Provincial revenue streams and education were the predominant topics of discussion at an all-candidates forum in Morinville last Thursday.
About 200 people turned up to hear the three Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock candidates answer questions during a 90-minute forum at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre.
After giving opening statements and allowing time for closing statements, there was only time for candidates to address a dozen questions, which were submitted by members of the audience.
The one common thread throughout the discussion was where the money comes from to provide the services people expect.
PC candidate Maureen Kubinec spoke of the need to strike a balance between cutting back on services and slightly raising user fees, while Wildrose candidate Glenn van Dijken said no new taxes were needed, but rather services could be funded by finding efficiencies and cutting waste. Both said they were not open to the idea of raising royalties or corporate taxes.
Turner said his party’s plan to raise corporate taxes, conduct a royalty review and increase the tax burden on the wealthiest was the most equitable way to ensure the funding is available to provide services to Albertans.
Both Turner and van Dijken spoke on several occasions about the Progressive Conservatives’ failings in managing oil revenues responsibly and putting money away in the Heritage Trust Fund, while Kubinec said it will be important to dip into that fund to get off the oil revenue “roller-coaster” before the fund could again be topped up.
When asked if they supported continuing with support for multiple school systems including charter schools, all three candidates agreed it was important to preserve parental choice in schooling.
As for a question focused on the funding pressures school systems face in light of a growing population, specifically the current budget’s provision that boards must spend their reserves and find efficiencies.
Kubinec defended the government’s recent budget, suggesting front-line workers would not be affected but efficiencies had to be found.
“It is our fiscal reality we have to deal with, and tough decisions have to be made,” she said.
Van Dijken emphasized the importance of local control in spending, saying he recently met with a school board in the riding about the freeze on reserves.
“They were frustrated in that they’ve been managing their funds very prudently,” he said. “It comes back to local control.”
Turner said the difficult fiscal situation is not the fault of local school boards, but can rather be blamed on the current government’s mismanagement, saying, if elected, his government would increase funding to education.
“We would make sure school boards have the ability they need to fund the programs, and also to make sure the programs for special-needs students and students who need specialized care are not at risk,” he said.
On the topic of funding post-secondary education, NDP candidate Tristan Turner said as a university student, it was a topic close to his heart. He said the solution to rising tuition is to limit tuition.
Kubinec said she was proud of the province’s post-secondary system, and emphasized the need to maintain high-quality programs doing high-quality research, which involves paying for that quality.
Van Dijken took a different tack, suggesting post-secondary students should consider their tuition payments and investment in their future, much like an entrepreneur must invest in their business to get it off the ground before they can start reaping the rewards.
Ultimately the three candidates provided different visions for the riding and for the province as a whole.