Candidates for the three leading political parties took part in a two-hour pre-election debate at the Kismen Community Centre on Wednesday, Oct. 7 with less than half of the some 250 seats filled by mostly senior residents watching a somewhat lively debate.
Blaine Calkins representing the Conservatives, Doug Hart representing the New Democratic Party and Jeff Rock for the Liberal Party gave their introductory remarks in alphabetical order before beginning to answer oral or written questions from the audience.
Doug Hart received loud applause when he promised to represent the constituency in Ottawa rather than representing Ottawa in the constituency. Hart said good public policy was what was needed and politics and being elected as an MP were only a means to that end.
Jeff Rock said he had decided to stand in the election as a candidate because of his concerns that the country was becoming increasingly polarized between east and west, oil and gas sector against the environmentalist groups, old stock Canadians and new immigrants. He said his search for office was not for fame or fortune but for finding a solution to the polarization by striking the right balance.
Blaine Calkins, both in his introductory remarks and in his answers to many of the questions, consistently made reference to Stephen Harper and his leadership qualities before laying out his personal views on the discussion topics. He said that Canada had been taking leadership positions in international affairs and that Harper government had made great investments to support Canadian armed forces.
Calkins claimed that in the last ten years, Canada’s GDP per capita had risen from $30,000 to $60,000 and the figure was disputed by Jeff Rock.
As Calkins defended Harper government’s economic policies, Rock said given the low interest environment, high unemployment, low debt to GDP ratio and the recession in the first half of 2015, it was an ideal time to borrow and go into deficits in order to spur economic growth.
Hart said their economic policies would focus on creating jobs by making sure that added value would be created in Canada rather sending job potential to other countries “by stripping and shipping” oil.
All three candidates came out in support of building pipelines within the country with Rock and Hart making strong points in favor of refining Canada’s oil inside the country and Calkins said Conservative Party would focus on reducing the price differentials the Canadians have been paying for gas as compared to US consumers.
Jeff Rock criticized Conservatives’ oil and gas sector policies for focusing only on extraction and neglecting environment. He said any good energy resource policy would have to be balanced caring for environment and benefitting the economy and that his party would ensure that.
When the niqab issue was brought up in a question, Blaine Calkins appeared to be out of touch with his leader Stephen Harper, who had made statements on the day of the Ponoka debate and the day before to the effect that if elected he would introduce legislation banning niqab in public service. Calkins said during the debate that Harper might have been misquoted in his statement regarding banning niqab in public service.
Doug Hart quoted Green Party leader Elizabeth May and asked with the current state of the economy, unemployment and environment why the election campaign was focusing on two women wanting to cover their faces. He said his party would not waste taxpayers’ money fighting the courts over the issue.
Rock said he was in favor of accepting immigrants into Canada with their beliefs and traditions and described diversity as something that should be celebrated rather than being banned.
The discussion on the issue of legalizing marijuana, which came up after some aggressive questioning from a member of the audience, brought about the clear distinction in the three parties’ policies on the matter. All candidates agreed that with 28 per cent of Canadian youth having reported the use of the substance, that was the highest figure in the world.
While Calkins maintained that the current policy of keeping marijuana use as a criminal offence was the best line to follow, Rock gave referred to the state of Colorado in the US as a good example to follow. Rock said after Colorado legalized marijuana use, the number of abusers had fallen drastically and that the state had started to generate tax revenues out of the new policy.
Hart said, as a former nurse, he knew about the benefits of marijuana as a medicinal tool, and that his party’s policy on the matter was to immediately decriminalize the use of marijuana and launch an extensive discussion of the issue before taking any decision to legalize it.
In his closing remarks, Doug Hart returned to the theme of making an impact in Ottawa as a representative of the riding and said he would not be “a white crayon invisible on the white paper.”
Calkins said he would continue to be the blue crayon in the federal legislature and keep on working for constituents.
The fieriest closing remarks came from Rock who said he was “angry.” “I am angry that Saudis bought Canadian Wheat Board, I am angry that veterans are not taken care of properly, I am angry that Stephen Harper has messed up the oil and gas sector,” Rock exclaimed.
The three candidates took part in a debate at the Ponoka Secondary Campus the following day, Thursday, Oct. 8.