By Tim Kalinowski
All five Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner candidates took part in the Medicine Hat News sponsored debate at Medicine Hat College last Tuesday.
Liberal Glen Allan, who is an economist with the college with over 20 years of banking and financial management experience, showed off his savvyness and knowledge in the economics department to good effect. Conservative Jim Hillyer brought a compelling personal story of his victory over leukemia and some insights from his time serving in elected office over the past four years. Green candidate Brent Smith, a grasslands ecologist, hit hard at the platforms of the other parties with solid facts and opinions backed by scientific research. Independent candidate Jim Turner played the everyman and used a folksy way of speaking to draw in the audience. And Erin Weir drew applause for her feistiness in getting some solid cross-the-bow shots in on her fellow candidates.
Each of the candidates did enough to hold their own vote as an informal poll of audience members showed right after the debate. There were no knock-out punches and no bellringer moments for any of the candidates.
Independent John Turner had the greatest rapport with the audience while NDP candidate Erin Weir seemed to have the most support in the room. Conservative Jim Hillyer took the most heat from his fellow candidates, and also when the mics opened up to questions from the floor. Allan and Smith drove the debate forward with good questions and a solid command of the information at their disposal.
Here are a few key exchanges on the night.
On infrastructure investment and running deficits; Weir versus Allan
Allan: “In Canada (as a country) we are like a 30 year-old forever and ever. It’s not like retirement where we have to pay off our debt and get out of debt. So what counts is a number called debt to GDP, which is how we can service our debt? Canada’s is one of the best amongst all developed nations at that. So a) we can afford our debt and b) we’ve got this huge infrastructure deficit which has to be done at some time… If we are going to do that why not do it when it is cheap because construction companies are looking for the work, and are a little more aggressive, and interest rates are at historic lows? So why not keep people working until the economy bounces back? That’s the gist of the Liberal argument.
Weir: “I have listened carefully to what our candidates have said and it sounds like Mr. Allan perhaps has a better grasp on the economy than his leader who famously said: ‘Budgets will balance themselves.’”
On secrecy surrounding the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement; Weir versus Hillyer
Hillyer: “To put things (like Dairy farmers’ concerns over loss of national market protections) up for discussion; they are not on the table. At the end of the day if we can’t get a deal that is good for Canada then we are going to keep on discussing it or we have to walk away.”
Weir: “My understanding is the details of that proposal are to be sealed for four years; whether it’s passed or whether it’s not passed. Perhaps it is an issue of trust; and that people don’t have trust in the current government.”
On senate reform; Allan versus Weir
Weir: “It is the platform of the NDP to abolish the Senate. They are unaccountable, they are unelected and the they do not represent all Canadians.”
Allan: “The NDP said they will abolish it, and that means opening up the constitution and getting all the provinces to sign off… Quebec and the Maritimes have already said there is no way they will sign that. So how fun would that negotiation be? Will you please sign off on this? And Quebec would say ‘Yes, sure. If you give me all your tax revenue for 75 years and a unicorn.’ Mr. Mulcair got caught saying something he thought the public wanted to hear. It’s just not going to happen.”
On missing and murdered aboriginal women; Turner versus Hillyer
Hillyer: “There is no dispute we have a terrible situation going on. It is deplorable and it’s unacceptable. Our position is clear. We (the Conservatives) are more interested in moving on this deplorable situation than having yet another public inquiry.”
Turner: “I remember Stephen Harper talking to Peter Mansbridge at the Christmas message for the country. And he was asked that (inquiry) question, and he said: ‘It is not high on our agenda.’ He could have at least lied and said I feel sorry about it or something like that… I think he told the truth about how he feels, and that’s not good. Let’s take it one step further: They have 142 reserves in Canada, at last count, that are under a boil water advisory. If they can’t look at that issue, why would they worry about missing and murdered aboriginal women? It’s not right.”
On Omnibus bills; Smith versus Hillyer
Hillyer: “Even though an Omnibus bill has been used for as long as Canada has had parliaments, I don’t think that there should be no limit on what can be placed in there. That whatever is in the Omnibus bill should be relevant to the overarching bill. You wouldn’t throw in these pork barrel things or poison pills. I am not okay with that. But I am okay with Omnibus bills that are coherent and on the same subject.”
Smith: “The Omnibus budget bill that was 900 pages repealed portions of the Fisheries Act. It repealed portions of the Species-at-Risk Act. It repealed portions of the Environmental Assessment Act…. These had nothing to do with the budget. My answer is: No, they have no place in democracy.”
On refugees; Allan versus Turner
Turner: “I believe we need to bring refugees here, but Canada is based Judeo-Christian principles. All I am saying is there is a half a million Christian refugees that are fleeing Syria. My problem is: Why aren’t the Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates taking these (other Muslim) folks?”
Allan: “I don’t like this idea of playing the fear card again and again. We’re discounting the screening process. We are discounting CSIS . We are discounting the ability for us to be international, global citizens.”