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Alberta Election: Calgary-Varsity candidates spar on health care priorities

Saying that it’s the most important issue for the Calgary-Varsity riding, NDP candidate Anne McGrath claimed a United Conservative Party (UCP) government’s cuts will lead to an understaffed Calgary Cancer Centre.

McGrath’s comments were during a standing-room-only Calgary-Varsity all-candidates forum. Also attending the forum were UCP candidate Jason Copping, Alberta Party candidate Beth Barbaree, Liberal candidate Ryan Campbell, and Green Party candidate and party leader Cheryl Chagnon-Greyeyes.

One of the five broad questions asked by the Varsity Community Association was on health care, and how each party proposed to improve delivery and efficiency of it.

Both McGrath and Copping agreed that health care was an extremely important issue for Varsity.

However, McGrath said the Calgary Cancer Centre, which has started construction under the NDP government, was especially so.

“I can definitely tell you one way we won’t be improving [healthcare], and that is by cutting it,” said McGrath.

“Probably all of us have experienced some form of difficult illnesses in our life, many of us cancer. . .and this is not something that can be taken away. We fought hard for it; we must have it, and it is incredibly important in this riding.”

Copping denied the implication.

“I actually agree with Anne that this is really important in the riding, and we can’t cut healthcare funding. And we made a commitment as a party to maintain or increase health spending,” said Copping.

He added that a UCP’s priority is to reduce surgery wait times to no more than four months by replicating the model in Saskatchewan.

The UCP plan to invest $100 million over four years for mental health and addiction also drew applause.

The other parties didn’t echo McGrath’s critique of UCP policy, instead focusing on mental health investments and efficiencies.

Barbaree said the Alberta Party was also looking at reducing wait times, and preventative medicine via a guaranteed basic income.

“One of the best things about guaranteed basic income they have found out is that health levels raise,” said Barbaree.

Liberal candidate Campbell came at the preventative question in a different way.

“Too much of our healthcare dollars go to treating symptoms rather than the actual causes of illness,” he said.

Similarly on education, McGrath painted a similarly bleak picture of cuts which Copping denied would happen.

While the crowd applauded McGrath when she said 7-in-10 Canadians now support the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, they also applauded when Copping said “working with the Trudeau Liberals” would not revive the energy industry.

However, Copping also drew some laughter from the crowd when he mentioned the UCP wanted to appoint a “Minister for Red Tape Reduction” to loosen business regulations.

The debate was deliberately kept to broad policy-based questions, as opposed to Varsity-specific ones, according to the organizers.

Although the largely-older audience booed some of McGrath’s comments, they also made a point of loudly clapping to drown out a pro-UCP heckler who interrupted McGrath during her closing statement.

The NDP are attempting to hold Calgary-Varsity after winning it from the Progressive Conservatives in 2015. It was also a Liberal Party seat from 2004-2012.

McGrath is an NDP veteran at the provincial and federal levels, being executive director of the premier’s Southern Alberta office, and chief of staff to late federal NDP leader Jack Layton.

Copping, meanwhile, is a management consultant and a business school instructor at the University of Calgary. He said he was involved in the legal process of drafting policy at the UCP’s founding convention in Red Deer, Alta. last May.