OLDS — The TransCanada Theatre was packed last Wednesday night as about 180 people came out to hear candidates running in the Olds-Didsbury Three Hills riding in the May 29 election give their positions on issues.
The event was organized by the Olds & District Chamber of Commerce, Mountain View Publishing and CAB-K Broadcasting.
Incumbent MLA Nathan Cooper of the United Conservative Party (UCP), Cheryl Hunter-Loewen of the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Katherine Kowalchuk of Independence Party of Alberta took to the stage to state their parties’ platforms.
They also answered more than 20 questions from the audience on a wide variety of topics, including accessibility to doctors, taxation, capping insurance rates, growing the local economy and providing easy, affordable transportation in the region.
The audience was passionate. There was strong applause for each candidate from time to time.
The forum began with Kowalchuk, who lives in Standard, about 80 kilometres east of Calgary, making her opening remarks.
“It’s time to acknowledge that CO2 is not a pollutant and there is no climate change crisis,” she said.
She also decried COVID-19 restrictions and claimed that if elected, an NDP government “wants to jab all of you; 100 per cent mandatory jabs.”
Kowalchuk said children need to be protected against events like drag queen story hour, which she said are efforts to sexualize them.
Furthermore, Kowalchuk said “the World Economic Forum, in its bid to form a one-world government, is encouraging partner states, which include Canada and by extension, Alberta, to implement policies designed to control Albertans.
“These include digital ID, central bank currency, 15-minute cities, climate change programs and policies promoting inclusivity, diversity and equity.”
Kowalchuk disagreed with suggestions that by choosing her, electors would be splitting the vote on the right side of the political spectrum and thereby elect an NDP government.
She noted that in the last election, Cooper was voted in by a landslide.
“It’s only a marketing tactic (to create) fear to try to win your vote,” she said.
Cooper said over the past four years the UCP government did some things well and “did some things that could have been done much better.”
He cited its decision to initially allow coal mining on the eastern slopes of the Rockies as one of those things it could have handled better.
But he cited that as an example of his party listening to residents and ultimately making the right decision and that a UCP government will not allow coal mining there.
On that issue, Hunter-Lowen said an NDP government would keep the ban on coal mining. Kowalchuk said she sided with both those for and against mining.
“We can spend this evening or the rest of our days dwelling on every single thing that happened and try to relitigate those times or we can take from those times, learn from those times and move forward,” Cooper said.
“We listened, we responded, we acted.”
Cooper said the UCP government has improved health care wait times and surgery lists and improved education but admitted there’s still a long way to go on both those issues.
And although he didn’t mention COVID lockdowns or vaccines specifically, Cooper said he was sorry if those decisions hurt forum attendees and their families.
“I believe that the government was making the best decision at the time available with the information that they had but that’s not to say that some of those decisions (didn’t have) a negative impact on your lives,” he said.
Cooper said the government has balanced its books.
And he said during the past four years, through his influence with the government, he managed to get millions of provincial dollars spent in the riding on everything from education to infrastructure.
Hunter-Lowen noted that she was born in Didsbury and grew up in Carstairs and that her mother still lives there.
She pointed out that in addition to work in the technology and public sectors, she also has experience in the oil and gas industry.
“The energy sector is incredibly important. It is the driver in this community and throughout Alberta and Canada,” she said.
“I value and support the energy businesses. So does my party. That will not change when we form government.”
Hunter-Loewen said an NDP government would not raise taxes, would not implement a provincial police force (something the UCP government has been pushing) and would “protect” the Canada Pension Plan (the UCP has mused about replacing the CPP with an Alberta pension plan).
Hunter-Lowen said an NDP government would create thousands of jobs and provide high-speed internet to those rural Albertans that don’t have it.
“We won’t fight with doctors and nurses. We will recruit them, listen to them and respect them,” she said, adding that “you’ll never have to pay out of pocket to see them.”
Hunter-Loewen promised that an NDP government would hire 4,000 teachers and 3,000 education assistants and support staff to enable students to get more one-on-one support.
She said it would fund construction and repair of schools as needed.
During the forum, Kowalchuk referred to things such as climate change concerns as “fraud.”
Hunter-Loewen referred to her party leader, Rachel Notley by name while Cooper focused on calling for voters to “move Alberta forward.”
Moderator Ben Cecil, president of Olds College of Agriculture & Technology, praised the turnout for the forum.
"The fact that we had 180 people come out to this event this evening demonstrates your commitment to seeing a prosperous Alberta,” he said.