The provincial government’s handling of long term care in Red Deer had Progressive Conservative candidate Mary Anne Jablonski on the hot seat during Red Deer College’s election forum on Wednesday.
Jablonski, incumbent for Red Deer North, quickly had to defend herself after resident William Weiswasser took her to task over the 2010 closures of Red Deer Nursing Home and Valley Park Manor.
Many people appealed to keep those publicly operated centres open and yet Jablonski never said or did anything to defend their interests, said Weiswasser.
And now with understaffing at the privately operated and publicly funded Extendicare Michener Hill, care levels have gone down, he said.
“You obviously took your orders from your party boss and ignored the voices of Red Deer,” said Weiswasser, followed by loud applause.
“I was listening to the voices of Red Deer,” said Jablonski in front of the crowd of 125 people.
“I was listening to seniors who said, ‘don’t warehouse us, don’t make us live in a hospital-like facility… we want to live in really nice home-like circumstances.’”
Jablonski, then minister of seniors and community supports at the time of the closures, said she conceded staffing issues were happening initially at Extendicare and that it’s something she is still looking at.
Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer, New Democratic Party candidate for Red Deer South, said she participated in the protests. The staffing level is not adequate at Extendicare, while there weren’t the same kind of problems at Valley Park Manor, she said.
Michael Dawe, Liberal candidate for Red Deer North, said the Tories have made empty promises over adding more nursing care and continuing care beds for seniors. One continuing care facility was promised a couple of elections ago.
“It’s still a grassy field that’s used for overflow parking at the farmer’s market,” Dawe said.
Serge Gingras, Alberta Party candidate for Red Deer South, said the problem with privately operated facilities is that they become less and less available to those who need this kind of care. They need to be publicly operated and funded, he said.
Randy Weins, Wildrose party candidate for Red Deer North, said the Progressive Conservatives haven’t listened, particularly when there were 6,000 names on a petition to keep the two nursing homes open.
Questions over government financing were also raised.
Jason Chilibeck, Liberal candidate for Red Deer South, said the Progressive Conservative government had commented eight months ago about the possibility of a sales tax.
“I am fearful about a sales tax,” he said. “I will fight tooth and nail to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Nathan Stephan, Wildrose candidate for Red Deer South, said the ruling Tories haven’t had a balanced budget in over five years. One thing his party would do is to cut MLA pay and to cut government staff, not the frontline services.
Cal Dallas, Progressive Conservative candidate for Red Deer South, said he recognizes that some post-secondary institutions in Alberta have received funding announcements this week and Red Deer College hasn’t, which several other candidates said seems to happen a lot.
But he noted that the college has received dollars in the past for its recent additions.
A single mother expressed dismay over seeing staffing reductions for special needs children.
Jablonski said money is being poured into education to maintain class sizes. But she added that sometimes as children get older, they do not require as much assistance, an answer which resulted in the single mother shaking her head “no.”
Red Deer North NDP candidate Derrek Seelinger said he’s had friends who have lost their jobs as educational assistants.
“We need to restore the funding that was cut,” he said.
Brent Chalmers, Alberta Party candidate for Red Deer North, said it’s important to give enough support to these children so they have a chance to contribute to society later on, otherwise there’s a huge cost down the road.