Candidates offer their visions for Airdrie and Cochrane in election forum
On Tuesday evening, members of both the UCP and the NDP gathered in Airdrie for an election forum. (File Photo/ Screenshot)
On Tuesday evening, the Airdrie Chamber of Commerce and the City of Airdrie hosted a provincial candidates' political forum at the Bert Church LIVE Theatre.
Both the incumbent United Conservative candidates, Airdrie-East UCP MLA Angela Pitt and Airdrie-Cochrane UCP MLA Peter Guthrie were present along with NDP candidate for Airdrie-East Dan Nelles and NDP candidate for Airdrie-Cochrane, Shaun Fluker.
Business and trade-orientated questions were asked by representatives of the Airdrie Chamber of Commerce, while those that pertained to how the province and the municipality can work better to address the needs of the city's residents were asked by council members. Submitted questions from the audience were also addressed.
Some of the key themes from the evening's forum included how each MLA plans on addressing the accelerating growth of Airdrie and how that growth has strained both city infrastructure and provincial infrastructure - including health and education. Other recurring topics included the cost of living, as well as how to best harness Alberta's renewable and non-renewable resources for better prosperity for all Albertans.
Councillor Candice Kolson asked one of the six questions that pertained to the municipal-provincial partnership when it comes to addressing the shortage of affordable housing in Airdrie. She underlined that despite two affordable housing projects that are ongoing in the city - the Rocky View Foundation's hotel conversion project which will secure 60 affordable housing units for seniors, as well as Airdrie Housing Limited's conversion project that will create 30 affordable housing units, 2,700 more units would be required to meet the need for those struggling with housing affordability.
The Airdrie-Cochrane candidates spoke about their visions for resolving the issue.
MLA Guthrie underlined that one of his strengths is that he and his counterpart, MLA Pitt have an excellent working relationship and have been advocating on the city's behalf on this matter.
NDP candidate Shaun Fluker proposed that his party if elected in this provincial election would be committed to increasing the benefits for seniors as well as reinstating an independent seniors advocate. He added that the NDP also announced that they would commit to a large increase in the Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) program.
Cost of Living
Inflation and the cost of living were addressed by an audience member's question who asked what each party is doing to address the affordability and cost of living situation in the province, which for many has meant undue financial pressures. This question was answered by both the NDP candidate Dan Nelles for Airdrie-East, as well as incumbent UCP MLA Angela Pitt.
Nelles underlined that the NDP wants to not only look at putting caps on things such as auto insurance and certain utility bills, but he also underlined that the focus of the NDP will be to raise child, family benefits, and seniors benefits and to make sure no one is left behind.
MLA Pitt delivered a rebuttal to her counterpart, saying that it is 'uncanny' how much the NDP are wanting to spend, adding that putting caps on any of the aforementioned things without a clear plan would be disastrous. She said that there already is overspending within the federal government and does not want the province to be doing the same.
Another question that touched on affordability came from an audience member who had asked if the candidates have a plan to cap auto-insurance costs. A report published by Ernst & Young LLP earlier this year stated that Albertans are paying some of the highest prices for automobile insurance anywhere in the country.
MLA Guthrie stated that the province has made the commitment to make sure that there will be no more insurance rate hikes for the coming year. He also added that as part of a committee that he sat on, he and the UCP are looking at other options to ease the financial burden on Albertans when it comes to car insurance costs.
However, his NDP counterpart Shaun Fluker surmised that the auto insurance hikes are in part due to what he called four years of a UCP-led government, stressing that the NDP wants to see an increase in benefits to Albertans so that they may be able to shoulder the added financial burdens.
Councillor Darrell Belyk directed a question regarding how the candidates plan to deal with the ongoing problems with over-capacity in Airdrie and area schools. He noted that while this year's provincial budget did secure design funding for a K-8 school in Airdrie, with additional funding for preliminary planning for three other schools - more needs to be done.
MLA Pitt in her response said that she is continuing to advocate for construction for schools, adding she is keenly aware that the recent announcement of the province granting portables to the Rocky View Schools Division is not a long-term solution. She added that construction for new schools is 'on the books'.
However, NDP candidate Dan Nelles said that planning to make a plan is simply not enough, adding that when if he is elected he will be advocating on behalf of students tirelessly.
Lack of family doctors
Councillor Petrow queried the candidates on how they foresee their parties and how they themselves would address the lack of family physicians in Airdrie and the lack of health supports available in the city to deal with more complex medical needs, including mental health. Councillor Petrow underlined that the lack of family doctors has left many to seek help for non-emergency issues at the Airdrie Urgent Care Centre, which is also very often struggling to meet the demands of the community.
MLA Guthrie noted that improving healthcare in Alberta is one of the UCP's top priorities across the province, adding that he believes healthcare workers in Alberta are perhaps some of the best in the country if not the world. He underlined that the government is continuing to work on healthcare issues, pointing to the fact that multiple policy implementations to address the EMS crisis are showing positive results.
NDP candidate Shaun Fluker said that one of the first things that must be done in order to move forward on any healthcare improvements would be to restore a positive and trusting relationship with the province's healthcare workers.
The event was live-streamed, though there were intermittent audio problems at the beginning. A recording of the event is available here. The Airdrie Chamber of Commerce later added that all candidates running in the ridings of Airdrie-East and Airdrie-Cochrane that had registered as of May 2 had confirmed their attendance for the forum.
Other candidates who are also running include Ron Voss for the Airdrie-Cochrane riding representing the Wildrose Loyalty Coalition (WLC) as well as Airdrie-East candidate Taras Melysh also from the WLC. The Green Party of Alberta has one candidate in the Airdrie Cochrane riding, Michelle Overwater Giles.
Alberta's provincial election is on May 29.