Calgary-Centre candidates take questions from students at MRU forum
By Noel Harper, Contributor
It was an afternoon of questions, platforms and hand-raising as SAMRU hosted a Q&A for candidates running in the riding of Calgary-Centre for the 2019 federal election.
Of the eight candidates running in MRU’s riding, four showed up to answer to students: Kent Hehr of the Liberal Party (LPC), the current MP and only current Liberal member in Calgary; Greg McLean of the Conservative Party (CPC), former cabinet minister advisor in Ottawa; Thana Boonlert of the Green Party (GPC), environmental engineer and the party’s energy critic; and Chevy Johnston of the People’s Party (PPC), president of an agricultural commodity brokerage.
The first question to be asked by a student who approached the stage — which was set up as a living room, casual furniture and houseplants included — was about each party’s plans to act against climate change.
As the Green Party candidate, Boonlert wanted to get a sense of the room he was playing.
“Who here went to the climate strikes?” he asked the crowd, who responded with decidedly few raised hands. Boonlert said the protests demonstrated that “there’s a lot of Calgarians who are thirsty for climate action.”
Johnston said the People’s Party will focus on “acute health risks” of climate change, and maintained that humans are “definitely contributing in some capacity.” He added that his party will also withdraw from the federal carbon tax, describing it as nothing more than “a show of good faith from a wealthy nation.”
This sentiment was echoed by McLean of the Conservative Party, who said a tax was not an effective solution. Instead, he suggested, the best method of mandating CO2 reductions is to move oil and gas infrastructure offshore and export it to the developing world for use as a cleaner-burning fuel.
Hehr, on the other hand, said that putting a price on pollution is “the most important thing” the Liberals are doing to fight climate change, along with planting 2 billion trees and working to get rid of single-use plastics.
Audience participation was also key to a question about the province’s top industry, as a student first asked the crowd if anyone knew someone who works in oil and gas.
“By far, the most hands that have ever been raised in this room,” the student matter-of-factly stated of the response, before cutting to the quick.
“I was a little disappointed to hear your answers on pipelines,” he said, in particular to those parties that expressed past interest in phasing out the oil sands. “Will your party commit to indefinite development of the oil sands, and expansion of its resources and infrastructure, so long as the market demands it?”
With that, the cozy living room was split in two. “My simple answer is no,” Boonlert said, discussing a recent trip to a tailings pond and the conversations he had with workers there.
“It’s not a matter of them loving the oil industry, it’s a matter of them having a job and being able to provide for their family,” he claimed.
“Our best days are going to be further ahead,” Hehr said, if the province develops other energies, including geothermal and solar to become “oil and gas plus.”
McLean called the oil sands “a gift” to Alberta, saying the industry has become more environmentally-friendly over time and that the transition off of oil won’t happen for at least 50 years.
“Certainly,” answered Johnston, saying that Canada’s LNG exports are “likely displacing coal generation somewhere in the world,” and that he will continue to advocate for them.
The question most tailored to the audience was on the topic of international students, and the significant hike in tuition costs that they take on. It was so specific that Boonlert was unable to find a response on the spot, referring the student to chat with him later.
The PPC and CPC candidates agreed that post-secondary investments should stay within Canada, while Hehr advocated for making the country an attractive place for students to sustain population growth.
There was a nearly unanimous agreement from all the candidates regarding a question about how the parties will protect the queer community.
McLean was first to quickly state his pro-LGBTQ views (also that he is pro-choice, unprompted), saying “there’s no going backward on this issue whatsoever.”
McLean also asserted that “100 per cent” of federal Conservative candidates shared his views. It is worth noting that the party has had to address the homophobic remarks of more than one of its representatives.
Johnston made a similar declaration of his party and its candidates, despite several resignations that may suggest otherwise.
Hehr had his record in the provincial legislature on his side, a record that was even commended by McLean. He referenced Motion 503, tabled by him to protect gay-straight alliances, and said his party has “fully embraced the Pride community.”
For his part, Boonlert said the Greens will remove members who do not adhere to its core principle of respect for diversity.
It took until the end of the Q&A for one candidate to speak up on the homogeneous nature of the candidates on stage.
“There are four males … on the stage, but there are women running in this election as well,” said Boonlert in his closing statement, referencing fellow Calgary-Centre candidates Jessica Buresi (NDP) and Eden Gould (Animal Protection Party of Canada), who did not attend.
Early voting takes place at MRU from Oct. 5 to 9, before election day on Oct. 21.