It may have been cold and snowy outside, but the conversation was heated inside the federal election candidates’ forum Oct. 8.
All five Foothills candidates in the Oct. 21 federal election were present for the forum, hosted by the Okotoks District Chamber of Commerce at the Okotoks United Church.
About 80 people turned out to hear candidates speak. The hottest topics of the evening were agriculture and small business, climate change, and federal budget and taxes.
First, candidates were asked to speak to the challenges facing farmers with trade and marketing their practices and products.
“Canadian farmers are some of the most unsung heroes,” said People’s Part of Canada candidate Greg Hession. “As a nation we need to greatly work on our international relationships with our closest trade partners for agricultural exports.”
Mickail Hendi of the NDP said his party is prepared to fight against unfair tariffs and implement support systems for young people interested in getting a start in agriculture, as well as payment protections for produce growers.
“People are worried about their paycheques, they’re worried about how they’re going to afford their next meal, and we’re going to help them with that by guaranteeing they get paid even if the trade deals in India don’t quite go their way,” he said.
Green Party candidate Bridget Lacey agreed that farmers need to have access to more subsidy. She also said the government should be promoting the good work Canadian farmers are doing every day.
“There’s a big misconception, especially in the beef industry, that there is a lot of pollution coming from the beef industry,” she said. “Canada and Canadian ranchers are doing some of the best work in terms of using the land in the way it was meant to be used, grazing animals and regenerating the eco-system.”
Incumbent Conservative candidate John Barlow agreed that the government needs to do a better job of telling the story of the agriculture industry and the work being done.
“I absolutely believe agriculture is going to be the next target like oil and gas has been,” said Barlow. “This comes down to the government working with farmers and ranchers and promoting and marketing what they do better than anyone else.”
Cheryl Moller, the Liberal candidate, said she has no solutions for the issues with agriculture.
Candidates were also asked how they would support small business in Canada and boost the country’s economy.
Lacey said the Green Party intends to maintain the small business tax rate while raising taxes for larger corporations.
“Small businesses in our communities work hard and they are struggling,” she said.
There should also be taxes on stock options and capital gains to ensure the wealthy and top income-earners or large e-commerce corporations like Facebook or Google are taxed fairly, she said.
“These multinational corporations that are doing online sales in Canada are taking huge revenues out of the country and hardly paying any tax, and it’s really important we start to tax those fairly,” said Lacey.
For the People’s Party of Canada, the solution is to abolish corporate welfare and reform interprovincial trade and equalization to encourage economic activity in the country, said Hession. He said part of the PPC plan is to reduce corporate tax.
Hendi said the NDP is not in favour of reducing corporate taxes, stating larger corporations need to pay their fair share.
For the Conservatives, the answer lies in reducing the amount of red tape involved in running a small business by at least 25 per cent. This work would be managed by a minister of red tape answering directly to the prime minister, said Barlow.
“This will make it easier for small businesses to grow and create those jobs,” he said.
As far as balancing the federal budget, Barlow said the Conservative plan is to balance in five years and begin working at paying down the deficit. It’s vital to get Canada’s finances back in order, he said.
He said it’s not necessary to cut services, but to find other efficiencies like cutting corporate welfare and foreign aid.
Hession said the PPC agree with changing foreign aid policy and corporate welfare but the party is prepared to go further than that by defunding the CBC and working harder to make Canada more sustainable. With his party’s plan, the budget should be balanced within two years, he said.
“We need to work harder to create wealth in this country,” he said. “We can’t rely on the government to pay for things.”
Like the Conservatives, Lacey said the Green Party platform sees a balanced budget within five years, largely done by taxing those with “extreme wealth.”
All five parties agreed something needs to be done about climate change, though their approaches varied.
Hendi, Lacey and Moller said their parties all believe in putting a price on carbon to reduce environmental impact, as well as retrofitting homes across the country to be more efficient and environmentally-friendly.
“Making a transition to this economy is absolutely essential,” said Lacey. “We are soon coming into crisis levels on this issue and we do have to take action.”
She added focusing on green technology and creating a green economy is key.
Barlow said the Conservatives don’t believe taxes are the way to go and said the climate change burden is not one Canada should carry on its own.
“Canada is a solution, not a problem,” said Barlow. “Why aren’t we exporting to countries that are not using the clean energy like Canada, where they’re using dirty coal or dirty oil from regimes like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Russia, when they could be using our resources that are developed under the strictest environmental standards?”
Hession said the PPC does not believe in alarmism and purports securitizing Canada’s energy and food resources to ensure food production in the future as the climate changes.
Candidates also weighed in on education, services for seniors, immigration, and building the Trans-Mountain pipeline.