The United Conservative Party Leadership (UCP) debate in Red Deer focused heavily on the repeal of Bill 6, a farm and ranch workplace legislation which was enacted on Jan. 1st, 2016.
All four UCP candidates – Jeff Callaway (who has since pulled out of the race), Brian Jean, Jason Kenney and Doug Schweitzer – said they would immediately repeal Bill 6 upon taking office as premier.
“We need to consult farmers and give them options that are most appropriate to how they feel they need to run their farms,” Callaway said. “It is not about using a centralized approach that obviously the NDP got wrong.”
Jean said the private sector can do a better job of ensuring workplace safety and sending incidents to the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) is an error by the NDP.
“There are more complaints about WCB than any of the other departments combined,” he said. “Why would we put the department with the most complaints in with our second biggest industry.”
Schweitzer said farmers were already taking care of their workers on Alberta farms.
“It is a matter of repealing Bill 6 and then going out and consulting with our farm families,” he said.
The debate focused on three issues in Alberta, namely social services, agriculture and leadership.
Callaway called out the former Wildrose Leader Jean for leading the previous party into a $322,000 deficit.
“We are asking for the trust of Albertans to run a $55 billion budget and we have a $10.5 billion deficit and yet, Brian at least, can’t seem to manage a $2 million budget,” Callaway said. “He didn’t communicate with caucus and a number of MLAs in caucus are not supporting him.”
Jean has promised that under his leadership, the province’s budget will be balanced in three years.
“We will repeal many of the taxes and many of the regulations that have been brought forward,” he said. “We will come back to balance in three years and we will do it with the littlest amount of interest payment possible.”
Kenney commented on Jean’s role during the unity process.
“Mr. Jean was saying a year ago that this unity thing couldn’t happen,” he said. “He said my plan was gamesmanship, so I am thankful he finally saw the light and came on board the unity train. If I had not stepped forward with this plan to unite, we would still be divided.”
In addition, Jean did comment on the current state of health care in Central Alberta.
“Health care is a predominant concern and the fact there is no ability to have cardiac equipment here is unacceptable. It needs to be remedied,” he said.
Kenney took time during the debate to discuss the issue of public safety in Alberta, saying he would appoint judges who value law and order.
“There is far too much of a revolving door,” he said. “The police in Central Alberta are telling me they are constantly rearresting repeat offenders involved with property crimes. They find them back on the street, on bail or on parole, in no time flat. That is wrong.”
Schweitzer said he looks to promote a different image than conservative parties have portrayed in the past.
“We need to get the social issues right,” he said. “I have been clear from day one on gay-straight alliances; we will not be outing kids. One of the biggest risks for this party is allowing the NDP to define us. We cannot allow them to define us as being homophobic. I don’t think that is this party and if we put our clear values forward, we will hold the day.”
Callaway said he hopes to lead from the bottom up.
“We need to focus on working with our executive and our constituency associations to develop a grassroots driven policy. That will stitch the legacy parties and get the buy in from the membership,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jean said his experience in federal politics and the legislature gives him an edge in experience.
“My experience is enough that I think most people will recognize that I am the right person for the job. I’m passionate and I love Alberta,” he said.
Kenney wants to continue to the job he started with the unity process.
“We need an experienced leader who will hit the ground running on day one as a conservative premier. I am offering a lifetime of experience from being head of the Taxpayer’s Federation, to senior minister in the national government, to having led this unity movement over the last 14 months,” he said.
Schweitzer looks to present a new look conservative in Alberta.
“I offer this party a fresh start and an opportunity to turn the page on some of the divisive social issues of the past,” he said. “If we can turn the page on that, we can hold the NDP accountable on the economy, which is what Albertans want us to focus on.”
The UCP will announce their new leader on Oct. 29th.