By Kim Hutchison
With the federal election set to take place on Oct. 14, limited seating was available in the cafeteria of Ponoka Composite High School on Monday evening where local residents gathered to listen to political candidates pitch their party platforms and answer questions posed by the public.
The political forum began at 7 p.m. when Marion Raugust, president of the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce, read the rules and regulations followed by an introduction of the candidates from chairperson for the forum and treasurer of the Chamber, Linda Steinmann. Seated on the stage was current Member of Parliament and Progressive Conservative party candidate, Blaine Calkins; Liberal party candidate, Rita Dillon; Shawn Mann of the Canadian Action Party and New Democratic Party representative Tim Robinson. The Green Party’s Les Parsons was unable to attend.
Each candidate was allotted five minutes to expand his or her platform. Numbers were drawn earlier in the evening to determine who would begin. Dillon proceeded to the microphone, and the seemingly “oversized podium” as she referred to it as, followed by Mann, Robinson and Calkins. During their speeches, candidates addressed issues currently facing our nation, provinces and communities such as the economy – more specifically job elimination and creation, taxes, and government spending – the environment, Canada’s role in Afghanistan and Iraq and youth crime to name a few.
Questions asked targeted various topics such as the Canadian Wheat Board, the future of small communities, rising tuition fees, youth crime and gun registration. In fact, so many people wanted to ask questions there wasn’t enough time for all of them to receive answers. Even though time ran out, the remaining 12 questions were asked but candidates were not permitted to answer them. They were instead asked to respond to them in their two minute closing remarks. Candidates spoke in reverse order from that of their five minute opening but it was Calkins who undeniably stole the limelight in this portion of the night, giving a response to 10 of the 12 questions asked only pausing to take a much needed breath.
At 9 p.m. the night came to a conclusion and candidates stayed to speak with anyone who wished to do so.
“I thought this was the best forum so far’, said Dillon. “I loved the questions and particularly loved having the young people here. It was well managed and I’m really glad I took the opportunity to be here.”
Robinson thought the night was a success. “There was good dialogue, nothing mean spirited – overall, it was good clean fun,” he said.
Mann felt the questions people asked were great.
“People have concerns, no doubt. They made that very obvious tonight. Unfortunately we [the Canadian Action Party] are a small party but if elected I would work as hard as anyone, probably even harder than anyone, because I would have more to prove. All I can do is get out there and represent,” said Mann.
Calkins extended his appreciation to everyone who attended. “It’s very important to engage all the communities we can and address what matters most to them. The questions asked tonight were very relevant and were certainly a great opportunity for the candidates to address voiced concerns,” he said.
Candidates will continue to seek support until Election Day on Oct. 14.