Meadowlark debate shows seniors want more than just health talk

By Timothy Gerwing

EDMONTON – All five candidates running in Edmonton-Meadowlark and one more took part in an election forum on April 19 at the Westend Seniors Activity Centre, where questions of senior care did not dominate discussions.

The dais at the centre, which is at 9629 176 St., featured incumbent Liberal Raj Sherman, New Democrat Bridget Stirling, Tory Bob Maskell, Wildrose nominee Rick Newcombe and Alberta Party nominee Neil Mather, as well as David Parker, who is running for the EverGreen Party in Edmonton-Gold Bar.

Each candidate presented his or her opening statement, with most leaning toward seniors’ issues, but when the floor was opened to questions, most of those in attendance wanted to talk about other things.

Seniors lined up to question candidates at the Edmonton-Meadowlark all-candidates forum at the Westend Seniors Activity Centre at 9629 176 St. on April 19, 2012. Photograph by Timothy Gerwing

A man took Maskell to task on his record while in office from 2001 to 2004. He said contracts awarded to Maskell in 2007 were suspect.

“What expertise did you bring that justified $200,000 in contracts?” the man said, holding up an article from the Edmonton Journal.

“It was a clerical error,” said Maskell. “It was fixed at the time.”

Another man adamantly insisted education be a higher priority.

“I own a business, and I hire young people who can’t make change,” he yelled, to which the audience applauded.

The Keystone XL pipeline was brought up. Parker advocated for a stoppage on development of the oilsands, while Sherman said we should “mine-and-refine” in Alberta, and focus on a West Coast pipeline. Mather, in agreement, compared exporting Alberta crude to the U.S. for refining to selling beaver furs to England, only to have them sold back to us.

“We’re sitting on the winning lottery ticket here,” said Mather.

Maskell said focus should be on the American route, and that the groups controlling the British Columbia territory through which a West Coast pipeline would have to travel would block it.

As in any good debate, health care did eventually come up.

Parker and Stirling boasted of their parties’ pharmacare plans, while Maskell and Newcombe were made to defend the popular notion that their right-of-centre parties want to push for more private care.

“Emphatically, we support 100-per-cent publicly funded health care,” said Newcombe.

He insisted Wildrose wouldn’t promise lofty changes that are unrealistic, but that in balancing the budget, it would make all areas of the public sector better.

“I’d like to be able to stand up here and promise you the world,” he said. “But we have to live within our means.”

Stirling went on the attack, asking Sherman to defend a $2,000 donation he received from a private home-care developer, despite his adamant stance in favour of public home-care.

“I don’t look at donations,” Sherman responded. “If you look at who gives you donations, it’s biased.”

Mather spoke of his party’s commitment to public health as well. He said his young daughter has had complications since birth, and that he would find it difficult to make ends meet if not for the public system.

The debate was highly contested, but Sherman, still in makeup from his CBC Edmonton leadership debate earlier that day, drew the loudest applause. He was elected in Edmonton-Meadowlark as a Progressive Conservative in 2008 but joined the Liberals after he was kicked out of caucus for criticizing the Tory government on health care issues. He is now leader of the Liberal party.

Election day is Monday, April 23.

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