Six candidates vie for rural seat

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Candidates, parties reflect diverse priorities

Rural residents in the St. Albert area will have a new riding and a new crop of candidates to choose from in the Oct. 19 federal election.

Sturgeon County and Morinville voters will help choose a candidate for the new Sturgeon River-Parkland riding, along with residents of Parkland County, Spruce Grove and Stony Plain. The new riding encompasses much of the previous Edmonton-Spruce Grove riding.

Prior to this election, the area fell within the Westlock-St. Paul riding represented by Brian Storseth. Storseth is not seeking re-election.

This is not to say there won’t be a familiar name on the ballot as incumbent Conservative Rona Ambrose, who currently represents Edmonton-Spruce Grove, will represent the Conservative Party.

Rural ridings surrounding Edmonton have historically elected candidates from the Conservative Party of Canada or its previous iterations the Canadian Alliance and the Reform Party.

Ambrose has won landslide victories in Edmonton-Spruce Grove with 71 per cent of the vote in 2011, 69 per cent in 2008, 67 per cent in 2006 and 60 per cent in 2004.

Storseth saw even greater levels of support in Westlock-St. Paul with 78 per cent in 2011, 73 per cent in 2008, 68 per cent in 2006. His predecessor David Chatters got 67 per cent of the popular vote in 2004.

This time around, there will be six names on the ballot: Ambrose for the Conservatives, Guy Desforges for the New Democrats, Travis Dueck for the Liberals, Brendon Greene for the Greens, Ernest Chauvet for the Christian Heritage Party and Chris Austin as an independent.

Ambrose, currently the federal health minister, said she sees the priorities within the riding as being about job security, based on her conversations with constituents.

In particular she identified support for the energy industry and the pipelines that can get Alberta’s energy products to market as being crucial for those employed in the energy sector, and expressed concern about what other parties are saying about Alberta’s energy industry.

“That’s a real concern I’m hearing at the doors from people in this region, whether it’s the Industrial Heartland or the Northwest Upgrader, people in the region are all connected to the energy sector,” she said.

Desforges works in the dairy industry, and has experience as a union representative for Unifor. He said the big concern he’s hearing on doorsteps, particularly out in the rural area, has to do with accessibility to health care.

“The accessibility of health-care professionals in a smaller community in the county is unbelievable,” he said. “You’ve got no doctors, no nurses, and a lot of clinics have been closed.”

While health care is a provincial mandate, the federal government funds health-care delivery in no small part through transfer payments to the provinces. He said he would like to see that funding increased rather than decreased by $36 billion, which he described as the current government’s plan.

Greene, a music teacher who previously ran for MLA in the May 5 provincial election, said the biggest local priority he has is the environment. Both Sturgeon and Parkland counties declared states of agricultural emergency and while there was some assistance available, he would like to see more permanent steps taken.

“They got short-term assistance, but there’s no long-term plan to speak about the environment with respect to that issue,” he said.

He also cited public transportation in Edmonton’s outlying areas as being a priority for federal support. Currently, there is a bus in Spruce Grove, but the hours are limited and there is no access for communities such as Stony Plain and Morinville.

Chauvet, a longtime Legal resident and community activist, said he supports his party’s stance on re-opening the abortion debate and implementing a law in this country, and its position on eliminating the debt with responsible economic and environmental stewardship.

Aside from those key points, he said one of his highest priorities is promoting greater research into naturopathic medicine to see what can be incorporated into Canada’s health-care system to improve outcomes and reduce costs where naturopathic treatments are proven to work.

“An example is there’s a fair amount of research that shows that vitamin C and oxygen is very effective at fighting cancer, and right now the chemo we use is exceedingly expensive,” he said.

Austin, who was previously running under the Liberal banner, was ejected from his party after questionable social media posts surfaced. He was replaced last week with Dueck, but is still registered to run as an independent. Neither candidate could be reached for comment by press time.

The list of candidates is subject to change until the Sept. 28 nomination deadline.

Morinville and Sturgeon residents have the opportunity to hear from candidates in their own words at an all-candidates forum hosted by the Morinville Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 30 at the Community Cultural Centre from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

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Doug Neuman