Questions about discrimination, bigotry and hate were put to Red Deer provincial candidates — particularly Wildrose Party members — at an election forum that attracted about 375 people on Tuesday night.
Last year the Wildrose Party said it would ensure conscience rights for health professionals and marriage commissioners, taken to mean they would not have to perform abortions or solemnize marriages involving gay or lesbian couples.
Red Deer North Wildrose Party candidate Randy Weins said his party has made it known it will not legislate on contentious social issues.
Red Deer South Wildrose Party candidate Nathan Stephan wanted to know when conscience rights became something that is bad.
“We need to understand what conscience rights are. This is a right, guarantee, in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is not a bad thing. This means that you have the ability to think what you want,” said Stephan at the forum hosted by Red Deer Chamber of Commerce at the Harvest Centre at Westerner Park.
“That’s the right of conscience. But what we need to recognize is we have other laws to protect against discrimination and this, in our province, is the Alberta Human Rights Act.”
Red Deer South NDP candidate Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer challenged Wildrose’s commitment.
“If I remember correctly it was your leader who said that she would abolish the Human Rights Commission,” said Watkinson-Zimmer about Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.
An audience member at the forum spoke of how a friend in Lacombe was nearly beaten to death three years ago when he was 17 and suspected of being gay. She wanted to know how Wildrose could defend its Edmonton candidate Allan Hunsperger who criticized public schools in Edmonton for accepting students for who they are and warned that gays will burn in hell.
Red Deer South Alberta Party candidate Serge Gingras said Wildrose is perpetuating a stigma that leads to bullying and harassment and sometimes depression and suicide.
“It’s disturbing that this kind of thing still happens to gays. I’m a member of the gay community. I’ve heard story, after story, after story, and I work with young gays and lesbians on campus,” said Gingras, an instructor at Red Deer College.
Red Deer North Progressive Conservative incumbent Mary Anne Jablonski said it’s horrible that kind of violence still happens, but government cannot legislate morality and should stay out of the bedrooms of Canadians.
“Morality has to come from the parents and it has to come from society and we’ve got a lot of work to do if that (violence) is still happening,” Jablonski said.
Jablonski also attacked the Wildrose plan to freeze health infrastructure projects, that she said included the Central Alberta Cancer Centre under construction in Red Deer.
“I don’t know where you got that information from, but it’s not true,” said Weins about Red Deer’s cancer centre.
“Randy, you need to read the news releases from your own leader,” Jablonski said.
Stephan said Wildrose isn’t talking about the need to stop building health infrastructure, but rather recognizing the need to work on building health care staff.
“We actually don’t have the doctors and nurses to staff the facilities. We’re putting money into facilities that can’t be staffed,” Stephan said.
Red Deer South Progressive Conservative incumbent Cal Dallas said with the budget cuts Wildrose budget has planned, that won’t be happening.
“You won’t be doing any hiring of any nurses, of any doctors, of any teachers of any kind. You will be going in opposite direction.”