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Candidates tackle health care in Calgary forum

Last Updated Apr 13, 2019 at 10:43 am MDT

Candidates in the Alberta provincial election take part in a forum on health care in Calgary. From left, Liberal leader David Khan, Alberta party candidate Beth Barberree and NDP candidate Anne McGrath. Friday, April 12th, 2019. (PHOTO: Tom Ross - 660 NEWS)

NDP, Alberta Party and Liberal candidates propose their solutions for health care issues

Candidates take a look at the wider picture and detail how they would combat societal problems

Issues handled by the candidates included addiction, affordable housing and immunization

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — As election day looms on the horizon in Alberta, candidates shared their thoughts on health care during an event in Calgary on Friday.

The candidates forum was hosted by the University of Calgary’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the Central Public Library, moderated by Dr. William Ghali.

In attendance were Liberal Party leader and candidate for Calgary-Mountain View David Khan, Alberta Party candidate for Calgary-Varsity Beth Barberree and NDP candidate for Calgary-Varsity Anne McGrath.

An invitation was sent to the United Conservative Party, however, organizers received no response.

But instead of focusing on the standard questions around health care — such as wait times, building hospitals and private versus public options — the questions centred around societal concerns that end up costing the health care system money.

This included how the candidates would ensure household food security.

In response, all of the candidates were in favour of maintaining or growing the current minimum wage of $15 an hour and establishing a basic living income to make sure people can pay for food in the first place

Secondly, they were asked about plans for childcare, with the candidates agreeing that this is an important challenge.

For Khan, he said the NDP claiming credit for reducing child poverty to record-low levels was slightly disingenuous, as he gives some credit to federal programs helping parents.

Also, Barberree said they need to make childcare even more affordable for the least advantaged Albertans and consider rebates or tax credits for things such as transportation costs.

Finally, McGrath said the NDP would continue focusing on reducing child poverty rates and expanding their affordable child care options.

However, after only a couple of questions into the forum and the candidates largely agreeing with each other, this prompted Dr. Ghali to chime in.

“Because we know that there is one party not here, some of your answers sound like a unified yes. I think that the audience will want a sharper distinction between your three parties that might help us in working through these topics.”

This sort of issue has been brought up by NDP leader Rachel Notley, as she vies for support in the final days, by trying to appeal to Alberta Party or Liberal supporters with the message that they all have some of the same policies or ideals.

Moving back into the questions, one of the most pressing health care concerns in Alberta — and much of North America for that matter — came up as they talked about addictions.

Specifically, the candidates were asked what they would do in terms of supervised consumption sites.

For the Liberals, they are focused on tackling this problem head-on by declaring a public health emergency.

“B.C. has done it, the Kainai Nation in southern Alberta has done it, other jurisdictions have done it. It really allows the government to focus on the problem and deploying resources in the best way possible,” Khan said.

He added that harm reduction is critical, and wants to get more consumption sites opened up.

Barberree pointed out that this is a complex issue that needs a wider net to make sure nobody affected by the crisis falls through the cracks.

“There’s a huge human element to this as well. Including folks that are lost themselves and loved ones who are lost to addiction and overdose. The burden on the overall system — not just health care but also communities and our neighbours and our families — is a very real circumstance we are facing.”

The candidates also acknowledged some of the concerns around the sites, including the Sheldon Chumir Safe Consumption Site in Calgary, adding that they must be properly addressed.

“We have to do it in a smart way,” McGrath said. “We have to have consultation with communities, we have to support some of the measures around communities to make sure that they are welcomed and they are part of the community.”

Another very topical issue handled in the forum was immunization, as we see falling vaccination rates due to unfounded concerns over their efficacy.

The Alberta Party would mandate vaccinations for the public school system.

“This crisis with the measles outbreaks is preventable and that’s just unacceptable for children,” Barberree said. “They go to school to learn, not become sick.”

But that party is the only one proposing mandatory vaccinations, as the Liberals and NDP are more focused on education.

“We believe that mandatory vaccinations would only further alienate children and we want to bring people back into the mainstream and not punish children for the decisions of their parents,” Khan said, as he also said there may be scepticism of government programs among a few populations — particularly the Indigenous community.

“I believe many, many cases of vaccine hesitancy come from a lack of information and misinformation being spread around,” McGrath said.

There was also discussion about how they would work with other agencies or government departments to further the health care system, how they would reduce tobacco or vaping usage, and increasing affordable housing options.

Khan and Barberree also both spent time trying to convince voters that this is not just a two-party race, and it is irresponsible of the NDP and UCP to act like they are not factors in the vote.

But one other subject the three candidates agreed on and drew a loud round of applause from the dozens inside the Patricia A. Whelan Performance Hall was the disappointment over a lack of a United Conservative Party candidate.

“I want to underline how completely unfortunate it is that we don’t have anyone here from the United Conservative Party,” McGrath said. “I think that it is scandalous to skip forums and panels like this during an election campaign.”