Candidates debate issues at public forum

The three candidates for the Wetaskiwin-Camrose constituency - Bruce Hinkley (New Democratic Party), Verlyn Olson (Progressive Conservative) and Bill Rock (Wildrose) faced an engaged audience at a candidates' forum hosted at the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre April 27.After making opening statements, the candidates had equal opportunities to answer these questions submitted by members of the audience (answers have been edited for length):Given that you [Olson] were at the caucus table during Ms. Redford's tenure as premier, what changes have been made to allow you to speak out against the premier in the event that it would be appropriate to do so?Olson: Every premier is different and Ms. Redford had lots of strengths but there were also some issues. I will speak about the current premier...We had a five hour long caucus meeting to decide what to do with the people who wanted to cross the floor. The premier sat there for five hours, took 40 pages of notes, listened to everything everybody had to say. That's the way he runs a meeting. He is very attentive, he listens, he takes notes, he summarizes at the end and then he's decisive...I find it very easy to work with him...Ms. Redford was different, I'll just say that.Hinkley: We did speak out both last election, three years ago, and of course all of the time that Redford was the premier. We have seen that, yes, the Conservatives have been in power for 44 years, so none of their leaders have every been defeated, but yet in the last 15 years or so they've had four different premiers. It indicates that the leadership at the top has not been sound that they actually kick out their own leader...I think that [Rachel Notley] will provide the leadership that we've been looking for and lacking over the last 15 years. She will be approachable, she will be intelligent, she will be articulate and we have the policies that she is prepared to be front and centre with.Rock: The Wildrose believes in accountability. In Manitoba they had the recall law, which means 20 per cent of the elector jurisdiction within 90 days can recall you...The other thing we wish to initiate is the [restoration] of the role of elected MLA by mandating that all votes in the Legislature be free and transparent and reported to the public. Motions of non-confidence would remain an option, but would be held as a separate stand alone vote. This would allow MLAs to vote on each piece of proposed legislation based on the interest of their constituents and Albertans, rather than being forced to toe the party line...In our Wildrose plan, you could step down from a party and sit as an independent, but you would not be allowed to cross the floor to another party without a byelection.Currently many seniors needing and waiting for placement in a care facility spend long periods in hospital be cause there is no other place for them. What would your [Hinkley] party do to create space for seniors and lessen the load on these hospitals?Hinkley: The waiting list and the waiting time has gotten longer and longer...we could pay for and balance our budget if we would obtain fair value for our energy resources, and that alone would generate millions of dollars to help with the long term care situation. The NDP propose that 2,000 long term care beds be provided over four years...The standards for care and for safety in long term facilities has to be strengthened and actually implemented. By providing long term care homes we will be alleviating overcrowding in hospitals.Rock: The centralization of our healthcare system has left us out of touch with what is going on in rural parts of the province. Immediately, we would invest $50 million to reopen, close transition and long term care beds in order to open up more space in the acute care beds and emergency room...We would use a healthcare funding model in which public, independent and non-profit health service providers and facilities are compensated according to the quality and timeliness of the care they give and guarantee Albertans the right to select the healthcare provider and the facility of their choice. We would gradually decentralize the delivery of the healthcare services to the local level.Olson: One of the first things Premier Prentice did when he became the premier was to create a ministry of seniors...[Minister] Jeff [Johnson]'s mandate was to find the money within his budget within a year to create 1,600 spaces...Johnson has gone beyond his target and we're at 2,612 spaces in 2015...I [recently witnessed] the announcement of a new facility in Wetaskiwin, 76 beds. Also, we are providing funding for upgrading of sprinkler systems, for example, at Stoney Creek Lodge here in Camrose. Another initiative...is to require there always be two staff on duty in seniors' lodges.Your [Rock] leader [Brian Jean] did not answer the question [during the televised leaders' debate] regarding where the money will come from if you are not raising taxes. Where will the dollars come from to balance Alberta's budget?Rock: The places that we can immediately save money is in reducing our bureaucracy by 3,500 positions...AHS has eight levels of management above the front line workers, so there's 1,600 positions, immediately, that can be removed from health services and either moved back to front line workers, or savings in total...We only have a 10 per cent drop in our revenue in Alberta. Ninety per cent of our industries are doing very well. if you had a 10 per cent reduction in your household budget, is that a crisis? No. You'd just adjust what you were doing.Olson: It defies common sense that [the Wildrose] can say, "We're going to give you all of this stuff, but at the same time we're going to really cut...There's already been a lot of cutting done [over 1,000 positions in AHS in last year or two]...The Wildrose talks about how they're going to provide all the infrastructure, but yet they will just not spend the money on the low priority infrastructure - except none of us know what that is....To amount to the kinds of dollars we're talking about it would have to be some of the big ticket items.Hinkley: Brian Jean did not offer a job creation plan. How can you, when the things that you're proposing are going to cause the loss of jobs. The Wildrose want the capital to follow people - per capita spending. In other words, the urbanization trend we have going on in Alberta means that people moving into the big cities will have all of the money, and that is going to decimate rural communities...This would shut down more schools, more hospitals, longer transportation distances to get services. His plan is not acceptable, and he wouldn't even discuss it.Our present education system can only be improved by decreasing class size and offering student the experience they need to become exemplary citizens in the future. This takes more money than is presently being set aside for education. Where will the money come from to improve our present education system?Rock: Currently, we are spending $50 million in our education system in researching and developing new curriculum for our schools...[if we] redirect it to the front lines that will alleviate a lot of our back log...With efficiencies in our [school construction] tendering processes and also with efficiencies in our procurements, the money can be found to put back to the front line workers of the education system.Olson: Education was one of the few ministries that actually got an overall [budget] increase...we all know that we have a growing student population...nonetheless, we are undergoing right now the biggest build in Canadian history in terms of the building of schools...We're investing that money in the future. We're doing lots of other things in terms of dual credit programs for students to get them out to work to train more quickly.Hinkley: Even though there may be a slight increase in the funding for education, in some areas there was a $90 million dollar cut to education this past budget...We're expecting, what, 12,000 new students coming in and not a penny for new staff...Mr. Prentice says we're $7 billion short...By increasing taxes two per cent to corporations we could raise $2 billion. By increasing taxes to the very wealthy...you could generate $2 billion....[Raising] our royalties by three per cent would produce another $3 billion. That two, plus two plus three: $7 billion...There was absolutely no reason that, if we say education is a priority, there should have been one cut - none.What is your party's stance regarding a provincial sales tax?Olson: We do not think that this is the time for a provincial sales tax...[it's] a regressive tax. Also, we think it will tend to cause job losses, and in an economy that is really vulnerable right now, raising any kind of a tax is something that we're trying to avoid...The conventional wisdom is do not raise taxes when you're trying to stimulate an economy or keep it from going into recession.Hinkley: We do not support a sales tax...That also include levies [such as the recently proposed healthcare premiums] That levy is not even going back into healthcare, it's going into the general revenue. Also, we have a four cent per litre increase on gas...They can say no sales tax, but then they're going to give you 59 other taxes. Not fair.Rock: They put in 59 taxes that not one Albertan can avoid [unless] you live in the bush [and] don't drive. The Wildrose do not believe in a sales tax and we don't believe you need 59 new taxes.Battle Lake is a spring-fed lake which is the source of our Battle River. Hydraulic fracturing is being proposed under Battle lake for 2016. How will your party respond to the issue of this fracturing?Hinkley: The policy for the New Democrats with regard to fracking right now is to put a moratorium on it...My personal belief is that the evidence is there that we should not be, and we have no need to be, doing fracking...The bills that the conservatives have passed, bills 24, 36 and two, have basically taken away [landowners'] democratic rights to ownership. These oil companies can go on and drill vertically or do fracking and then if, years later, the casement leaks, there's pollution, toxins, then the oil companies are not responsible. The government took away the farmer's right to take them to court for this. If we're not going to support [landowners] then we cannot support fracking until the proper regulations are in place...[The Conservative government] took the [Alberta Energy Regulator] from Environment Alberta and made it an independent regulatory organization...funded 100 per cent by the oil companies. I have a problem with that.Rock: It boils down to property rights...The Wildrose would wish to encourage technologies for enhanced recovery of existing reservoirs of crude oil and natural gas as well as use new technology for the lowest environmental impact of any enhanced recovery for the global markets...The misinformation on fracking and the technology and the innovation that is available with fracking is not being used to its highest potential...Why [the Environmental Regulatory Board] would allow fracking below a lake is up to their decisions.Olson: I do have a bit of an issue with Mr. Hinkley's characterization of this somehow being some devious attack by government on people's property rights. It's a legitimate issue and there is legitimate concern about the effect of fracking...I find it also interesting that Mr. Hinkley would be now criticizing the fact that we're making oil companies pay the bill for the operations of the regulator, which is subject to all the laws that we pass and debate...You want us to penalize all the big, bad oil companies. Now he doesn't want them to pay for the operation of the regulator. I find a little bit of inconsistency there...We need the science to help us, and I agree that you shouldn't want to be fracking underneath a lake.What do you see as the key issues in Wetaskiwin, Camrose, Millet and surrounding area?Rock: Our schools are getting overcrowded. Our school boards are being pushed to the limit with the funding that they have. They're reducing the funding to homeschooling...We have two major intersections within this riding that are very dangerous...Our traffic increase in this area has grown significantly...Policing is another large issue [since] our current government structure for policing is based on population and not on need...We are running our of seniors' homes and extended care beds.Olson: One of the key things we need to do is have more economic development in rural Alberta...Young people simply are not going to live in rural Alberta and make a life there without access to the same kind of internet infrastructure that we have elsewhere. Water is another big issue...If you want to keep a a school open, if you want to recruit a doctor, you have to have jobs.Hinkley: [Six top priorities] are: escalating electricity bills, respecting land owners' rights, ensuring predictable funding for schools and post secondary institutions, ensuring quality and affordable long term care for seniors, a diversified economy and proper municipal sustainability initiative grants...The New Democrats are working hard for families...the environment...job creation...Your MLA should be your voice...I will come and listen to you.Do you have concerns about distribution rates for utilities? What will you do to slow down the 10 per cent increase in distribution we've seen in the last two months?Olson: I don't think that we apologize for our deregulated system in Alberta...We often get compared with other provinces [which] bury the cost of those systems in crown corporations that have huge debt, and ultimately that debt belongs to the taxpayer. Alberta has no debt for its electrical system. We pay as we go...for an individual consumer, you can choose to sign a contract where you have a rate that doesn't change, or [the option of a floating rate]. We're actually quite comfortable with this system.Hinkley: Is is a complex issue, more complex than just regulating and deregulating. The deregulated portion of your bill is the consumption, [which rates have] actually stayed quite low...That's not the issue. The part of your bill that is regulated is the distribution and transmission...the government has allowed those companies the right to get a fair and equitable return on their investment. The question is, their administration bills and the fees that they're going to charge you for distribution keep going up and up...I would like to propose that we investigate these because they are escalating far too fast, far greater than the rate of inflation.Rock: Former PC Premier Ralph Klein deregulated power...not the delivery of the power. It's very interesting that you would have American companies, owned by billionaires, coming to Alberta looking at buying up our power distribution systems. These people do not invest in things that do not make money...We're also looking at the same with our natural gas delivery charges, our telephone charges, our cell phone charges - all of these services supposedly that they say are deregulated and are competitive, are set up in such a way that no one can compete...All our public services are being bought up by foreign corporations and they are making a great deal of profit off of these [yet] our REAs are not allowed to compete in the open market.The Wetaskiwin-Camrose constituency candidates' forum was presented by Battle River School Division, Camrose Chamber of Commerce, Battle River Teachers' Local #32, with support from the University of Alberta and the City of Camrose. href='http://www.camrosecanadian.com/2015/04/28/candidates-debate-issues-at-public-forum' - http://www.camrosecanadian.com/2015/04/28/candidates-debate-issues-at-public-forum -