By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
Little Bow MLA candidates were out on the road for their Alberta Election tour 2015, as candidates met with constituents and paid visits to numerous municipalities to take part in forums and debates. A forum is a chance for voters to hear what candidates have to say about local issues and it is a chance for voters to witness first-hand how candidates act or react to the questions asked by constituents. Last Tuesday, a forum was held at St. Joseph’s School in Coaldale with Little Bow candidates David Schneider (Wildrose), Bev Muendel-Atherstone (NDP), Helen McMenamin (Liberal) and Ian Donovan (PC incumbent). Alberta Social Credit Party candidate Caleb Van Der Weide was not in attendance. The event was co-sponsored by the Coaldale and District Chamber of Commerce and the ATA Palliser Local 19. One of the first statements and question asked by a Little Bow constituent was Alberta voters were promised there wasn’t going to be a sales tax in the province but Alberta has a sales tax and it’s called 4.5-cents a litre on gasoline — Why do we have a sales tax? Politicians have called it a levy and they’ve called it this and that, the voter added. “In the budget, there’s four-cents a litre for gas. It still keeps us under the closest place for gas tax — that takes us up to 13-cents a litre. British Columbia is 13.1, so we’re still underneath anybody else,” said Donovan. Donovan noted when the provincial government was working on the budget they asked Albertans what they wanted to see or not see in the budget. “The premier guaranteed there’s no sales tax — there is no sales tax. It’s across the board. We’ve had a provincial gas tax, as long as anybody that I’ve known knows about it, it’s been on there. It’s just been at different levels. It’s not a sales tax and we can agree to disagree on that one but it’s a tax on the gas,” said Donovan, adding he believes it’s on there because when the government put out the survey Albertans surveyed said to raise tax on gas. McMenamin said the Liberal plan does not include an increase in the cost of the taxing of gas. “We do have an environmental plan that does include a fee for actual emissions, so it might increase the price of gas,” she noted. The poll the PCs put out, Muendel-Atherstone said, also asked what would Albertans surveyed like done? “Seventy per cent of Albertans said tax the corporations,” said the NDP candidate. The NDP would not create taxes, she said, and the party would roll back the taxes and levies put forward by the PCs. For months the Prentice government, Schneider added, has been telling Alberta how big and bloated the government is and when it came down to present the budget the government raised taxes and took on massive debt. “The average family is going to be hit with about $2,500 a year in taxes and fuel is a tax right on top of it,” said Schneider, noting he believes a tax on fuel wasn’t very fair, especially to the farmer. A Little Bow teacher said schools in Little Bow are facing challenges in terms of increasing student population, an increase in teacher workloads, less inclusive education and cuts to support staff. “How will you, as our MLA, support our Little Bow schools?” the teacher asked the candidates. It’s all about balancing priorities, Muendel-Atherstone said. “The priorities of Albertans are education, health care, jobs and taking care of each other.” “We would work on getting the money in through corporations and through their unpaid corporate taxes and resolving the issue by building more schools, upgrading infrastructure and hiring more teachers,” she added. The Wildrose, Schneider said, would cut mandatory school tax. Schneider noted the Wildrose would transfer the decision-making authority concerning the building of new schools away from the provincial government and place it directly in the hands of school boards and allow school boards to use their reserve funds for priorities determined to be important. Donovan said each school and school board is different in Little Bow, as he has paid visits to schools in his riding as a PC MLA. “Right now, this province is spending $40 million a day on education. We want to make sure the local boards have the autonomy and ability to spend it where they need. That’s why we’ve asked them to start using their reserves. There’s almost a half-a-billion dollars in reserves right now between all the school boards in this province. I think there are times when we need to ask them to be able to reach back and use that money wisely, as they have up to this point,” said Donovan. Education is one of the things McMenamin said she would fight hard for at every opportunity. “I’m dedicated to the notion that education has to be done right and it has to help every kid,” she said. Another constituent said he either votes for or against a certain party and he votes for the candidate. He asked what assurance do Albertans have that candidates, if elected, would remain in the party voters vote for? Schneider said when he became a candidate for the Wildrose he signed a contract which stated if he crosses the floor to another party other than independent, he will forfeit $100,000. “That’s a pretty big motivator to stay as a member of the party I was elected to,” he added. Donovan, who crossed the floor from the Wildrose to the PCs, said the challenge he had as part of the Wildrose was when he lost his free vote and was being told how to vote. “At the end of the day, my job is to represent my constituents. That’s why I went with that party when I first started because it was a free vote to represent what your constituents want,” said Donovan, adding the Wildrose was started by two floor-crossers. “I vote for what my constituents want. I think if you look at the long-term, over the years in this riding, most people want to make sure their MLA represents what they want, not always what their party wants,” said Donovan. McMenamin said she is committed to the Liberals. “I have signed an agreement, if I want to cross the floor, I will leave the Liberals first and then sit as an independent,” she noted. Muendel-Atherstone said she believes she grew up NDP and knew things weren’t right. “I could tell when people were being bullied and it was wrong. I could tell when there was racial discrimination and that it was wrong.” “These are the reasons why I am so adamant and decided I had to be a candidate and run for the NDP because I believe that all of us know what can be better and we know Alberta is a wonderful place to live and we want the Alberta Advantage to be for all Albertans and not for a select few. I would not crossover to any other party because I believe what we are doing is the best in the NDP and I’m one of the people that will change it if I’m not happy with what we’re doing,” she said.