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Alberta NDP leadership hopefuls talk rural priorities at forum

All five Alberta NDP candidates were in Claresholm for a panel discussion on rural issues.

Rural topics are proving to be some of the most prominent subjects in the Alberta NDP leadership race.

A "Rural Issues & Priorities" forum was held in Claresholm on April 13 with all five leadership candidates in attendance.

The panel was hosted by the Livingstone-Macleod Alberta NDP constituency association and led by Sarah Elmeligi, MLA for Banff-Kananaskis.

"As the only rural [Alberta NDP] MLA, obviously I identify with a lot of the rural constituency associations and communities," said Emeligi, who is the Opposition critic for environment, parks and recreation.

The panel discussion included MLAs Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, Kathleen Ganley and Sarah Hoffman, Alberta Federation of Labour leader Gil McGowan and former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi.

The discussion revolved around numerous subjects, including healthcare, the environment and raising awareness about the party in rural Alberta.

"We have to work three or four times as hard as Conservatives do," said Hoffman, MLA for Edmonton-Glenora. "We absolutely do. They are the default vote. We have to prove to them that we are better, and that means we're going to have to work harder.

"And that's why I'm proposing some bold policies, particularly as they relate to healthcare, climate and housing."

McGowan, who has been outspoken on diversifying Alberta's economy in terms of the energy sector, spoke on the issue of coal mining.

"It is completely irresponsible for a government to get rid of the old coal policy that [Peter Lougheed] very wisely put in place to ignore the moratorium that was imposed on it to allow this project to proceed to the next phase," said the labour leader.

"There are other opportunities. Wind, solar, geothermal, this is how we keep the next generation of Alberta workers working."

Ganley, MLA for Calgary-Mountain View, made her stance on coal mining clear.

"My coal policy is quite straightforward: it's just no."

She added that one of her campaign's main priorities is the economy.

"I think we need to make a little bit of an offer on the economy," she said. "Because our ideas on the economy are better than the UCP ideas. Trickle-down economics doesn't work."

Calahoo Stonehouse, MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford, discussed water, which is one of her campaign's key planks.

"We're headed into the worst drought we've ever had," she said. "Our soil is drier than it's ever been in 105 years. We had the warmest March ever recorded in history.

"Water is fundamental for every single economic system that we have in this province, whether it's oil and gas, hydrogen, every single forestry, agriculture, irrigation. It is fundamental in the way we mitigate our economic systems, which is why it has got to be a priority moving forward."

Nenshi stated that a major component of his strategy is clearing up misconceptions rural constituents might have.

"We've got to talk to people about what matters to them, and help them understand that this version of the conservative movement is not Peter Lougheed or Ralph Klein's conservative movement," he said.

"It doesn't result in a better quality of life in the communities we live in, whether they're mid-sized cities, smaller towns or truly rural areas. We've got to get to people where they live and understand them on their terms."

About 100 people packed the Claresholm Community Centre to hear from the five leadership candidates.

"I also, by the way, stopped at Roy's Place and had a cinnamon bun bigger than my head," added Nenshi.

Leadership candidates have previously spoken with the Western Wheel about rural issues, including GanleyNenshi and former candidate Rakhi Pancholi.

The deadline to purchase a party membership is April 22. Voting is open until June 22, which is when the results will be announced in Calgary.

Amir Said

About the Author: Amir Said

Amir Said is a reporter and photographer with the Western Wheel covering local news in Okotoks and Foothills County. For story tips, reach out to [email protected].
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