At the Calgary-Buffalo provincial candidate debate Tuesday night, the United Conservative Party (UCP) drew healthy criticism, but so did the record of Minister of Finance Joe Ceci.
Although Calgary-Buffalo has had low turnout in the past three provincial elections, the Inglewood Community Hall was filled with about 150 people. In addition to Ceci, UCP candidate Tom Olsen, Alberta Party candidate Omar Masood, Liberal candidate Jennifer Khan, and Alberta Independence Party candidate Cory Hetherington attended.
Healthcare, childcare, education, and other policies for future generations were featured topics at the debate.
As Olsen and Ceci sniped at each other’s parties, Masood attempted to rise above the fray, while also questioning Ceci’s government’s record.
Answering an audience-submitted question of how to address wait times and improve health services, while also managing cost, Ceci said the UCP’s policies would lead to U.S-style private health care.
“We cannot cut our way to a better health system,” Ceci said, also rebutting Masood, who said that his party would review Alberta Health Services’ overhead while filling gaps in mental and dental health coverage.
Ceci noted the NDP government had finally begun construction on the Calgary Cancer Centre, which drew applause, but so did Olsen’s response.
“Nothing Joe [just] said is true,” Olsen said, accusing the NDP of taking credit for health care policies first proposed by the Progressive Conservatives.
This echoed an early comment by Masood regarding the five-year budget Ceci put forth as part of the NDP platform.
“Joe, I respect you – when you say you’re going to balance your budget, I don’t believe you,” Masood said regarding the plan, which projects the Alberta budget to be balanced by 2023.
However, Ceci, Masood, and Khan each took turns attacking the UCP on social and climate policy.
This was most prominent in their responses to an audience-submitted question about supporting LGBTQ+, human rights, and a woman’s right to choose an abortion.
The UCP has come under heavy fire in recent weeks for their stance on gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and LGBTQ+ rights in general.
“It is clear that any self-respecting person in 2019 needs to support GSAs,” said Masood, drawing enthusiastic approval.
Liberal candidate Khan said the Liberal Party favoured banning conversion therapy, drawing heavy applause; Calgary-Mountain View UCP candidate Jeremy Wong has been linked to the practice.
Defending his party, Olsen said that he participated in a Pride Parade, despite UCP members being banned from marching in them. He also claimed that a UCP government would provide the highest possible level of legal protection for LGBTQ+.
As for abortion, Olsen said he was “pro-choice, and that’s all I have to say on it.”
Masood and Ceci both argued for constructing Springbank Dam, with Ceci attacking the UCP for their “weak support” and Masood wondering why it was still being consulted on.
Masood said it “boggled (his) mind” that the dam had not been built six years after the 2013 Calgary flood.
“Every party needs to say that they support or do not support the Springbank dry dam,” Ceci said.
Ceci also pushed both the Alberta Party and UCP hard on the carbon tax and their respective climate change policies. He claimed that only the NDP and Liberal Party took climate change seriously.
“Let me be clear, if the carbon levy is eliminated, as both the UCP and Alberta Party would do, there would be no plan to fund the energy efficiency programs and other innovations; [Alberta] would become laggards again, rather than leaders, and to me that’s unacceptable,” said Ceci.
“[Climate] complacency and denial are no longer options,” said Khan, the Liberal candidate.
“A report came up just yesterday, saying that Canada’s temperatures are rising at twice the global average, that’s alarming,” Ceci later said near the end of the debate.
“And yet there are some candidates and their leaders who don’t believe climate change is real.”
When asked the most pressing issue facing future generations, Olsen said it was the NDP’s debt, before later adding “climate change is a big one too, sorry.”
Some in the crowd laughed at Hetherington when he questioned man-made climate change, and suggested it might not be a bad thing.
Calgary-Buffalo has elected Liberal candidates six times since 1986, with Ceci winning the riding for the NDP in 2015.
Ceci was elected then as MLA for Calgary-Fort, which was abolished for this election. He said that the areas of Inglewood, Ramsay, and East Village, which were folded into Calgary-Buffalo, would be strong bases of support.
“Calgary-Buffalo will be an interesting riding to watch. We are working extremely hard covering the entire riding,” said Ceci after the debate.
“Inglewood, Ramsay, and East Village know me implicitly, they know my history, so I think they’ll come out in huge numbers.”