Pundits have proclaimed Lethbridge West a key riding to watch in the provincial election May 5. But a standing-room crowd Wednesday showed there’s plenty of issues at play in Lethbridge East as well.
With long-serving MLA Bridget Pastoor stepping down, one second-time candidate and three newcomers are campaigning for support. All were grilled by an evening forum which drew at least 200 vocal voters.
Cheers, boos and occasional heckles greeted the candidates’ responses to questions ranging from oil royalty revenues to hospital taxes, daycare to post-secondary education and retirement issues.
Kent Prestage, who ran for Wildrose in the last provincial election, admitted he was impressed by the number of voters getting involved this time. People are anxious for a change in Alberta politics, he declared.
“Wildrose is ready to be your conservative agent of change,” he said.
Tammy Perlich, the Progressive Conservative candidate, was applauded for her support of front-line government staff, but scoffed at for her assertion the Prentice government’s new health-care tax would go directly to patient services.
Maria Fitzpatrick told the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs forum her New Democratic Party has “fully costed” all the initiatives it is proposing, including job-creation incentives for the province’s small-business sector and a fairer, ability-to-pay tax system.
The Alberta Liberals, vowed candidate Bill West, would fight for the issues that matter to everyday Albertans, including better health-care services and an end to government “handouts” to the province’s big companies.
During question period, audience members pressed Perlich on cuts in grants to colleges and universities — resulting in higher tuition fees and “non-instructional fees” reportedly topping $2,000 per semester — along with cuts reducing the quality of health care, and affecting education for special-needs children.
Responding to other southern Alberta concerns, Fitzpatrick said neither the PC government nor its appointed energy board would respond to local residents’ fears about drilling and fracking for oil inside the city.
“We got no help from the government.”
Prestage maintained Alberta has no problem with revenue, just with spending. He cited $1 billion in “corporate welfare” the government has handed over to its big-business friends, as well as the $26-billion boondoggle resulting from its venture into a bitumen upgrading project near Edmonton.
Perlich told the crowd the province’s school boards have put out “a lot of misinformation” about school grants and the number of students per classroom. In a time of austerity, she said, they should be spending their reserve funds to soften the impact of budget freezes.
And West slammed the government for its treatment of frail seniors, hard hit by the closure of long-care nursing homes and forced to endure long stays in acute-care hospitals.
“Continuing care should be part of the primary care system,” he said.
Candidates from Lethbridge East and West are expected to turn out once more for a public forum Monday, sponsored by the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce. It’s set for 6 p.m. at the General Stewart Branch of the Royal Legion, and space is limited.