ELK POINT – With the provincial election less than two weeks from now, it’s candidate forum time across the Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul constituency, with the Elk Point Economic Development Committee hosting its forum on May 11.
EDC chair Terri Hampson welcomed NDP candidate Caitlyn Blake and UCP candidate Scott Cyr. Alberta Party candidate Glenn Andersen was originally supposed to attend, but the former Town of St. Paul mayor has since confirmed that he will not be running in the election.
Moderator Jodi Arrowsmith outlined the rules for the forum before opening the floor to the candidates for their opening remarks.
Blake has lived in the MD of Bonnyville for 21 years and has a well established photography business, a husband who works in the oil industry, four children between the ages of six and 12 and has had cows for a long time. She feels it is “incredibly important that these kids have an advocate who will stand up for us in the legislature, and sometimes be the loudest person in the room. We need a government that will hear us when emergency departments are closed, when there are no school bus drivers, when there is escalating rural crime and crumbling roads and that will not treat us like a piggy bank. We buy food with oil money and eat home grown beef, we use our skills here at home to give our children a chance to walk confidently into the future. I have everything on the line.”
Cyr ran in the 2015 provincial election as the Wildrose candidate and was successful in the former Bonnyville-Cold Lake constituency. “Now I need to connect with Elk Point and St. Paul. I was here door knocking today," he said.
Cyr said he worked in the oil patch before moving on to get Bachelor’s Degrees in management, finance and accounting, coming back to Cold Lake to work for Imperial Oil for three years as a field operator. “But my heart was in accounting,” and Cyr started a firm that grew to one of the largest in the Lakeland region. In 2015, he was “given the opportunity to run and was elected as a Wildrose MLA. I was one of the founding members of the UCP and was the shadow Minister of Justice, because I could read tax legislation. In 2019 I stepped back to spend more time with my daughters, which was hard to do... Now I’m ready to go again.”
With the opening remarks complete, Arrowsmith asked the candidates a series of three questions, the first being their thoughts on Alberta’s single largest expense - health care.
Blake called for a stable, reliable healthcare system with shorter wait times and that would “never make you pay to see your family doctor. There are better ways, in family health teams, where a doctor is surrounded by four health professionals and patients are sent to who best meets their needs, taking stress of the ER.” A system like this is already in place in Taber, and would save $62.2 million if 10 of these clinics were established across Alberta.
“We will be accepting proposals in the summer of 2023. It would have a massive impact," said Blake.
Cyr agreed that healthcare is “clearly a concern. The UCP will put $1 billion into healthcare to get 3,600 more workers on the front line, because the current levels are not working for us. We would like to see economic growth that would give us more ability to pay. I am all for creative approaches, but it all needs to happen with economic growth.”
Speaking on items recently in the news, he called the idea of paying for health care “ludicrous, and it’s not even allowed in Canada, that is clearly misinformation. Can we do better? Absolutely. I prefer a regional approach with local boards, I want to see Alberta move forward and I hope for a real change in health care," said Cyr.
The second question put forward was on provincial regulatory burdens, and Cyr was first to speak.
“I see it daily as an accountant, dealing with red tape. For every regulation brought in, one should be taken out. A lot of stuff that has been implemented makes us ask 'why.' People just want to make a business run responsibly. I see red tape at every level and I have to ask what was the intent." Cyr would like to see more automation and would advocate for safe workplaces and environment, and said he felt the NDP had brought in regulations that hurt the oil and gas and agriculture industries.
As a business owner, Blake said she knows “the government doesn’t know what it’s doing, and that does not belong to one party. There are ways to maintain regulations so you are not sacrificing quality and safety… and cut down on paperwork. There are a lot of other concerns, the caps taken off insurance and utilities distribution fees. I would put a freeze on that, and create a value added tax credit for farmers and re-launch the investor tax credit.”
The third question asked was: “Where do you see an opportunity to collaborated with the Indigenous community?”
“It’s important to have them at the table,” Blake said. “Collaboration helps everyone and there are a lot of opportunities. We need the Indigenous voices and to take reconciliation seriously. There are a lot of things we can do together to support the Indigenous community.
Cyr said he was “born and raised at Slave Lake, surrounded by four bands and the great growth of Treaty 8 made them one of the wealthiest in Canada and the government allowed them to thrive. I am hoping the Indigenous community will take advantage of growth and invest in pipelines and refineries and I’m looking forward to making sure we work in collaboration with them”
The second part of the evening featured written questions from the floor, the first of these was regarding candidates’ support of a plan for a provincial police force, with both voicing their support of the RCMP, Blake adding that municipalities could have the option to form their own police forces if they wished.
A question on balancing the climate and economy saw Blake defending the oilfield and “glad to see the shift in focus… carbon capture is already happening and we all want to grow our local industry.”
Cyr told the audience to remember that Alberta “has some of the most remarkable records… we have very good standards and we don’t need Ottawa telling us how awful we are. We want to see people take pride in our oil and gas."
The candidates also voiced their positions on infrastructure grants, safety on farms, gun control, carbon tax and the potential of an Alberta seniors pension before they came forward with their closing remarks.
Cyr thanked the attendees, saying, “It’s important to know who you’re voting for. I will respect that vote, if elected. When I was elected in 2015 I made a commitment to the municipal councils that I would deal with federal and local issues. I understand all three levels. I did it it before and I will do it again.”
“At the end of the day, stable health care and well funded education are the issues," said Blake. "So many of us want the same things, so I decided to get into politics.” A personal reason was that one of her sons lost his opportunity for speech therapy due to funding cuts “and it is devastating to children who need help - or cuts in seniors’ benefits - They are the most vulnerable.”
* This article was updated to state that the family health team model would save $62.2 million if 10 clinics were established across Alberta. A previous version of this article stated $2.2 million would be saved.