Taber Political Forum Draws Capacity Crowd

Written by Trevor Busch    Thursday, 19 April 2012 21:18

Wednesday’s all candidates forum in Taber drew a large crowd of locals looking to delve more deeply into the positions and platforms of the four party candidates vying for votes on April 23.
Gary Bikman of the Wildrose spoke first, outlining in his opening statement his extensive background in the shipping industry and municipal politics, while promising that as Wildrose MLA he would represent in government on issues like irrigation, reducing the regulatory burden, reducing power rates for consumers, and more parental rights. Bikman also promised the Wildrose would repeal contentious land bills, would not hike taxes, and advance their “10/10” plan for municipalities.
Helen McMenamin of the Alberta Liberal Party also slammed the PCs over their land-related legislation, and promised the Liberals would repeal the four bills previously passed. McMenamin characterized these bills as “draconian” and “an invitation to corruption”. She also promised the Liberals would tackle  long wait times for health care, double the current spending on home care, and deal with issues surrounding long-term care. McMenamin pledged what she called “appropriate care for seniors”.
Pat Shimbashi of the Progressive Conservative Party began his address with a discourse on the changing nature of Alberta as a great place to live and work, and continuing to grow in population. Shimbashi talked about his long experience in agriculture, business and local government, and pointed to various programs and initiatives rolled out under the previous government which had helped to preserve opportunity and nurture the province. He admitted mistakes had been made by the PCs, but that he would work to help rectify these issues if elected.
Aaron Haugen of the NDP began by addressing misconceptions about the direction of government desired by his party, such as hiking taxes. Haugen attacked the non-renewable resource revenue record of the PC government, indicating it had been “squandered” by past governments, and promised an NDP government would not centralize government, repeal controversial land bills, and lower electricity rates in the province.
At the conclusion of the opening address by candidates, the forum was opened to questions from the floor.
Shimbashi was questioned on the issue of power lines in the province and whether they were a need for the future.
“Alberta had grown a million people in the last 10 years,” said Shimbashi, who declined to comment on whether transmission upgrades would be repealed under a further PC mandate. “People moving in, there’s 130,000 people a year. They feel there is a shortage of power, with the influx of people, and the power required by industry cannot be supplied. It’s my belief that we need to build these power lines, and those power lines still have to go through a regulatory process.”
Bikman attacked the PC position on transmission lines as a massive overbuild that will cost Alberta jobs in the future.
“The Alberta Utilities Commission did not get a chance to rule on those bills,  on Bill 50 that created the powers lines. That was done in secret, in cabinet, and so were the contracts that were awarded. They’re estimated to cost around $16 billion, not $3 billion. Furthermore, the commercial users of power are very afraid that this overbuild will result in the tripling of power rates that will drive a lot of these businesses, taking much-needed jobs out of our jurisdictions. This is not right, and that is why we are going to repeal Bill 50.”
McMenamin promised electrical reform from a Liberal government.
“It’s not right, and we would look again at that whole business. None of these decisions should be made behind closed doors, whether it’s needs assessments or public consultation on routes.”
Haugen was firm in his and his party’s condemnation of the transmission line construction.
“Businesses don’t like this $16 billion boondoggle, residents don’t like it — I don’t like it. There are better ways to deal with our power shortages. One of the ways is to encourage the building of a national grid, so you have provinces that may have excess power, and provinces that may be in need of power. There’s no reason why we need to build these power lines — we’re not building new power plants, we’re just building lines. Power lines are short-term jobs, power plants are long-term jobs.”
The evening was punctuated by serious questions asked of candidates on plans and policy, however a series of off the cuff responses by Haugen of the NDP often evoked laughter in the audience, while sober responses on policy and reputation characterized Shimbashi and Bikman. McMenamin criticized both the right and left-leaning parties, presenting the Liberals as the choice of more centre left voters.
Candidates fielded questions from a variety of local officials and dignitaries, such as Audrey Krizsan, chair of the Horizon School Board, town Coun.(s) Murray Rochelle, Garth Bekkering and Louie Tams, and M.D. of Taber Coun. Don Johnson.
A question from the floor on the pre-election scandal over MLA pay as well as severance packages received a logical approach from Shimbashi.
“As a candidate representing you, I agree with what the premier has done, by getting an independent board. Justice Major has been having hearings all over Alberta and taking recommendations what MLAs should be paid, what their compensations for pensions are, and I’m willing to abide by that, whatever it happens to be.”
Bikman promised a Wildrose government would drastically reduce the remuneration of MLAs and cabinet ministers.
“We’ve pledged to reduce the pensions by 67 per cent, and we’ll do it. We’ve pledged to cut back cabinet ministers to 16, and cut their pay by 30 per cent. We’ll cut MLA pay by five per cent from its current level, and we think an independent board should determine how much MLAs are worth.”
McMenamin promised the Liberals would remove the veil that obscures the truth about MLA funding.
“We plan to cap the severance packages of MLAs at eight years, or two terms. We plan to reduce the number of MLAs, and to reduce their salary to a single, traceable salary that will be entirely be taxable, and it will be less than it is currently.”
Haugen offered a matter-of-fact response.
“The NDP voted against these golden parachutes, and we will get rid of them when we’re in power. I personally believe MLAs are paid too much. I don’t think they should make any more than the average Albertan is making. We work for you, and there’s no reason we should make more than you.”
Important topics covered a wide variety of subjects, and ranged from conscience rights to support for education, special needs funding, carbon capture and storage, family care clinics, and a wage freeze for public sector employees. Other areas covered by candidates included MLA freedom, the possible cancellation of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA), the experience of non-PC candidates, urban encroachment on arable land, clear-cut logging in the Castle area, the proposed dismantling of the health superboard, and the recent negotiations between the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers and Lantic Inc.