Just days before Tuesday’s provincial election, Red Deer candidates discussed diversifying Alberta’s economy.
The Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce hosted an election forum at Westerner Park’s Harvest Centre on Thursday night.
NDP incumbent Barb Miller said party leader Rachel Notley is doing a lot to diversify the economy.
“Instead of ripping and shipping our natural resources, (Notley) is working to upgrade and refine our product here and getting more value for our resources, while creating more jobs here in Alberta,” said Miller.
Jason Stephan, Red Deer South United Conservative Party candidate, said “government cannot force diversification.”
“When we had the Alberta Advantage, when we were the most attractive, competitive tax regime (and) the best, most-friendly place to start and grow a business, that’s how you create diversification,” Stephan said.
“We’re going to reduce our corporate tax rate so it is the most competitive tax rate in Canada, like it used to be.”
Ryan McDougall, Alberta Party candidate for Red Deer South, said her party wants to focus on industries outside of oil and gas, including offering tax incentives for the film and television industry.
“That’s going to bring an incredible number of jobs … whether it’s carpentry steel work, set design, the creative arts, the admin, the catering – it’s jobs across every spectrum of trades,” she said.
Lori Curran, Red Deer South Green Party candidate, said the province should transition from a fossil fuel base and focus on renewables.
Red Deer South Freedom Conservative Party candidate Teah-Jay Cartwright said Alberta is a “boom and bust” economy.
“Let’s get the private sector involved more with post-secondary (education). Let’s … allow post-secondary institutions to use the creativity of our youth to try to diversify our economy through innovation,” he said.
Matt Chapin, Freedom Conservative Party candidate in Red Deer North, said if Alberta’s economy is strengthened, all of Canada will benefit.
Another major discussion during the forum was centred on the minimum wage.
Kim Schreiner, Red Deer North NDP incumbent, said the majority of the women living on minimum wage salaries have children.
“Working full time, these moms, before the minimum wage hike, were having to stop by the food bank on pay day on their way home just to feed their families,” she said.
Paul Hardy, Alberta Party candidate for Red Deer North, said his party isn’t going to roll back the minimum wage.
“Every year, there’s one to two per cent inflation and it would serve no purpose and give unpredictability to roll it back,” he said.
“The timing of the minimum wage increase was unfortunate, in that when the NDP took power, the economy was in free fall. Perhaps they shouldn’t have implemented it so suddenly and revisited it.”
Adriana LaGrange, UCP candidate for Red Deer North, said her party won’t roll back the minimum wage either, but it would introduce a minimum wage for entry-level youth.
“B.C. has a minimum wage of $12.80. We’re significantly higher than B.C. and it has caused significant pain to individuals and businesses across this province to have that 50 per cent increase in such a short time period,” she said.
Michael Neufeld, Alberta Independence Party candidate for Red Deer North, did not attend the forum.
Candidates also discussed expanding the Red Deer Regional Hospital, providing equitable funding for the City of Red Deer and the carbon tax.