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MLA forum: Leskiw and Sobolewski face off on regional issues

Bonnyville - Cold Lake constituency candidates Genia Leskiw and Gene Sobolewski debated pertinent regional issues and responded to audience questions at a forum on Wednesday night, three days before members of the Progressive Conservative Party (PC P

Bonnyville - Cold Lake constituency candidates Genia Leskiw and Gene Sobolewski debated pertinent regional issues and responded to audience questions at a forum on Wednesday night, three days before members of the Progressive Conservative Party (PC Party) are due to hit the polls to choose their representative in Alison Redford's PC cabinet.

Leskiw discussed her representation in her three years representing the constituency, saying, "In this constituency, it's often hard to find a balance to address the needs of all the people in my area. In my heart, I know I have struck that balance ... This is only the beginning for me. I've only been your elected representative for three years. While I've accomplished a lot in those three years, there is so much more for me to do, and work to be done.

"I am passionate, I do speak up, and I do voice my opinion in caucus, but I am one voice out of 68. I have put in the legwork and things are in motion. Ideas are being put into action and making a difference in the lives of the people in this community. We cannot go back to square one."

In his opening statements, Sobolewski discussed running to represent the constituency for the Wildrose Party a little over a year ago, an election he lost to Chuck Farrer, and how it was for the best as his heart belongs to the PC party, and what he hopes to do as MLA.

He said, "I've always been for change. I've never changed that stripe. I believed at a particular time, two and a half years ago, that change was necessary. We needed a new direction in this constituency, we needed a new direction in Alberta. Fast-forward to 2011, we've had new change. We've got a new premier, we've got a new government, we've got a new cabinet, and we've got a lot of fresh ideas. Change is good, change is positive, and I believe there is further change necessary in the constituency of Bonnyville - Cold Lake."

"The primary issue for me is that the MLA has got to represent the entire district, right from Glendon, right from Chicken Hill Lake, through to Bonnyville, through to the summer villages, through to the City of Cold Lake, through to Cherry Grove, and to our Metis settlements. Everybody."

Major issues on the table included housing for seniors, the recent Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR) tax reassessment, and regional co-operation.

The subject of seniors housing was particularly relevant following last week's visit from provincial ministers Doug Griffiths and George VanderBurg, who came to Bonnyville to help celebrate Bonnylodge's "50 plus one" birthday. News of the visit sparked speculation the Ministers of Municipal Affairs and Seniors and Community Supports were coming to announce Bonnylodge was finally going to be given funding to complete upgrades on the aging facility.

There was no funding announced, leaving those involved in the renovation project disappointed and frustrated.

Leskiw, incumbent MLA for the constituency, said funding would be coming for the project.

"Housing for seniors and continuing care for seniors is my number one priority. It's also a priority for our new premier," she said. "They know that I will be relentless to get the housing we need, not only in Bonnyville, but also in Cold Lake and also in Glendon."

Sobolewski, who is challenging Leskiw for the role of MLA, said, "For 1 to 15 years, Bonnyville has been deficient in seniors housing. It's not a new issue. We've got to start doing something about it, not talking about it. Doing something about it and actively going after some of these ministers and saying 'knock it off, enough of this nonsense, we need to get something done, we need to get something done now.' "

Leskiw also defended her role in the CLAWR tax reassessment, which saw Cold Lake receive millions of dollars in tax revenue from the oil industry on the weapons range, a number which will continue to increase annually, and with continued growth in the oil sector on the CLAWR. Bonnyville was not permitted to be involved in the negotiations and did not receive any of the funding.

"Do I think it's fair that Cold Lake got the amount of money they did from the air weapons range?" Leskiw said at the forum. "Yes. I do not apologize for helping Cold Lake on this issue. It's an issue that they have been lobbying me for from the day I got nominated four years ago. Does this mean that I am not in favour of helping Bonnyville? Absolutely not. If anybody questions my loyalty, as a person who has lived in Bonnyville for 36 years, I would have you guess again. I am not the MLA just for Bonnyville, I am the MLA for Bonnyville, Cold Lake, and everything in between.

"I stand up for what I did, I back what I did, and I am not losing any sleep about it. It was the right thing to do. Now let's move on and work on the concerns of this community that I love so much."

Sobolewski spoke on the issue, saying, "Is it fair? In my humble opinion, no."

However, he added, "Do we remove it? Absolutely not. This arrangement that was made has got to stay in place, it has got to stay viable, because it is going to provide survivability in this region."

In his opinion, the money must stay in the region, but it must be shared, he explained, discussing an idea in the earlier stages of the plan which would have allowed the funds to be shared over the region after Cold Lake got its share.

Perceived animosity between Bonnyville and Cold Lake was also discussed multiple times until one audience member asked why the municipalities wouldn't just form a regional government instead of fighting against one another.

Sobolewski said he was not in favour of the idea, explaining, "You tend to lose your identity. Municipalities can get along. You need a bit of leadership, but they can get along."

He brought up examples in Ontario and Nova Scotia where large regional governments had been formed in an attempt to deal with funding shortages and then said they had fallen apart.

"The money shortages don't go away just by making one large municipality," he said. "It may redirect it, but their councils start to become unreasonable and unworkable."

He stressed the individuality of each municipality in the constituency, saying, "Cold Lake is as uniquely individual as the MD of Bonnyville is, which is just as uniquely individual as our perogy capital, which is as uniquely individual as the summer village of Bonnyville Beach. We don't need to have one large, amalgamated municipality to say 'here's the pot and here's how we're going to divvy it up.' "

Leskiw said she could see a regional government working in the future, but it would not solve current problems.

"I think that what we do need though is more regional co-operation. We need to look at things that benefit the entire area ... Right now, our area is not ready for regional government. It's not. The people of the MD would not accept regional government. The Town of Bonnyville would not accept regional government. I know Cold Lake has talked about regional government, but the rest of the area is not ready for that ... Down the road, it might happen. But that's something that will happen from the desire of the people that live in the community, it's not something that will be forced on anybody."

Members in good-standing with the PC Party can vote on Nov. 19 for who they feel will best represent the constituency. In Bonnyville, voting stations will be located in the Agricultural Society building. In Cold Lake, voting stations will be located at Accounting Plus in the Marina Mall in Cold Lake North. In Glendon, votes can be cast at the old fire hall next to the town office. Stations will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and PC memberships can be purchased at the polling station for $5.00.