More than 100 people from the Foothills region turned out to hear from federal election candidates in the riding.
A forum put together by regional chambers of commerce was held at the Okotoks Alliance Church and livestreamed on Sept. 1.
Questions were asked of five of the six Foothills candidates: incumbent John Barlow from the Conservative Party, Josh Wylie of the Maverick Party, Daniel Hunter of the Peoples Party of Canada (PPC), with NDP candidate Michelle Traxel and Liberal candidate Paula Shimp attending via videoconference.
Due to technical issues, Shimp was unable to respond live to questions. Brett Rogers of the Green Party was not in attendance.
COVID-19 and vaccination passports were hot topics off the top, with candidates offering their stance on recovery and mandating vaccines.
Barlow said it’s time to move on from the federal programs that were put in place at the outset of the pandemic.
“We need to get ourselves off these programs that were important at the beginning, like the wage subsidy and the emergency business account, and now start to help those small businesses get back on their feet,” he said.
He said the Conservative plan is to focus on creating at least one million jobs to make up for what was lost, and help small businesses with tax credits and better access to loans.
Wylie said there is no need for anything to be put in place, arguing any further programs will be paid for off the backs of western Canadians.
“It isn’t a program or service that’s going to get us through this,” he said. “It’s the government getting the hell out of the way and letting people do what they do best.”
Barlow, Wylie and Hunter all spoke out against vaccine passports, stating the choice to be vaccinated is personal and not political.
Traxel, however, said she believes vaccination is important and has a personal interest in seeing them implemented. She added the reason she did not attend the forum in-person was due to being medically compromised and unable to be vaccinated.
“For me, knowing that the majority of people who sit in the room aren’t vaccinated is dangerous and I’m putting myself at risk,” said Traxel. “I am for the vaccine passport.”
Carbon tax presented as another contentious issue, with both Wylie and Hunter saying the Conservatives would implement a tax at the same rate or higher than the Liberal government despite saying it would be lessened.
“Erin O’Toole says he will cap it at $50 is he wins. Nonsense,” said Wylie. “The carbon tax will grow and grow and grow, while China is getting 50 per cent of their energy from coal consumption.”
Barlow said he ran on a platform of opposing the carbon tax, which has not changed, and touted the Conservative Party for pushing through a private member’s bill that saw agriculture exempt from carbon tax.
Despite differing opinions on how a carbon tax would be handled, all four of the participating candidates agreed western Canadian oil should be given preference over imports, and Alberta should not be dependent on American trade.
Traxel said she is disgusted by the fact crude oil is imported to eastern Canada, and that the country needs to become leaders in clean technology and transforming crude unto other products within the oil sector.
“I would spearhead that personally,” said Traxel. “It is a priority for me and I want to see middle-class jobs come back to this community en masse.”
Wylie, who has worked in the oil sector since 2007, said it’s time for the government to stop attacking the industry with carbon tax or indirect blows like classifying plastic as toxic.
“We need to start fighting back,” said Wylie. “We need to stand up for our energy sector. It is the most heavily-regulated industry anywhere on the planet.”
Barlow agreed, adding the oil produced in Canada should be used within its borders but also exported to countries like China and India to reduce their reliance on coal.
“If you want to really have an impact of GHG emissions and reductions, Canadian energy is not the problem – we’re the solution,” said Barlow.
Questions from the public also centred around recent topics and votes in the House that brought Barlow under scrutiny, including the bill banning conversion therapy.
Barlow maintained his position, stating he does not believe in conversion therapy but voted against the bill due to its language, which could mean any person who spoke to another individual about their sexuality or conversion could be charged under the criminal code.
“My job is to ensure that we’re not passing bills just for public perspective but ensuring we’re passing the best legislation possible,” said Barlow. “This was not good legislation and that’s why I voted against it.”
Traxel took a strong stance against conversion therapy, saying statistics have proven it is ineffective, dangerous, and leads to suicide.
“We need to protect our community and we need to stand up for the rights of those who have been misrepresented year after year after year,” she said. “This is a human rights matter and we need to respect those people who are subjected to conversion therapy.”
Hunter said it’s not the government’s place to prevent people from receiving or providing the treatment they want or play interference in personal issues.
“We should not interfere between families, and we should not interfere with the religious society and their people,” he said.
Wylie denied a response to the question, saying the Maverick Party does not get involved with social issues.
He did have a strong opinion on the question of firearms, saying legislation against guns increases the polarization between East and West, and the laws should be different in the west.
“We handle them differently,” said Wylie. “Gun laws should be different out here. We need someone who’s going to stand up for that.”
Hunter said it’s time to take the Liberal and NDP parties seriously when they claim they’re coming after firearms and trying to ensure it’s difficult to own guns.
As a gun owner himself, he said he’s a full supporter of firearms rights, and suggested they should fall out of the federal scope.
“I like what the Alberta government is doing where they’re trying to bring that kind of regulation onto the provincial scale,” said Hunter.
Traxel said she’s not against firearms, having grown up in a rural community and understanding their importance and value for those citizens. She’s more concerned about how the legislation reads.
“I personally believe these gun laws are so muddled and so convoluted, it’s allowing bad gun owners to get guns and keeping guns out of the hands of responsible gun owners,” said Traxel.
Barlow agreed, saying the issue is more about rural versus urban than East versus West.
He said the danger is in rhetoric that removing firearms from the average Canadian, including hunters or recreational shooters, will reduce gun crime.
It’s more about stopping people from smuggling weapons across the border, he said.
“I can tell you that the fentanyl operation that was just busted here at Aldersyde, those guys did not go to Flys Etc. in High River, fill out their permit forms, purchase their firearms,” said Barlow. “They are illegally smuggled across the United States. Our focus needs to be on that.”