[Creative Commons 4, Courtesy of Galneweinhaw, Wikimedia Commons ]
Author: Matt Neufeld
As I was flipping through the newspaper the other day, a small advertisement caught my eye. Buried a few pages deep in the local paper was a notice informing the public that the candidates for the local (St. Albert- Edmonton) MP position for this federal election were holding a forum and question period. With how important this election is, I was baffled that this hadn’t been better advertised, and no one I knew had even heard about it. I decided it was worth going to, as I was in a predicament trying to decide which way to cast my ballot. I felt stuck voting conservative, because the other two choices like to pretend that the Canadian border runs along the western edge of Ontario. In the recent provincial election, I voted for the Wildrose Party, the best alternative for Conservatives that are just as sick as everyone else is with the Progressive Conservative Party (PC).
Attending this forum were the usual parties: Michael Cooper of the Conseravtive Party of Canada, Beatrice Ghettuba of the Liberal Party and Darlene Malayko of the New Democratic Party. The attendee I was most curious however about was the fourth; Brent Rathgeber running as an Independent (Ind). Rathgeber is the incumbent and a Best Parliamentarian award winner. Formerly of the Conservatives he grew tired of the party whips and the PMO running the show and felt he could be more effective outside of the party’s tight leash.
Each candidate started with an opening statement, which basically sounded the same as their ad campaigns that we are all getting sick of. Harper the Great, and Harper the destroyer depending on the side of the isle. Rathgeber also had some choice words about the current government, but also pointed out a perspective that hadn’t even crossed my mind before. With how close this election is in the polls, it is more than likely that the next government will be a minority (assuming all the keyboard warriors actually leave their basements and wander into a voting booth). That being said, individual voices will have more of an impact in Parliament, as one strong speaker is more likely to be able to turn a few votes his/her way, which can make all the difference with a minority in power. Having a your local candidate be able to vote for their constituents without party politics interfering is now more of an advantage than ever before. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so stuck with Conservative.
Next, they answered questions submitted from the audience and reviewed by a panel. The questions chosen were the expected hot button talking points, primarily focused on current, hot button issues. I can’t remember every question with every response, but I will highlight the questions and responses that stood out. I will refrain from quoting anything specific, because I do not remember word for word what they had said.
Starting off the heated and tense moments of the forum was a question about what each party's stance, as well as their personal opinion, was in regards to female reproductive rights. The response from Malayko (NDP) as well as Ghettuba (Liberal) were exactly what one would expect; government has no right telling women what they can and cannot do with their own bodies. Rathgeber (Ind) responded similarly, but with a slight conservative twist. Women should absolutely have access to services such as abortions, but there needs to be some set of guidelines, and an obligation put the health and safety of the women first. And then came the conservative response. Cooper had went on to state the how accessible the PCs have made health care and glorify the Harper regime and then simply put the mic down. Someone had then shouted from the crowd that he hadn’t answered the question, so he picked the mic back up, repeated the PC party line statement on abortion and then put it back down, which angered the majority of the audience. A conservative avoiding questions and deflecting, what a surprise . . . [Note this is not unusual. Often conservative candidates are coached extensively and instructed not to stray from talking points less they face disciplinary action]
Another key question was would the elected party amend or support all the conditions of the newly signed TPP trade deal (Trans-Pacific Partnership). I was disappointed with the response from both the NDP and the Conservatives, who both simply put said “Its great!” Ghettuba and Rathgeber both responded with a bit more thought, pointing out that the PC government agreed to it before it has even been completely written, so we can’t really say if it is going to be a good deal or not. Experience as a politician truly showed from Rathgeber at this point, as well as critical thinking from Ghettuba.
And finally the question everyone was waiting for, the Niqab. With a struggling economy, an addiction to oil revenue and a plethora of international issues, this has somehow become this elections key debate. The Liberal candidate, being an immigrant herself, responded that accepting every Canadian as a Canadian is key, and that diversity makes our country stronger. Malayko (NDP) stated that the government has no place telling people how to dress, and this was a non-issue. Rathgeber believes the government should be focusing on more important issues and stop wasting taxpayer money appealing this case. Now, all that Cooper had to do here was give a blanket statement and walk away from this unscathed. But no. His response was exactly what everyone expected. He effectively called muslims medieval and barbaric people who need to assimilate. He may as well have been tuning a banjo , telling everyone to grab their best pitchfork and some torches. Conservatives continue to not know when to shut up, and when to play nice; but at least we know exactly what they are thinking.
All in all I am very glad that I attended this event. I was disappointed that I was one of possibly ten people in attendance under the age of thirty-five, but I suppose that shows who will actually be making an informed decision while voting. I encourage everyone to learn more about the actual candidate on the ballot, and not just the Party leader who more than likely has never even heard of your town or city. After witnessing the Conservative Candidate first hand, there is absolutely no way that he is getting my vote. While the Liberal and NDP candidates seemed like genuine, authentic people, their inexperience showed several times (Maybe they are just not ready?) My vote will in all likeliness be going to Brent Rathgeber, an independent who has no party line to walk, no blanket statements on party beliefs, and with that can be an actual voice for this community instead of just another cog in an oversized political machine.