Candidates lay it all out at UCP forum

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Local United Conservative Party (UCP) members asked nomination candidates their pressing questions at the party’s forum.

The Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul UCP Association hosted the event at the Bonnyville Agriplex on Wednesday, Sept. 5.

All three of the UCP nomination hopefuls gave opening statements before the forum was opened to questions. One of the first queries to come from the floor was regarding rumours about privatizing health care.

Candidate Glenn Spiess pulled from his personal experience with the health care system, emphasizing the importance of shorter wait times for those in need of care.

“What we really need to do is recognize that we have this public health care that’s really important to all of us to have access to. But, if we continue to have waiting times and all the rest of it, that’s not allowing us to access health care in a timely manner. I think we should be looking at opportunities where we can have private health care providers that are publicly funded in order to help offset the time and assist people in their time of need,” suggested Spiess.

Current Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA David Hanson offered a different perspective, using the struggles of constituents as an example. He said he supports anything that gives residents access to help.

“To a certain extent, we already have a level of private health care in the province. I don’t hear the good stories… The bulk of complaints I get in my office are due to health care delivery or lack of. I’m in favour of anything that helps alleviate the problems people are facing.”

Stressing the importance of funding local hospitals, UCP candidate Craig Copeland is in favour of the private sector doing what he feels the government can’t.

“The question really is; are they being properly funded? It doesn’t matter what community we’re in, look at the state of our hospitals. We haven’t seen a really big push for modernization in a long time. I helped a radiologist invest all his money, millions of dollars, in a radiology clinic in Cold Lake,” detailed Copeland. “That is the type of business model that, if the government can’t do it, we should be open to let the private sector come in and we fund the patient to go to that clinic… I can certainly support it.”

The Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR) funding was a pressing matter for those in attendance. They wanted to know if candidates would change the ID 349 agreement, or keep it the way it is, with several communities benefiting. Every candidate stressed making a change would assist all of the regions, noting that the previous agreement didn’t have everyone’s best interest in mind.

“Is the deal that came out absolutely fair to everyone? Probably not,” Hanson said.

Spiess agreed, “What we always need to keep in mind is to work collaboratively with our constituents and the various regions that we represent. What we need to do is ensure any agreement with the government is effective with our whole region, and not just a certain area of it.”

Copeland wants to bring the communities involved to the table if a change is made to the ID 349 agreement.

He said, “It’s a huge provincial issue that needs to be figured out, because there are communities struggling.”

All of the candidates voiced their support of having parental choice in education.

“We’re really lucky that we have the school system that we do in the area. Our job as government is to make sure we give them the resources, finances, and support network (they need). People who want to go to the private schools or home schools, we’re there to support them,” expressed Copeland.

Spiess believes having a school of choice system ensures it’s beneficial for students, noting it’s important to recognize that it allows for competition, which “makes it better.”

Another pressing issue for residents and candidates was combating rural crime. The topic was touched on during a question about gun ownership, before expanding on what their plan was to reduce crime in the area.

Suggestions included building new prisons, encouraging family life, harsher sentences for reoffenders, increasing court time, increasing Crown prosecutor’s pay, and stopping catch and release programs.

All candidates agreed they need to address repeat offenders. One suggestion was stimulating the economy to prevent recurring crime.

Spiess said, “One of the contributing factors (to crime) is a depressed economy. I think what will help, at least in partial way, is to stimulate economic recovery in this province… By addressing that, work is dignified. If people don’t have work, then their dignity is going to go down. If we have an economy that will give people the opportunity to find dignity, I believe people will move in that direction.”

Candidates discussed their plans on how to ensure growth in the oil and gas industry. Hanson and Spiess said eliminating the carbon tax would benefit the region, while Copeland wants to speed up the regulatory process with a 90-day turn around for applications in the area.

“Regulatory processes are painful right now. I would push for a 90-day turn around on all applications… It’s just ridiculous,” Copeland noted.

Another topic candidates touched on was the upcoming minimum wage increase. They agreed business owners throughout the region were feeling the impact, and that they weren’t consulted when the government discussed an increase.

“I think right now, the UCP needs to put a hold on any increases to businesses, period. We have to start thinking about how we’re going to rake it back to provide more incentive or dollars for small businesses so they can hire more people and still make a profit, because a lot of small businesses are closing their doors,” Copeland noted.

Another hot topic for residents and candidates was managing Alberta’s debt, and if jobs in education and health care would be cut as a result.

Candidates stressed the importance of jobs in these fields.

“How are we going to get our province back on course? I’m sorry to tell you, but it’s going to hurt. Will it affect you? It absolutely will,” Hanson said, noting he would make cuts in upper management administrative positions instead.

Copeland would advocate for cutting ministry budgets by five per cent to “compassionately downsize” the government, and lower the number of government employees in the system.

“There are layers in government that we need to run the government like we do in private business, and we need to be leaner. That’s the only way we’re going to change the operating deficit that we have is by doing things leaner and harder. We need to empower the government worker to do things better,” Copeland said.

He added, he wants to ensure that the taxpayer dollar isn’t forgotten and their input is important moving forward.

Attendee Doreen Nicholson thought  the event was beneficial, and she has a difficult choice to make at the polls.

“It’s going to be a tough decision. All of these candidates are well-versed and knowledgeable… It’s going to be a tough one. I was happy to come and hear Mr. Hanson because I’ve never met him. It was an opportunity to see what they’re all about,” she said.

Before attending the event, Nicholson had a candidate in mind for who she was voting for.

“I’m puzzled now. (The forum) has made it that much more of a challenge, and I really have to think about it.”

Candidates shared their closing thoughts and offered to discuss any more questions one-on-one.

Everyone was encouraged to go out and vote on Sept. 10 in Cold Lake at the Senior’s Centre from 3 p.m to 9 p.m. Glendon members will have the chance to cast their ballots Sept. 11 at the Agriplex from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., voting in Bonnyville will be available the same day at the Agriplex from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. On Sept. 12, there will be a poll open at the Elk Point Senior’s Centre from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. That same day, voting in St. Paul will be at the Royal Legion Hall from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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