About 100 people attended an Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills constituency candidates forum at the Didsbury Memorial Complex on May 3.
Sponsored by Mountain View Freedom (MVF) group, the forum saw UCP candidate Nathan Cooper and Independence Party of Alberta candidate Katherine Kowalchuk answer questions on the economy, the possible creation of a provincial police force, health care, COVID-19, and various other topics and issues.
A third candidate for the constituency, NDP candidate Cheryl Hunter Loewen, was invited did not attend.
The 2023 provincial election campaign got underway on May 1 with Albertans going to the polls on May 29. The Didsbury forum was the first held in the Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills riding during the campaign.
Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills is the constituency for voters in Crossfield, Irricana, and Beiseker.
Moderator and MVF member Daniel Harder put together a series of questions, which were posed to the candidates.
In his opening remarks, second-term incumbent Cooper said, “Over the past number of years, there have been challenging times and the government has made mistakes and many of those mistakes have dramatically and personally impacted many Albertans. And for those mistake I apologize, but I hope that we can look forward to the future of our province.”
In her opening remarks, Kowalchuk, a lawyer, said there are two reasons she decided to run in the election.
“The first is my children and the fear I have for them for the quality of their future,” she said. “And the precarious state of our government and our courts and other institutions in this fine province.
“I feel that the best way to use my advocacy skills is to become MLA and influence law-making.”
Kowalchuk called for a province-wide referendum on independence for Alberta. Her party wants Alberta to leave Canada to become its own nation.
The candidates were asked: “How would you propose to address the economic environment in Alberta and how would you propose to create a stable economy in Alberta for residents and businesses?”
Cooper said the UCP is “focused on the economy” and “will remain focused on our economy, including tax relief for businesses.”
Kowalchuk responded to the same query by stating she wants to see Alberta collect its own provincial and federal taxes.
“When we control the money, we can control the outcome and we can control the narrative,” she said.
Candidates were asked how they would propose to address the issues that seems to be apparent in Alberta's health-care system causing long wait times.
Kowalchuk said she would like to see Alberta Health Services audited.
“...and ideally we need to do an entire audit,” she said. “I would like to see it completely gutted. I would like to see it completely de-centralized.”
Cooper said the UCP is aware of the challenges facing the health-care system and if re-elected, the party plans to invest locally and across the province.
Candidates were asked: “How should the government respond to those who have experienced vaccine injuries or death?”
“We need a public inquiry, one with teeth,” Kowalchuk said. “An inquiry is important because it can compel witness testimony. An inquiry is important because we can . . . hold these people accountable who did this to us.”
Cooper took a different approach.
“I think the primary thing from my perspective is that the issue needs to be looked at holistically and not just one particular piece of legislation . . . and taking a step back from it and allowing some time between the endemic portion of COVID-19 and whatever the future plans are,” he said.
Candidates were asked if they support the possible creation of an provincial police service – an idea that has been discussed and debated in Alberta for the last two years.
Kowalchuk said she'd be in favour of a provincial police force, but expressed the need for caution in how it's approached.
“Really what the problem is is that we are not happy with the incompetency and corruption that is currently within the RCMP right now,” she argued. “I want to make sure that we are not going to go ahead and spend a lot of money as a province to create a situation that might result in the exact same scenario.”
Cooper responded he has been told by many Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills constituents that they are “supportive of this idea of a provincial police force.”
“My guess is that there will be some relationship between the sheriffs and the RCMP over the intervening period and whether or not that ends up with only a provincial police force, only time will tell,” he said.
Following the question and answer portion of the forum, the candidates spoke with forum attendees and distributed campaign literature.