Roughly seven hundred people attended a United Conservative Party Leadership debate at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre Tuesday night.
The evening began with opening remarks from all four candidates running to become the party’s first ever leader, then quickly went to questions touching on agriculture, leadership, social services, crime and the role of government.
On the subject of agriculture, leadership candidates Jason Kenney, Doug Schweitzer, Brian Jean and Jeff Callaway were unanimous in saying they would repeal controversial Bill 6, the farm and ranch workplace legislation that came into effect on January 1, 2016, should they become Premier.
In terms of diversifying markets for Alberta’s producers, Schweitzer said Alberta needs to be more competitive in attracting business and investment to the province and making sure pipelines like Kinder Morgan get built. Kenney emphasized the need to renegotiate NAFTA with the United States to ensure Canadian producers have access to U.S. markets. Callaway responded by reminding the crowd of one of his big ideas to re-open the Port of Churchill, Manitoba and the rail lines needed to get the products there. Jean stressed the need for much lower taxes and to bring back coal.
On leadership, the candidates were asked what edge they may have over their rivals and what sort of leadership is needed to make sure Alberta’s voice is heard.
Jean told the crowd he is a leader that can get things done, stating, “We need to make sure our voice is heard regarding equalization.”
Callaway said it’s about stepping up when times are tough. “We’re going to need a leader who is consistent and strong,” he said.
Kenney explained his leadership would be in service to the people and not a “top-down” style of leadership, something he feels helped lead to the downfall of the former PC party.
Schweitzer said he has the ability to build a team and would work collaboratively with the federal government to get things done.
The candidates were also asked about how they would put Alberta on the path to fiscal sustainability and balance social services that could perhaps be better provided by community-based organizations.
Kenney said he would have a UCP government break down barriers to economic opportunities, leverage the charitable sector for their expertise and reduce taxes significantly, noting, “The best social program is a good job.”
Schweitzer responded by saying, “We need to get back to innovating in how we deliver services,” while also pointing out that he would like to give more autonomy back to communities and empower them to make their own decisions in terms of what’s best for them.
Jean shared with the audience that Alberta needs to eliminate the debt as quickly as possible and grow the economy.
“We also need to find efficiencies in what we have.”
In addition, Jean said he would also like to see a decentralization of government decision making for things like healthcare and the justice system.
Meanwhile, Callaway told the crowd involving the private sector more and offering charitable tax incentives would help put Alberta on a path of fiscal sustainability to better balance social programs, saying it would come down to “social entrepreneurship” on a case-by-case basis.
The final question of the night came from a social media feed and asked the leadership candidates how they planned on addressing crime if they were to become Premier.
Callaway spoke of the importance of growing the economy as a way of reducing crime, also pointing out the need for more judges, a Tribunal System for Traffic Court and maintaining photo radar to help fund police services.
Jean reiterated similar comments about making the economy strong, adding more judges, crown prosecutors, and more sheriffs as well.
Schweitzer said he would like to see more innovation in the justice system, while Kenney stated he would appoint more Provincial Court judges to help alleviate the current backlog in Alberta’s court system.
The evening concluded with closing remarks from each of the four candidates.
Kenney spoke first and told the audience, “To all those Albertans who feel like they’re living under an accidental socialist government, you’ve told them that hope is on the horizon by creating this united party, and this is your party. Let’s ensure that it continues to be. We must never repeat the sort of arrogant top-down style of leadership of recent PC governments that created this.”
Kenney went on to say, “We will need leadership that can restore investor confidence where it’s been lost, a leadership that has experience in reducing public spending and expanding political coalitions. Leadership that will not flinch or cave under public pressure, that is consistent, that presents a compelling vision for the future of our province.”
Schweitzer spoke next and said, “Our campaign has offered the largest tax relief in Alberta history. So we sent a clear message on day one, that Alberta’s back in business. We want you to invest here, we want you to grow here. We’re going to get our spending under control. Our campaign has proposed flat budgets for four years to make sure we can offer that tax relief, but still balance our budget in the first terms.”
Schweitzer also spoke of the need to appeal to millennial voters in Alberta.
“We need to offer that optimistic future for this province, so we turn the page on social issues and we hold the NDP accountable the next election campaign on the economy,” he said. “That’s the winning formula to win seats back here in Red Deer, Edmonton, and Calgary.”
Jean followed up by saying, “I believe I have the experience and leadership, not just in politics, I have built political teams federally, I’ve done it provincially and am the only one to have lead a political party in any house in the legislature. More than that, I’ve led teams in the business world, owning and operating more than a dozen businesses, actually employing hundreds of Alberta families.”
Callaway had the final say of the evening and said, “I’m convinced that it really comes down to delivering a positive message and so that’s really what my campaign has been about, talking about the big three ideas and about looking forward in this province and not just talking about what we’re going to cut to get the budget under control. It’s about putting the people back to work again from the fields up to the office towers.”
Two more UCP leadership debates are slated for Fort McMurray on October 12 and Lethbridge on October 17.
UCP members can vote for their leader online or on the phone over a three-day period starting at 9 a.m. October 26 and ending at 5 p.m. October 28. To vote, you must be a party member by 5 p.m. October 13.
Story written by Sheldon Spackman, rdnewsnow.com