday night at a forum at the Chalet at the Westerner to answer questions from the media and the public. From left is Andrew Lineker (Liberals)

Tapping into everything from health issues to the possibility of coalition governments, local political candidates worked to shore up support during a forum held Monday at the Chalet.

About 200 people packed into the Chalet at Westerner Park to hear from Conservative incumbent Earl Dreeshen, Andrew Lineker (Liberals), Stuart Somerville (NDP) and Mason Sisson (Greens).

Clearly, the issue of attracting voters to the polls May 2 was on candidates’ minds as turnout in past elections has remained relatively low.

“When you get people involved in politics, they feel more important and more compelled to get out and vote,” said Lineker, pointing to key people in history who fought for voting rights. Lineker also ran in the 2010 Edmonton municipal election for the post of mayor.

He didn’t see the fact that he’s from Edmonton as being an impediment to being able to serve the Red Deer riding. “My dedication is to the voters and the citizens. When I ran for mayor, I listened to what the citizens told me they wanted in terms of a platform and that’s how I created my platform. That’s how I’m trying to create my platform here on a local level. People would be voting me in to do a job, and I would be answerable to the citizens. That’s how I view it.”

Dreeshen said after four elections in seven years, “It’s getting to the point where people are saying what’s the difference? As a teacher I always tried to encourage my students, no matter what political party, to get out there and vote.

“There are people that have given up their lives to make sure we have this democratic right,” he said, emphasizing the importance of social media tools such as facebook and twitter in engaging the electorate to get involved and have a say.

Dreeshen also said if his party could have majority status, there could be some policy momentum in Ottawa and four years of relative electoral peace.

Sisson said the largely unattractive nature of what people see in politics can be a turn-off. “We need a change in government and a change in how we do things to get people interested again.

“There’s a lack of transparency in the government. A lot of talk about transparency, but no accountability there.”

Sisson also added that the Conservatives, in particular Stephen Harper, hold too tightly onto their vision of power in running the country.

“He’s there to lead the parliament, but he’s asked to listen to what other members of parliament have to say.”

Somerville said he believed Canadians are apathetic about politics because politicians in general have little to say. “People are protecting their own positions in the House of Commons and not thinking about what benefits ordinary Canadians.

“I think when they start talking about the issues that matter to you and me, we will see more involvement in our politics.”

Somerville also said he sees democracy slipping away, as seen in the prorogation of government. “I don’t think Canadians respect that.”

As to spending, Somerville defended his party’s plans on increasing funds for programs and services.

“The corporate tax rate in this country keeps getting dropped. We understand we don’t want to cripple corporations. But dropping the corporate tax rate over and over again just shifts the tax burden onto other people. We see a situation in Canada where our governing party isn’t good at doing math, and they keep lowering these taxes and they keep spending money,” he said.

“And they wonder why we have a budget deficit.”

Another forum is set for April 28 from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at the Golden Circle.

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