By Trevor Busch
Local voters searching for the right box to mark an ‘x’ on Oct. 19 were able to hear the respective positions and platforms of candidates in the Bow River riding at an all candidates forum hosted last week at the Heritage Inn.
A respectable crowd turned out for the Oct. 7 event, which featured attending candidates Martin Shields of the Conservative Party of Canada, Lynn MacWilliam of the New Democratic Party, William Alexander of the Liberal Party of Canada, and Andrew Kucy as an Independent.
Candidates Frans VandeStroet of the Christian Heritage Party, Fahed Khalid of the Democratic Advancement Party of Canada, and Rita Fromholt of the Green Party of Canada were not in attendance at the forum.
An issue that for many Canadians has seen a questionable prominence during the dying weeks of the federal election campaign, allowing or banning the niqab from being worn during citizenship ceremonies was the initial question fielded from the floor.
“To me personally, this is a very simple matter. The niqab is a cultural piece of clothing,” said independent candidate Andrew Kucy. “It is what she chooses to wear each day. It is no different than the suit that I put on, and the fact that this is what I choose to dress in. Anyone who wants to wear a niqab during a citizenship ceremony, they have already identified themselves, proven their identity, lifted their veil to a citizenship official. I believe they should be able to wear whatever they want.”
Liberal candidate William Alexander attacked the issue as a shameless tactic by the Harper Conservatives to divide voters over a relatively insignificant problem.
“In terms of having the ability to wear the niqab during a swearing in ceremony, it’s strictly ceremonial. For every official purpose they have their driver’s licence, their passport, their faces are uncovered. Only two of 680,000 immigrants to this country have asked to wear their face covering. I think it’s a non-issue, personally. I feel it’s just a wedge issue to divide people further along artificial lines.”
CPC candidate Martin Shields tersely dismissed the question, making reference to the pre-eminence of court decisions.
“Ultimately, the courts will decide this one, and we’ll abide by the court decision.”
NDP candidate Lynn MacWilliam shot back at Shields on the issue, suggesting the Conservatives don’t easily take no for an answer from the federal court system.
“They always appeal court decisions. As far as the niqab, when a woman comes to swear her oath of citizenship, she goes into a room, she identifies herself to a female citizenship official, so it is proven.”
Another topic covered by candidates, put forward by Taber town councillor Laura Ross-Giroux, was the question of a national inquiry for missing and murdered aboriginal women, a course of action previously considered to be unnecessary by the Harper Conservatives.
“Right from the very beginning when I first started talking to people, I said one of the very first things I would do is stand up and call for an inquest myself for missing and murdered indigenous women,” said independent candidate Kucy. “I think that the way that Canada is treating our First Nations people is horrible.”
Alexander for the Liberals promised an inquiry into the issue just three months after forming government.
“The Liberal Party has committed to, within the first 90 days of forming government, to have a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. We’ve also committed to having the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigated and put into practice, as well as signing the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada has refused to sign.”
CPC candidate Shields viewed the issue as a matter of increased manpower and resources for law enforcement, rather than acceding to the need for an inquiry.
“I believe we’ve had crimes committed, we need the resources to find the perpetrators of those crimes, and they need to be brought to justice.”
Taking a personal stance on the issue, NDP candidate MacWilliam expressed a need to determine the root causes of the apparent vulnerability of aboriginal women.
“We would insist that the inquiry be started in the first 100 days. My grand daughter is First Nations, she’s beautiful, 17 years old. I live in the town of Bassano, and it’s one of the safest towns in this area, and I refuse to let her walk alone at night, because I am so afraid that something’s going to happen to her. I think we need to find out why First Nations women are so vulnerable.”
Local police chief Alf Rudd probed the candidate’s positions on the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana, an idea he viewed as resulting in negative consequences for youth, among other impacts.
“You’re correct in that it definitely is harmful for youth,” said Liberal candidate Alexander. “Most studies show people under the age of 18 who frequently smoke pot have a slower mental development than those who do not. Which is why I feel that it needs to be regulated, not an illicit drug that you can pick up from your Grade 11 gym buddy who’s got it in his car. It should be standardized, legalized, and taxed. I feel that legalization, and particularly decriminalization, is the way to move forward to make it safe for everyone, and have some form of standardized system.”
Kucy, seeking election as an independent, criticized the current system as lining the pockets of criminals and criminal organizations while unable to keep the substance out of the hands of youth.
“Marijuana is a very divisive issue. Some might call it a wedge issue. It reflects personal freedom, and the ability for a person to consume what they want in their own body, versus those who want to control us. There is a lot of evidence that it is harmful on children, and so why don’t we do everything we can to keep it out of the hands of children. The best way to do that is the same way as alcohol or cigarettes. You regulate it, tax it, and put it behind closed doors so you have to be 18 to even access it. What we’re doing right now, by keeping it illegal, is providing money to the underground drug market.”
Taking a stance from a health perspective, the CPC’s Shields suggested making another substance available for individuals to smoke could have consequences with relation to falling rates of tobacco smoking.
“There’s a difference between decriminalization and legalization. It’s illegal. It’s taken a long time for smoking rates to drop from 25 per cent down to about 15 per cent. That’s significant, and I think that’s the right direction. I don’t want to see another substance introduced that can create the same kind of demand, particularly in our youth. It’s illegal for a good reason.”
Attitudes simply need to change regarding marijuana, which under a more liberalized regulatory system could represent huge tax revenues for potential jurisdictions, according to the NDP’s MacWilliam.
“Alcohol was once illegal, and that’s when you had a lot of gang wars right across the country, right across the United States. The NDP wants to decriminalize, and I think down the road, maybe legalize. You get it off the streets by getting it behind closed doors and having it regulated. The taxes that Colorado is getting — in the first month they got over $1 million — It’s wise to do that. We’ve done it with alcohol, and we can do it with marijuana.”
Taber town councillor Rick Popadynetz shifted debate back to the economy, pressing candidates for their solutions to assisting the oil and gas sector in exporting Alberta’s iconic ‘bread and butter’ to international markets.
“I’d rather not send our raw product out,” said NDP candidate MacWilliam. “I would rather have the product refined here in Canada, and then shipped out. By refining it here we create jobs, we would not be sending our jobs out. The final product is the gas, or whatever is created out of the oil. To send the sludge through the pipelines is not working, it’s creating a lot of grief. I would like to see value added to all products that are shipped out of this country.”
Shields for the CPC championed the Energy East Pipeline Project that could transport oilsands crude to an Eastern Canadian refinery, keeping jobs in Canada.
“We have a pipeline that could go east. We have a refinery in New Brunswick. It’s a Canadian refinery, and it has capacity. They’re importing their oil now from OPEC. That pipeline should happen, so that we are refining in country. That moves product out of the west to there.”
Liberal candidate Alexander went on the offensive on the issue, attacking the record of the Harper Conservatives in failing to organize a national strategy with regard to transportation of non-renewable resources.
“I personally know the effects of low oil, I worked as a roughneck on an oil rig to pay for my school. I know what it’s like to lose your job when the price of oil falls. It’s not necessarily because there’s a lack of demand for our product, it’s because there’s a lack of infrastructure to get it to places where we can sell it, and that’s because primarily we have a federal government that is unwilling to co-operate with the territories and provinces, and municipalities, and private enterprise to work together to have some sort of coherent plan as to how we’re going to ship this.”
Kucy, as an independent, questioned the reliability of many of the pipeline projects currently on the drawing board for Canada.
“I, in my working life, have been involved in designing and actually building pipelines. I know it can be done right. My biggest issue with the majority of the pipelines that are currently proposed is that they will be re-using existing pipes in the ground. That scares me, because I don’t know what code, what standard it was designed to, what it was tested to, how it was maintained over its entire life. I believe pipelines can be safe, if they were designed and constructed to the best standards we can find for development.”
Corporate tax rates and the burdens on small business in Canada proved to be a polarizing issue for candidates.
“The NDP have brought forward a proposal to increase tax for corporations, from 15 per cent, to 18 per cent,” said MacWilliam. “An Ipsos Reid poll that was commissioned by Global News found that 85 per cent of Canadians agree to increase this, and 81 per cent in Alberta. Half of Canadians, 49 per cent, say they strongly agree with increased corporate taxes.”
Shields pledged the CPC is dedicated to eliminating red tape for business and reducing the tax burden on small business.
“Eighty per cent of the businesses are classified as small businesses in this country. They are the ones that hire most of the new people, most of the ones that are in our rural communities, the small businesses support our hockey teams, our soccer teams, the people we know because we see them on the street, our neighbours. Decreasing their rate of tax is what we propose, also decreasing anything we can to do with red tape paperwork to keep those small businesses going.”
Eliminating boutique tax breaks and loopholes for big business will go a long way to making sure Canadians are getting their fair share from corporations, instead of raising tax rates, according to the Liberal’s Alexander.
“In terms of taxation, the Liberal Party has committed to lowering small business taxes from the current 11 per cent down to nine per cent, so that small businesses are able to recycle more of their money into their business. As far as corporate taxes, we say we stay the course. The corporate tax rate that we have now gives us a competitive advantage worldwide. The problem is we’re not collecting the full taxes from these corporations because of boutique tax breaks that have been embedded in the tax system under the current Conservative government.”
Kucy, as an independent, pushed for radical reductions to the size of government and public sector wage rates in order to squeeze more without raising taxes further.
“I am in favour of trying to keep things as they are. If we maintain tax rates as they currently are, that will gives businesses and individuals a sense of certainty or reassurance that you can now do your budgeting, that you know what you’ll be paying to government in the next ‘x’ number of years. I believe that with our federal government, there are many inefficient parts of our system that we can find and save money from within government. I would advocate for each government department to reduce their budget by 10 per cent per year for two years, with a combination of wage reductions for staff and finding efficiencies.”
Editor’s Note: Due to limited space and in the interests of brevity, not all questions covered by candidates have been included.