Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff One of the talking circles of voters and provincial election candidates at a forum on diversity and inclusion at Red Deer’s Festival Hall.

Red Deer provincial election candidates air views on diversity and inclusion at forum

Discussions held between candidates and voters

Red Deer South New Democrat incumbent Barb Miller promised to ban the damaging “conversion therapy” that’s practised by some religious groups on gay youth.

Red Deer South United Conservative Party candidate Jason Stephan pledged to be an “anti-racism advocate,” having heard from his Metis aunt how damaging “100-plus years of systemic neglect and injustice” has been on Metis and First Nations people.

Inclusion was on the agenda as the 10 candidates running for provincial election in Red Deer attended a discussion forum Monday night at Festival Hall, presented by Red Deer’s Welcoming and Inclusive Communities Network.

Each candidates answered questions, such as: “How would you put diversity and inclusivity into action?” and “what would you do to protect children from discrimination in school?” — before the crowd of 60 participants broke into four talking circles.

Paul Hardy, a physician and Alberta Party candidate for Red Deer North, said he would draw on his experiences of working in the central Arctic to fight for anti-discrimination education in schools and keep class sizes down so immigrant/minority children would get the focus they need.

Hardy and Miller also spoke of the importance of providing gay/straight alliances wherever young LGBTQ people needed them.

Red Deer North New Democrat incumbent Kim Schreiner said creating a new ministry of multiculturalism is in her party’s plans if re-elected — as is removing more barriers to employment for skilled immigrant workers.

Adriana LaGrange, whose parents emigrated from Italy, pledged to support the school aboriginal programs that she said made at least one young First Nations student say he was proud of his culture and heritage.

Freedom Conservative Party North candidate Matt Chapin said he believes in respecting aboriginal land and treaty rights, otherwise “it will cause more problems in generations to come.”

Michael Neufeld, Alberta Independence Party candidate for Red Deer North, said First Nations should have the right to self-govern and own the above- and below-ground resources on their reserves.

“Everybody should be equal,” said Freedom Conservative Party South candidate Teah-Jay Cartwright.

Green Party candidate for Red Deer South, Lori Curran, said she would work on an environmental bill of rights for all and support anti-racism policies.

Later, in a talking circle on racism, participants were told an Islamophobic, anti-immigration group had left its stickers on the doors of the Central Alberta Refugee Effort.

“You need to shut that kind of conversation down and reinforce the value of our immigrants,” said LaGrange, adding she’s never seen as much division and intolerance in this region as in recent months.

Schreiner responded that she’s proud of how much local groups have done to combat it.

And Alberta Party South candidate Ryan McDougall, a family law paralegal, also praised local non-profits for taking on discrimination, poverty, homelessness and other complex issues.

Andrea Lacoursiere, Red Deer’s equity coalition co-ordinator, said she hopes the forum — and especially the talking circles — help inform voters on where their candidates stand on these important topics.

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