By Trevor Busch
Only three of six candidates attended the Taber-Warner election forum on May 16 to promote their party platforms and seek the favour of local voters.
UCP candidate and incumbent for Taber-Warner, Grant Hunter, was joined by Paul Hinman (Wildrose Loyalty Coalition) and Brent Ginther (Solidarity Movement of Alberta) for the forum which saw a modest turnout from the electorate at the Taber Legion Hall.
Candidates Jazminn Hintz (NDP), Joel Hunt (Green Party) and Frank Kast (Independence Party of Alberta) were not in attendance.
The trio who made up the forum fielded questions on the development of the Highway 3 agri-food corridor, irrigation expansion, key factors for good governance, health care, tax cuts and hikes, and the perceived efficacy of many measures and restrictions implemented during the pandemic.
As the forum commenced, each candidate was provided an opportunity to introduce their respective platforms.
Ginther focused on the impacts of the pandemic and how this inspired him to try his hand at politics.
“I was never a politically active guy, but when COVID came and everything happened the way it did, I decided right then and there that you couldn’t count on the UCP, and nobody else was coming to save me, so I decided I was going to get off the couch and start fighting back and making a difference… I decided it was kind of hard for me to oppose the conservative government for doing the wrong thing and not standing against their party, if I’m going to do the same thing. And so I signed on with Artur Pawlowski and the Solidarity Movement of Alberta to be one of the 44 candidates.”
Hunter admitted he had contemplated not running again for Taber-Warner, but he wants to see the development of the Highway 3 agri-food corridor completed.
“Obviously the last two years have been really tough. It didn’t matter what you did, you were darned if you do and darned if you don’t. It was tough on everybody. I remember thinking after those two years, it’s maybe not such a great idea to run again. It felt like eight years in that two years. But there was a project in southern Alberta that I was working on that I thought would really matter, to my children and grandchildren, and your children and grandchildren, and that was building out an agri-food processing corridor between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.”
Hinman, who often waved a copy of the Canadian Constitution throughout the evening, talked about the erosion of Albertan’s rights during the pandemic.
“I think the most important thing when it comes to democracy is for people to have choice, and it seems like that choice has been stripped away from us in many aspects. I just wanted to pull back into the fight because of what has happened over the last few years…I’ve grown a real passion for what is good government… if you look at politics, we’re still stuck in the same old system, the same old policies that aren’t allowing us to be innovative and move forward. When I talk about being innovative, it’s really about being accountable.”
With healthcare a top concern in the 2023 provincial election, it wasn’t surprising candidates responded to a number of related questions in this area.
Hunter claimed that through initiatives like publicly-finded surgeon-owned facilities, wait times in the province are being reduced or eliminated.
“Good health care is not waiting on a wait list for hip replacement, or a knee replacement. Good healthcare is timely healthcare. One of the things that I was really impressed with Premier Smith is she said, ‘We’re not going to have any more excuses about these timelines.’ She fired the Alberta Health Services board, which I thought was a pretty bold move… we’ve actually been able to see a decrease in surgical wait times by 3,000 people per month, which means that in about five months we will be able to reduce that wait list – the number of people on that wait list – down to zero, and we can be back to where we should be, with medically-acceptable wait times.”
Hinman believes top-down decision making in healthcare that isn’t responsive to the needs of rural citizens should be subject to an extensive overhaul.
“It’s our biggest expense here in the province. There’s two critical things that we need to do. One is funding following the service… if funding followed the service, we’d have facilities where the administrator can say we need an increase here, we can bring in a doctor. That’s the other big change, we need to get rid of central decision making. As an MLA, I was shocked at the decision making on Edmonton saying what Calgary could have, Calgary saying what rural Alberta could have… but if you actually have a CEO in charge of his hospital, knowing what’s needed… we need to get rid of the central decision making.”
Ginther views the pronouncements from the UCP on healthcare reform as so much hot air, and suggested a non-public model might work for Albertans.
“Despite the governing party patting themselves on the back, a lot of the damage is already done. They fired hundreds of healthcare workers because they wouldn’t take their COVID vaccine. There’s a 69,000 patient surgery backlog, and if you’re one of these people, you don’t care about these improvements, you want your surgery. One of the ways I think we could address that is privatization, and I know that’s not something everyone likes to hear…I don’t think that the problem is getting better, I think it’s getting worse.”
The forum ran for about 90 minutes and was organized by the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce.
The provincial election is on May 29.
Editor’s note: Candidates fielded many questions, but for the sake of brevity only a selection of responses on key topics can be included here.