LAKELAND – Last Thursday evening, five out of seven federal candidates running in the Fort McMurray — Cold Lake riding attended a forum hosted by the Cold Lake Chamber of Commerce at Cold Lake's Lakeland Inn. The event drew a small in-person crowd and about 40 people to the online livestream.
The forum gave constituents an opportunity to ask questions and to hear the platforms of those vying for a parliamentary seat in Ottawa following the Sept. 20 election.
The riding's Conservative Party candidate Laila Goodridge was not at the forum, neither was the area's Liberal candidate Abdifatah Abdi. Goodridge’s Conservative campaign did not respond to Lakeland This Week’s inquiries surrounding her platforms priorities for the riding, or her absence from the forum by the time of publication. Lakeland This Week was also unable to reach Liberal candidate Abdifatah Abdi for questions.
Attending Thursday's event was Brian Deheer representing the Green Party of Canada, the Maverick Party was represented by Johnathan Meyers, Garnett Robinson representing the New Democratic Party (NDP), representing the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) was Shawn McDonald and Hughie Shane Whitmore represented the Veterans Coalition Party (VCP).
All seven candidates will appear on the ballot for residents residing in Cold Lake, west to Lac La Biche, Plamondon up to Calling Lake and the entire northeastern region reaching up to the border of the Northwest Territories, including Fort McMurray.
Veterans Coalition Party
Hughie Whitmore, a carpenter by trade, describes himself as a tradesman and a construction worker — and someone who will cut his own paycheck if he's elected.
He has been vice-president of the Carpenter's Union in Calgary and a member of the union's regional council for nine years, Whitmore says, “I know what politicians and politics is all about. It's still going to be a learning lesson for me. Myself, I would like to cut the wages of politicians by 30 per cent right off the hop.”
Whitmore would also support extending the time politicians are required to serve in order to receive a full pension. Currently, Members of Parliament need to serve six years before receiving what Whitmore refers to as a "golden parachute."
“Make them work just like the rest of Canadians in 20 years to get a pension,” he told constituents during the forum. “I would really like to bring the opinions of the working class to the Parliament building to make them understand where we are all stemming from and where we are struggling from paycheck to paycheck to raise our families.”
According to Whitmore, the VCP supports direct democracy, and if elected, he would use his public platform to share information on bills in the House of Commons with the ridings residents and allow them to state their leanings on a particular issue. Based on the majority’s decision, Whitmore would use his vote to represent the riding’s decision.
The candidate also identified himself as Métis, stating he believes in equality for all Canadians.
Throughout the question-and-answer portion, Whitmore stated that he does not agree with universal basic income, vaccine passports or mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations. He also believes that the development of three additional refineries in Alberta would add an economic benefit to the country and create thousands of infrastructure jobs and projects for the region.
People’s Party of Canada
Shawn McDonald, the representative of the PPC was born and raised on the Kikino Métis Settlement.
McDonald has operated his own Lac La Biche region-based business for the last 25 years, as well volunteering his time to the Resource One Aboriginal Business Association (ROABA), which was created to build a bridge between industry and Indigenous owned businesses in northeastern Alberta.
Describing his motivations for running, he told the forum audience, “The PPC is the platform very near and dear to my values and morals as a person — as a businessman. By no means am I a politician, I'm not going to pretend to be, but I'm willing to learn and step up and do it for the people of this riding, for our province and country.”
McDonald says he comes from humble beginnings growing up without electricity and running water. He added that it wasn’t until the mid 70s when his father got a position in the oil and gas industry that his family, like many others in the region, was raised out of poverty.
“I believe in fighting for all people's rights, not only my Indigenous people but all people in Canada. I want to be there for everybody,” he said, responding to comments that some parties may be seeking to break out of Confederation. “I don't believe in separatism. I believe again in unity for the country, not separating us,” he stated.
Throughout the question-and-answer portion, McDonald stated that he does not support universal basic income, vaccine passports or mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations. He believes scrapping the carbon tax and investing in infrastructure projects in the oil and gas industry, as well as other sectors, will help generate more revenue and jobs.
Johnathan Meyers, a Fort McMurray resident and plumber by trade, represents the Maverick Party.
Meyers used a descriptive allegory to explain his reason for running.
“For more than six decades, the Ontario and Quebec-centered federal parties have ridden on the backs of Western Canadian provinces, putting a yoke on our necks and slowly sucking the lifeblood from our economy to the tune of $600 billion.”
Meyers says the Calgary-based Maverick Party will offer Albertans the ability to vote for a party that puts the interests of Western Canada first.
“Canada is underwater in debt and sinking fast,” he told the dozens listening, adding that every time the “eastern guardians and politicians” are elected, they reap the benefit from Alberta’s natural resources and have not provided the province with equal compensation.
“We will fight tirelessly to rescind the current equalization formula... We intend to push our Energy East corridor and pipeline agenda, scrap the carbon tax, and to work with Indigenous Peoples in this great region that we call home,” Meyers said. “Western Canada deserves the same recognition that Quebec gets in Confederation — Western Canada needs constitutional changes.”
Throughout the question-and-answer portion, Meyers stated that he does not support universal basic income, vaccine passports or mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations. He believes that pursuing infrastructure projects such pipelines and the development of more year-round roads to places such as Fort Chipewyan are essential to job creation and economic growth.
New Democratic Party
Garnett Robinson, the riding’s New Democratic Party candidate, moved into the Lac La Biche area in 1985 to fill a position in Child and Youth Care for the Alberta government, a role he retired from last month.
With the intention of leaving after five years, 36 years later Robinson says he is still committed to the community.
Robinson says that if elected he will focus on bridging gaps — economic, social and technological — between small rural communities and big cities.
“In our communities we have high prices for consumables and housing, high costs for internet and cell service, along with poor service, particularly along the rural highway areas,” he said.
“We have to fight to get services that are common in cities. The Lac La Biche community had to fight to get needed hospital services like dialysis and a CAT scanner. We have both now, but it was a major thing. We shouldn't have to be fighting for new services. Services should be based on need and not trying to save money. We always see the effects of people living in poverty. And that has to be fixed,” he said. adding one answer he sees to this problem is the development of universal basic income.
Robinson also stated that the NDP supports universal pharmacare, greater assistance and services for those dealing with addictions and affordable post-secondary education.
“Too many people are unable to take part in post-secondary education or ending up with huge debt that takes decades to pay off. Education should not be reserved only for the wealthy,” he said.
Robinson went on to say, “There are concerns about balancing the environmental issues with jobs. I believe we can have good jobs, and a clean environment; they are not mutually exclusive.”
Throughout the question-and-answer portion, Robinson stated that he supports a guaranteed livable income, as well as the vaccine passport, which he compared to a driver's license that gives holders additional privileges. He believes that there are many necessary infrastructure projects out there, however, the biggest challenge is advocating to multiple levels of government for funding.
Brian Deheer has run as the federal Green Party candidate in elections for the last decade. He has also ran as the Green candidate in the last three provincial elections. He’s also let his names stand as a candidate in the last four Lac La Biche County municipal elections.
The Lac La Biche music teacher likes to get the Green Party message out to as many people as he can, whenever he can.
“The main reason why I'm running is to give voters an opportunity to vote for the Green Party, if there's no green candidate on the ballot, then people don't have that option,” explained Deheer. “I think the Green Party has a lot to offer. It's often characterized as being a one issue party, all about the environment. And of course, everything is seen through a lens that takes the environment into account. But it also, I feel, has very strong social justice policies, and good policies on the economy.”
A former student services employee at Portage College, and a one-time economic development officer with the municipality, Deheer now spends much of his time in several conservation groups such the Lac La Biche Region Watershed Stewardship Society and the Keepers of the Water, which uses traditional Indigenous water governance by emphasizing Indigenous land-based knowledge.
Throughout the question-and-answer portion, Deheer stated that along with his party he supports a guaranteed basic income. With regards to vaccine passports, he told the audience he was still unsure where he stands on the issue.
“I know that that is something that can limit people's ability to travel. I still have to work my way through that issue,” he commented.
Deheer believes that infrastructure projects should be generated by focusing on the supply of safe drinking water for all communities, including First Nation communities. He added that municipalities are constantly in need of infrastructure dollars and that those initiatives should be supported federally.
Advance voting for all federal ridings is currently underway. Election Day is Monday, September 20. For voting information go to Electionscanada.ca