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Unity's all-candidates forum consumed with COVID-19 questions

Unity and area residents had a chance to hear four Battlefords-Lloydminster riding candidates speak on their platforms and field questions from the audience

UNITY - Hosted in partnership with the Unity Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Unity, around 65 people attended to hear four candidates in the Battlefords-Lloydminster riding speak on their platforms and respond to questions from the audience Sept. 9.

Conservative candidate, Rosemarie Falk; NDP candidate, Erik Hansen; Liberal candidate, Larry Ingram; and Maverick candidate, Ken Rutherford were in attendance.

Masked and unmasked individuals attended, including candidates Erik Hansen and Larry Ingram being masked until they sat on the stage for the program portion. There were less than a dozen attendees under 40 and the remainder ranged in the 40+ and senior generations.

Moderator Michael Soloski laid out the evening’s agenda and helped keep the speeches and questions in line.

Following each candidate’s six-minute opportunity to lay out their platform, the evening turned to a question and answer session. Question period was dominated by COVID-19 questions which all candidates fielded and continued until just after 9 p.m. Attendees also had the opportunity to address candidates in person following the formal program part of the forum.

Falk repeated in all of her responses that the Conservatives do not support mandatory vaccines and Conservative leader Erin O’Toole will ensure Canadians will have the freedom they want and need. She said their party believes the federal government shouldn’t mandate, while they will encourage masks.

Hansen reiterated in his responses that people have a responsibility to end COVID-19 and that responsibility trumps rights.

Ingram also spoke strongly in favour of personally mandating vaccines, unless a doctor says otherwise, He mentioned that during this session, he received notification that Lloydminster was cancelling in-person candidates’ forums, due to an increase of cases. He reminded those in attendance of the reality of COVID-19, telling a story of a relative contracting COVID-19 and the trials they experienced in ICU and as they still try to recover. That process included learning to walk again.

Rutherford also said he is against mandating vaccines, as he believes it is a personal choice. However, he also stated a number of times that Canadians cannot let this issue divide them. He said Saskatchewan has always been known for being friendly and helpful and we need to come together and not let this issue divide us.

“I am exhausted by all the vaccine and mask controversies. We need to have empathy for fellow human beings, respect each other and stop bullying one another. Towns were built on camaraderie and help and we need this to continue.”

Falk’s says her social work background has her passionate about improving mental health of Canadians and says she knows the pandemic has played a big role in deteriorating this. She also stated the Conservatives have stood up for energy and agriculture industries.

“Rural Canada and urban Canada are not the same so O’Toole is committed to appointing a minister of rural affairs.”

She also talked about the Conservatives Canada Job Action Plan, acknowledging that small businesses are the backbone of the economy.

Falk also promised strong leadership.

“Leadership is important, and Trudeau has no respect for provinces, and he doesn’t care if Canadian is pitted against Canadian.”

Hansen, new to provincial politics, talked several times of the importance of addressing climate change affecting the agriculture industry and people as a whole. Natural disasters are becoming more prevalent, he says, and we can’t keep denying the facts. If left ignored for much longer, money won’t help us, he said. He pointed to 40,582 abandoned wells that need to cleaned up. He says crumbling infrastructure across the country needs to be addressed and doing so would put people back to work. He also implored people to recognize 4.5 million deaths from COVID cannot be ignored and repeated that responsibilities in ending the pandemic trump the rights people are stating.

Ingram, an experienced liberal candidate, spoke of his party’s $10/day childcare program, continuing to highlight climate change evidenced by icebergs melting, forest fires increasing and another weather-related incidence. He reiterated the Liberals were able to get Agri-stability to where it was before the Harper government, at 75 per cent. He maintained that if Canadians don’t buy into the vaccination necessity, they will go down with the ship. He asked those in attendance if they want a minority or majority government. He says his party works with the group around them to fix the problems.

Rutherford, new to the political scene, was well spoken and ready to address any questions put his way. He started he voted conservative for 18 years but recently felt politically orphaned resulting in his desire to represent the Maverick Party. He said his platform is simple: if it’s good for the west, the Maverick Party stands for it, but if it’s not good for the west, then they are against it.

Rutherford says he is not a separatist but wants to make a better west. He informed attendees that their party is running candidates only in the west there is no candidate east of Manitoba so as not to split the vote, and they are not chasing Ontario and Quebec votes. Their focus is purely on having western representation in the house. The Maverick Party aims to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people, he said.

Candidates were also asked how they would make a rural Saskatchewan voice heard in Ottawa, who they would improve employment opportunities across Canada, which concern of Canadians would each candidate prioritize, how to ensure GE foods are regulated and their thoughts on CERB not necessarily encouraging people to get back to work and how they feel on its continuance.

Advance polls opened in Unity Sept. 10 and would run until Sept. 13. Federal election day is Sept. 20.