Seven candidates running to be the next MLA for St. Albert tried to woo a room full of voters on Thursday night.
Spectators watched as NDP incumbent candidate Marie Renaud faced off against against UCP candidate Jeff Wedman, Alberta Party candidate Barry Bailey, Alberta Independence Party candidate Sheldon Gron, Alberta Green Party candidate Cameron Jefferies, Alberta Liberal Party candidate Kevin McLean and Alberta Advantage Party candidate Don Petruka at the St. Albert Curling Club.
This is the second time St. Albert residents have gotten an official look at their potential candidates as a group, as four of the seven attended a St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce lunch last month and tried to sell the business community on their message.
For the most part, candidates steered away from mud-slinging and attacking other parties and stuck to pitching spectators on the merits of their own parties and platforms.
Renaud reminded residents of the work her party has done for the last four years, including building and modernizing eight schools in the city, investing in healthcare and not cutting services during the economic downturn.
“We invested in infrastructure all over the province, getting people back to work on our bridges, our utilities and our roads,” Renaud said, adding that when times in the province got tough, the NDP didn’t cut services but rather delivered on election promises like $25-a-day childcare, reforming Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and cutting child poverty.
Wedman tried to sell the audience on a different option for the future of Alberta under the United Conservative Party. The MLA-hopeful asked the audience to consider him for their vote and told them he would be present in the community and listen to the residents in the riding.
“The first and foremost job of an elected official is to listen to all your fellow citizens not just those who share your worldview and probably voted for you,” Wedman said.
Wedman told the audience his party would not cut front-line services and promised nobody in Alberta would have to pay out of pocket for medically necessary healthcare.
Bailey reminded the audience of his business acumen, as a long-time business owner in the city and the former chair of the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce. Bailey hoped to win over the centrist vote, reminding residents a vote for the Alberta Party is not splitting the vote on either the left or the right.
On a question regarding the education system in Alberta, Bailey also brought up his party’s stance on gay-straight alliances and his party’s stance on protecting LGBTQ youth and said it is unfortunate that GSAs are being brought up in this election.
“We won’t go back in time and we won’t harm LGBTQ youth,” Bailey said to loud applause in the room.
Jefferies tried to sell the crowd on a green and sustainable vision for the future, which included diversifying the economy, capitalizing on the renewable market and investing and protecting in both grey and green infrastructure.
When addressing the environmental issues in St. Albert, Jefferies noted that Ray Gibbon Drive negatively impacts Big Lake and the environment around the roadway.
Jefferies asked the audience to consider voting for him for a sustainable plan for not just the next four years, but for future generations.
“The world is changing whether we accept it or not. Now is not the time to double down on the sort of political thinking that promises short-term benefit by rewarding the wealthiest individuals and corporations, by banking on an inherently unsustainable fossil fuel outlook,” Jefferies said.
McLean, a two-time Grande Prairie city council member, came down from Grande Prairie for the debate and told St. Albertans about a co-operative vision for the future and his dream to move to the city to represent the riding.
The Liberal candidate said he wants to see a more united Canada, and doesn’t want to see politicians talking about “war rooms” or shutting off the oil flow to other provinces.
“It’s about co-operation and connection. We didn’t grow this country for 150 years to talk like that,” McLean said.
In a competing message, Alberta Independence Party candidate Gron tried to convince the crowd to embrace an opposite message. He spend the night talking about how Alberta could and should separate from the rest of Canada. Gron told the crowd he wasn’t a professional, polished politician but rather an average Joe who is mobilizing to help change the status quo.
Gron told the crowd that if Alberta separated, each riding would be given $36 million to help fund infrastructure, education and healthcare. The MLA-hopeful said he knows separation is a drastic change but he hoped to pique the curiosity of those watching the debate.
“I know the idea of independence is intimidating but I would like to note that anything worth doing is never easy,” Gron said.
Petruka told the audience about his party, the Alberta Advantage Party, and how they were born from old Wildrose Party members.
He said debt and the provincial economy are the biggest crisis in Alberta today. Petruka zeroed in on the healthcare system and said improvements are needed to help make it sustainable.
“Our healthcare system is a mess ... We have the highest per capita spending, the longest wait times and the least amount of bang for our buck out of any province in (Canada),” which Petruka attributed to a management problem in government.
To watch the full debate and learn more about the candidates, you can visit the St. Albert Today website.
Residents will go to the polls Tuesday to vote for their next representative. Advance voting wraps up Saturday.