If one thing is clear after the first candidate’s forum, it is that all three candidates running against incumbent Blake Richards feel they are the right choice to take over for the Conservative.
Liberal candidate Marlo Raynolds, Green Party candidate Mike MacDonald and NDP candidate Joanne Boissonneault were all on hand Sept. 29 at the all candidates forum in Canmore – dubbed the ‘75 per cent candidates forum’ by moderator Ron Remple, as Richards was unable to attend.
Asked if they would step down if it meant another candidate would defeat the incumbent, all three asserted they were the strongest and most qualified to take Richards down.
Raynolds noted that the Banff-Airdrie riding is incredibly diverse in every way – from dominant industries in its cities and towns to its geography, not to mention containing the country’s first national park.
He said he has spent the last 21 months getting to know every aspect of the riding and engaging people in conversation as much as possible, which is what democracy is all about.
“My experience is that people truly want to engage again in politics,” he said. “They want to be part of decision making and want to be proud of their government, and that leads to why I am running. I am running in this election to put stop to Mr. Harper’s divisive and over-controlling form of government.
“It is so controlling that our incumbent does not even feel he has to show up for his job interview.”
Boissonneault harkened back a decade in many of her responses to a time when she felt Canada was a better place.
“If I look to the future, I have to look back to what we have lost, and we have lost quite a bit in the past few years, in fact the past 10 years,” she said.
Boissonneault is an educator, with a masters in education who is currently working on her doctorate in educational leadership. She said she is proud to be an Albertan of French Canadian descent and believes deeply in human rights and in particular Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“I am highly experienced and I promise to serve you well,” she said. “I decided to run for fairness and justice, the two NDP basic pillars. Thomas Mulcair will work with everyone; he will create strong working relationships with all premiers, provinces, cities, municipalities and First Nations.”
MacDonald said he enjoyed running so much in the last election as the Green candidate that he was inspired to throw his hat in the ring again.
“To be honest, I had a pretty good time doing it last time,” he said. “I enjoyed engaging with voters and I enjoyed having an opportunity to spout off my politics.
“I got involved mostly because I became disenchanted with what I was seeing in the realm of federal politics, and what I see is us heading in a direction focused on power and particularly that we seem to have lost looking at what’s best for Canadians.”
MacDonald has spent the past 20 years working with child and adolescent mental health in both the public and non-profit sectors.
One of the very first issues brought up at the forum was changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program and even changes to working holiday visas recently announced.
MacDonald said employment in the tourism industry is a kind of perennial issue and its seasonal nature is an added challenge.
“The Temporary Foreign Worker program I think had some critical flaws in it and personally I would like to work with the Bow Valley, and to me, those who are in positions that are most effected by this, are business owners,” he said. “The mayor and council…you folks are the ones who probably spent hours thinking about this and have thoughts on how we come up with the best solutions.”
Raynolds said in preparing to run in the election, he has met with industry leaders in tourism and the TFW program has come up repeatedly.
“It is so critical for the tourism sector here,” he said. “The current government mismanaged it and took a sledgehammer to it and that has hurt our local economy point blank.
“You can’t plan like that, you can’t make changes without consultation, and we saw that again with the international exchange Canada program.”
Raynolds said the program has to be refocused on what it was designed to do – bring immigrant workers to fill jobs Canadians are not willing to fill and provide those workers with a stronger path to citizenship.
Boissonneault said it is time to bring back immigration laws to give people the opportunity to work and live in Canada and Alberta.
“I believe we used to have a really good immigration policy over 10 years ago in Canada and, the law back then, immigrants were able to renew visas and continue working here,” she said. “It is very important for this community to do so and bring that back to the way it was before.”
A political forum in Canmore couldn’t happen without candidates being asked about one of the biggest challenges for small business – attracting and retaining staff, and how the lack of affordable housing relates to that.
Boissonneault said the NDP would provide money to municipalities to enhance affordable housing infrastructure.
“At the same time, we need to grow the economy,” she said. “I plan to work very hard, and the NDP has committed to reducing business taxes for small businesses from 11 per cent to nine per cent and that will improve the economy of the area as well.”
MacDonald commented it is challenging to address such a big issue as affordable housing in the two minutes allotted, but acknowledged more funding is needed.
“Certainly with our platform, we hope to provide funds and work more closely with municipalities, so there is money available for the development of affordable housing.”
With a zero-per-cent vacancy rate in the valley, Raynolds said the housing situation currently detrimental to business and the local economy.
In addition to investing $6 billion over four years in social infrastructure, which includes affordable housing, he said the Liberals would direct CMHC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation) and the Canadian Infrastructure Bank to provide financing for affordable housing projects.
“We feel private developers are penalized now in terms of wanting to develop affordable rental accommodation,” he said, adding his government would remove the price of GST for low cost rental housing developments.
“We are going to do an assessment across Canada on federally owned lands and what can be made available if under utilized.”