The NDP, the United Conservative Party and the Alberta Party candidates all made promises to do something about the state of the Red Deer Regional Hospital (RDRH) at a candidates forum on March 28.
The forum, sponsored by the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce and held at the Ponoka Royal Canadian Legion auditorium, saw a capacity crowd that night.
UCP candidate Ron Orr said the issue of the hospital, and health care generally in the region, is that central Alberta recieves substantially less capital infrastructure funding compared to Calgary and Edmonton.
The Society for Hospital Expansion in central Alberta released data in March from Alberta Health Services revealing that over a 10-year period, Calgary received $2.5 billion in health infrastructure investment while Edmonton received $1.4 billion.
The central region only received $107 million, according to documents obtained by the Society.
To address the region’s health care issues, Orr said he would create a coalition of MLAs to research and raise the issues.
NDP candidate Doug Hart said Rachel Notley has committed to modernizing the hospital and adding the much-needed cardiac catheterization lab.
As a registered nurse who currently works at RDRH, Hart said other areas, such as housing and accommodation for seniors, are important health-care issues.
“We need to continue to improve emergency medical services and ambulance services in rural Alberta,” he added.
Alberta Party candidate Myles Chykerda stressed the importance of having access to the Alberta Health Services updated needs assessment, which would help to understand priority areas for Red Deer’s hospital, he said.
How the parties would response to the current equalization payment structure was also raised by a Ponoka resident.
Tessa Szwagierczak with the Alberta Independence Party promised a referendum on equalization payments. She said the money would then be used to fund the province.
Chykerda said a referendum would be a waste of money, but said equalization must be re-worked so it’s fair for Alberta.
The UCP would work to make equalization equitable for Albertans, Orr said, adding his party would stand up to the federal government to make this happen.
A UCP-led government would take more drastic measures if the federal government did not commit to building pipelines and if Bill C-69 — Impact Assessment Act — is not struck down, he said.
Shawn Tylke with the Alberta Advantage Party put forward a more radical approach.
“We’re going to refuse the status quo with Ottawa,” he said.
“We will not sign an agreement. And we’re going to work to free Alberta from Canada’s debt slaves as well as from Canada’s tax slaves. If that is not okay with Ottawa, then we will vote for a referendum for separation.”
Regarding long-term care beds for seniors, Orr said the UCP would go back to the public-private partnership to get more beds.
Chykerda stressed the need to work with local organizations and health-care workers to understand the issues that seniors face.
“Some people only have their $600 pension and need somewhere to go. They can’t afford $3,000 or $4,000 a month,” he said. “It’s about creating options and making sure funding is going to these local groups so that we have enough housing for our aging population.”
Other topics discussed included mid-wife care for safe home births, safe consumption sites, rural crime, the carbon tax and the Municipal Government Act.
– With files from Jordie Dwyer