Student forum brings candidates face-to-face with the next generation of voters

Forum moderator Victor Thunderchild waites for a response from incumbent Conservative MP Randy Hoback (centre-left), Liberal candidate Estelle Hjertaas (centre-right) and NDP candidate Harmony Johnson-Harder (right). -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Candidates from Prince Albert’s three largest parties were out pitching their platforms to the next generation of voters at Carlton Comprehensive High School’s Federal Election Student Forum on Wednesday.

Candidates Estelle Hjertaas (Liberal), Harmony Johnson-Harder (NDP) and incumbent MLA Randy Hoback (Conservative) had 10 minutes each to speak to students before participating in a question and answer session in the Carlton Lecture Theatre.

Topics ranged from taxes to education to reconciliation, but climate change was the most prominent subject.

Hoback opened the forum by talking about the importance of prudent government spending, stressing the need to stop running a deficit. The Conservatives have promised to balance the federal budget over the next five years, while the Liberal platform released this week calls for deficit spending over the next four years.

The Liberals also promised to balance the budget by 2019 during the last election, but instead ended the 2018-19 fiscal year with a roughly $14-billion deficit.

“You have to balance the budget,” Hoback said. “You cannot go on and on and on borrowing money from somebody you don’t know and then expect you and your kids to pay for it.”

Hoback also stressed the importance of lowering taxes, which he said would make it easier for taxpayers to take care of their homes and families.

He then turned to the topic of climate change, telling students to never let anyone tell them it wasn’t happening. However, Hoback argued that Canada’s emissions aren’t large enough to affect global efforts.

“The reality is, when we meet our climate requirements, it does nothing to global emissions,” he said. “The amount that we cut back to meet our requirements are so small that we’re still going to have warming issues.”

Hoback also argued that countries like China and India were creating more pollution than environmentally friendly Canadian industries.

Liberal candidate Estelle Hjertaas opened with a brief bio, explaining to students how her work as a legal aid lawyer showed her a number of community problems that needed addressing. She said she wants to start addressing them as Prince Albert’s next MP.

Hjertaas touted Liberal investments in mental health, anti-gang strategies and addictions treatment over the last four years. She also re-affirmed Liberal support for abortion, telling students they would not interfere with the right of women to do what they want with their bodies, and promised that her party would ban gay-conversion therapy. However, she spent most of her time talking about climate change, where she claimed the Liberals have “done more than any government in Canadian history.”

The Liberals have promised to phase out coal by 2030. They have also promised to set legally binding five-year targets to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and increase the amount of federally protected land.

“I’m going to continue to working towards (stopping) climate change and helping people adapt to it,” she told students. “We also know that we can address climate change and strengthen the economy at the same time, and it is working.”

NDP candidate Harmony Johnson-Harder also opened with a brief bio, telling students how she moved around Central Saskatchewan as a youth, and how her work experience in Northern Saskatchewan influenced who she is today.

She then touted the NDP’s education platform, which calls for the extending grant programs, working with provinces to reduce tuition costs, and removing interest charges from student loans.

“The government should not be profiting off of students who are trying to make their lives better,” she said.

In the long-term, the party also plans to offer free tuition, although Johnson-Harder did not give a specific timeframe for when that would happen.

She also touted the NDP’s anti-gang plan, although she said she didn’t like the term, along with their pharmacare plan, and promised the NDP would build 500,000 affordable housing units.

On climate change, Harder-Johnson said voters need to think about what kind of world they want to leave future generations, and argued that the NDP plan would be most effective. The party has promised to create 300,000 clean energy jobs, while making all new buildings energy efficient by 2030, and retrofitting all existing buildings by 2050. The NDP have also promised to build a network of charging stations across the country to encourage consumers to purchase Canadian-made zero-emission vehicles.

Harder-Johnson spent the least amount of time out of any candidate talking about environmental policy, however spent the most time talking about reconciliation.

“I appreciate the NDP platform because it is the only platform that is incorporating Indigenous knowledge,” she said. “Reconciliation and Indigenous knowledge is very important for Canada, as is building on reconciliation.”

PPC candidate Kelly Day initially accepted an invitation to attend, but pulled out at the last minute for unspecified reasons. She wrote a short speech instead, which was read out by forum moderator Victor Thunderchild. Green Party candidate Kerri Wall was not able to attend either.

The question and answer session saw students breach a number of topics. Among them were accessibility for people living with disabilities, the Liberal carbon tax, and marijuana legalization.

Footage of the entire forum can be viewed on the Carlton Comprehensive High School YouTube page.