All three Progressive Conservative party leadership hopefuls - Jim Prentice, Edmonton MLA Thomas Lukaszuk and Calgary MLA Ric McIver - appeared together for the first time on Saturday to discuss policy.

A wide range of topics were covered in the Tory policy forum held at NAIT Saturday afternoon, from post-secondary education to whether family members should be able to fly on government planes.

So far, Prentice is the only official candidate for the PC leadership. The others have yet to file their paperwork. 

The family and flights debate

Unsurprisingly, the topic of extravagant air travel came up, as it was one of the core issues of the spending controversy that led former premier Alison Redford to resign March 23, a step ahead of a caucus and party revolt.

Both Prentice and McIver said the planes are for official use only.

“Planes are required as a mode of transport for government business, and it is restricted to government business,” Prentice told reporters.

McIver told reporters he would have the same policy for the same reason.

“The government airplanes are for business, and that’s what they would be used for and nothing else,” he said. “I can’t think of a scenario right now that (having family members on board) would be allowed, so no.”

But Lukaszuk said there is value having family members accompany MLAs on official business. He said sometimes spouses may have a role to play in the government event or that youngsters may be able to see that work firsthand and become inspired.

“If there is no cost added or if you reimburse taxpayers for bringing on a family member where appropriate… then there is nothing wrong with that,” he said. “But that is something we definitely have to put some very stringent parameters around.”

Post-secondary education

All three candidates discussed post-secondary education in the province.

Prentice laid out a detailed five part plan that included stable funding, centralized governance and market based incentives.

“We have some really exceptional institutions in this province,” he said. “We deserve to celebrate them and need to make sure, in terms of our governance of them, they are in a condition to succeed.”

McIver said what worries him most is the projected job shortages for the next decade.

“I’d say the biggest challenge on post-secondary institutions is how we’re going to train all these people that we know are going to be needed,” he said.

Lukaszuk, meanwhile, said the answer to the potential job shortage lies in funding formulas for post-secondary institutions.

With files from the Canadian Press.