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Candidates debate at Smoky Lake

Coalitions, contempt and crops turned up in Smoky Lake Tuesday as federal candidates met for a debate in the pumpkin capital of Alberta.

Coalitions, contempt and crops turned up in Smoky Lake Tuesday as federal candidates met for a debate in the pumpkin capital of Alberta.

Just 40 people showed up at the Smoky Lake Curling Club Tuesday night for the first of five all-candidates' debates in Westlock-St. Paul.

Candidates Brian Storseth, Rob Fox and Lisa Grant were there to represent the Conservative, Liberal and Green parties, respectively. NDP candidate Lyndsey Henderson was absent and did not send anyone in her place.

It's been a privilege to represent this riding in the House, Storseth said, and he's proud of his government's many accomplishments.

"The average Canadian family now pays $2,000 to $3,000 less in taxes now per year [compared to] when we became the government in 2006," he said, adding soldiers now have the equipment they need in Afghanistan.

Canadians face a choice between the low-tax, job-making Conservatives and the corporate-tax-hiking opposition parties, Storseth said.

"That job-killing tax on the people who create jobs in this country is exactly what the Obama administration has done in the U.S. That is the wrong direction to go."

Canada now loses $100,000 a minute to the debt racked up by the Conservatives, countered Fox. (It's closer to $56,000 a minute as of April 1, said Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.) "Our kids and our grandkids will pay that off," he said. "That's not good management."

Canada now has a long way to go to re-establish its reputation abroad thanks to the Conservatives, Fox said. "The world is looking at Canada as totally different."

Green Party candidates make a difference even in small numbers, said Grant, who noted that a Green Party member now holds the balance of power in the Australian government.

"Being green doesn't mean being broke. We can invest in our future by investing in green technology."

Questions aplenty

Moderator Ed Shaske took numerous written and oral questions from the audience.

One of the first was on the economy. "I believe we have a very strong record," Storseth said. "We have a plan to get out of deficit by 2014."

Fox noted that it was the opposition parties that forced the Conservatives to pass the recent stimulus package. The Conservatives were initially opposed to it in 2008, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper describing the downturn as "a buying opportunity."

Canadian MPs could work together if they formed a minority Parliament, Fox said, in response to a question on the viability of a coalition. "Canada's first for all of us."

While Storseth warned that a Liberal coalition would have to include the Bloc Québécois, Grant pointed out that coalition governments are common the world over. "To have an effective government in a multiparty system, we pretty much need co-operation between the parties." The Greens were particularly good at that, she added.

When asked why his government kept going after the Canadian Wheat Board's single-desk policy despite its support from voters, Storseth defended his stance on an open market for grain, noting how a bill he seconded before the election would not dismantle the board, but allow people to opt out of it.

"We can't force this [board] on one section of the country and think it's going to be fair."

Australia got rid of its single desk, countered Fox, and now its farmers are struggling against an oligopoly of local buyers. "You know what they're doing? They're going back to forming co-operatives."

While the Greens officially support the single desk, Grant says, she personally agreed with Storseth on this issue. "The rules that apply to part of the country need to apply to all of the country. I never understood why the rules were different for the Prairies compared to Ontario."

After a questioner accused Storseth of implying that his government fell because the opposition parties voted against their budget (that budget never went to a vote), Storseth said this election was triggered because his party was found in contempt of Parliament.

But that was a Liberal motion agreed to by a Liberal Speaker of the House and voted on by an opposition-dominated committee, he said. "It's not contempt. We were simply outvoted."

Peter Milliken is a renowned Speaker and bases his decisions on precedent, not party affiliation, Fox said. "For [Storseth] to say this is a partisan thing is totally ludicrous." Four Conservative party officials now stand charged with violating federal election law, he added.

Westlock-St. Paul candidates will face off in four more debates before election day.

Four forums upcoming

Missed the forum? Westlock-St. Paul residents have four more chances as of April 20 to see their candidates debate before the election.
o April 21: Elk Point seniors' recreation centre
o April 25: Cold Lake Lakeland Inn
o April 26: Bonnyville Dr. Brousseau School
o April 27: St. Paul recreation centre.
All debates begin at 7 p.m.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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