Issues regarding health care, transparency, the price of oil and gas, job loss and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement were among the topics that were prominent at the federal election forum held in Red Deer at the Memorial Centre.
Candidates for the Red Deer-Mountainview riding and the Red Deer-Lacombe riding were on hand for Monday night’s forum.
The country’s economy, low oil prices and job loss were issues that concerned those attending the forum.
Earl Dreeshen, current MP and Conservative candidate for Red Deer-Mountainview said over the course of his campaign he has heard from constituents that the importance of a strong economy is a high priority.
“It’s often the NDP has said during the campaign that the NDP is not anti-oil, well ladies and gentlemen let’s be perfectly clear, the actions of the NDP speak louder than the words.”
Doug Hart, NDP candidate for Red Deer-Lacombe said Canada does not control the world price of oil. “World prices in oil have dropped 60 per cent in the last year. We don’t control world prices and people aren’t unemployed because the provincial government raised corporate taxes, they’re unemployed because of the 60 per cent decline in the price of oil per barrel. What we need to do is find other ways to turn that oil into jobs.”
Chandra Kastern, liberal candidate for Red Deer-Mountainview said she is hearing concern from local constituents.
“In terms of what I have heard from people in my riding is job security and what they’re going to do next because they are still waiting for that call to go back to work. I think this is a three-pronged approach. I think there is some triage that needs to happen. There needs to be retraining for people who have not been able to go back to work yet so that they are able to work.”
Paul Harris, NDP candidate for Red Deer-Mountainview, said Canada must support all sectors, oil and gas included.
“One hundred years ago we did not have oil – our economy was not driven by oil. One hundred years from now it will be driven by something else, perhaps oil and gas will be part of that mix. In the in-between stages we need to find ways to support all sectors and how do we gracefully transition from one to another? These are innovation strategies that we have to look at. We need to support all the other industries out there, not just oil and gas.”
Jeff Rock, liberal candidate for Red Deer-Lacombe, said the current government has failed when it comes to oil and gas.
“It is the responsibility of a government to get oil and gas to market and if you use that as a measuring stick, Stephen Harper has failed. We need to take the environment and the economy seriously and not see them as enemies. The oil and gas industry and the environmentalists are not enemies – they have to work together for solutions.”
Blaine Calkins, current MP and Conservative candidate for Red Deer-Lacombe, said ensuring pipelines are built is key.
“I’ve stated that west is best, east is great and Keystone is good as well. We know very well the economic benefits of having a very strong oil and gas sector in Alberta. If I wanted to empower my government here in the province of Alberta to have more money from the resources that we have – the best thing I can do is ensure the pipelines get built from the west coast to the east coast and that the international market price and the North American market price come closer together to ensure Albertans get the fair value for the energy that we have here.”
One audience member asked what the candidates thought of the newly released Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement which would see a new deal made that would eliminate or reduce tariffs on many goods and services and also open up the dairy and auto markets. Although not fully released, the agreement would have to be ratified by the governments of all 12 countries involved to come into effect.
Harris said the lack of consultation regarding the agreement is a concern for him.
“For me the lack of consultations with the sectors is the thing that I dislike about it the most. I think it’s very important that we always consult the public and the sectors involved before we get into these trade agreements. This to me is the transparency that is lacked by the current government.”
Calkins said if approved, the TPP would open up a lot of opportunities for Canada.
“What I really like about the TPP is that if this is ratified and concluded, Canada will now have access to over 60 per cent of the world’s GDP – 800 million new customers. We have great products and services in Canada. We have one of the most talented work forces and the best entrepreneurs in the world and we’re at the leading edge when it comes to science, technology and development. What we need is market access. I see this as a positive thing.”
Rock said not enough information is known about the TPP at this point. “Ten years ago the Conservative party came to power based on one major promise and that was transparency. And what we have seen with the TPP is just another example in a long list of completely nontransparent negotiations on our behalf. I haven’t got a clue what is in it when it was released at the last minute, two weeks to the day of an election. I am concerned it will make the rich richer and ship middle class jobs abroad.”
The health care system was also a topic of discussion and candidates were asked how they would protect health care in the country. Hart said there are many things the NDP would do to improve the system.
“We would sign a new health care accord with the provinces, it’s in our platform. We would also create 7,000 positions for new health professionals including doctors and why wouldn’t we fund the education for rural students to be doctors in rural communities rather than hiring people from South Africa and taking away their doctors? We would plan a national pharmacare program, mental health programs for youth, a national senior’s strategy and affordable housing is an important element as well.”