Candidates spar over immigration, jobs and pipelines at Alberta@Noon election forum

Heated exchanges ensued after questions about Alberta's oil industry, immigration, and jobs at a local federal candidates forum in Edmonton.

Liberal, NDP hopefuls forced to defend their parties' support for Alberta oil and gas

Edmonton federal election hopefuls James Cumming, Heather McPherson and Tyler Beauchamp listen as fellow candidate Randy Boissonnault speaks at the Alberta@Noon town hall on Thursday. (Geneviève Tardif/Radio-Canada)

Local candidates from the five main parties made their pitches for the support of Albertans at a federal election forum in Edmonton on Thursday. 

More than 200 people filled the audience at CBC Edmonton's Centre Stage in Edmonton City Centre for the hour-long debate hosted by Judy Aldous on CBC Radio's Alberta@Noon

The candidates included Edmonton Centre candidates James Cumming (Conservative Party of Canada) and Randy Boissonnault (Liberal); Edmonton Strathcona candidates Heather McPherson (New Democratic Party) and Michael Kalmanovitch (Green Party); and Tyler Beauchamp (People's Party of Canada) who is running in Sturgeon River-Parkland. 

Oil and gas anxiety

Early into the forum, heated exchanges ensued after a Conservative supporter's question accused the other parties of aiming to destroy Alberta's oil industry.

"We care about Alberta, we care about Alberta oil," said Boissonnault, defending the Trudeau government's record on supporting the oil and gas industry.

"I can tell you there's 4.5 billion reasons why our government cares about Alberta and Alberta oil, and that's what we invested to get the Trans Mountain pipeline built," said Boissonnault.

"There will be 4,200 people working on the line by December, 10,000 by next summer. And we have spent four years cleaning up the mess left with us by the Conservatives when nothing was built to tidewater."

Despite federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline, McPherson said she would support getting energy projects built while meeting all necessary consultation processes. 

Xavier Cantrill, one of more than 80 Grade 6 students who attended the debate from Edmonton's Victoria School of the Arts, is years too young to vote on Oct. 21. But he's interested, and learning about the election campaign in school.

He said he came into the event supporting McPherson and the NDP, but was impressed by the Green party candidate's hardline stance against pipelines.

"Tomorrow you won't lose your job, the fossil fuel industry is not going to die tomorrow, or if we were elected as a majority," Kalmanovitch said. "But the reality is that this is coming. Energy is evolving and we will not be needing fossil fuels in the future."

'Dog-whistle politics'

Posing a question to candidates, an intern architect struggling to find the two years of work required to get his architectural licence said the problem lies with Immigration Canada bringing in more experienced architects who are taking up entry-level jobs and displacing Canadian-born graduates.

"We don't want unfair competition from newcomers in Canada,"  Beauchamp said, outlining the People Party's plan to reduce immigration to 150,000 people per year, based on skills shortages.

"We don't want to see a whole bunch of new people come to Canada to fill jobs that Canadians can do."

McPherson and Boissonnault responded that Canada is stronger for its immigration record.

"I cannot sit here and have any party use dog-whistle politics to divide Canadians and say that something is wrong with having the population of Nova Scotia come into our country every year," Boissonnault said. "This country has been built on immigration and it will continue to be."


Thandiwe Konguavi


Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist, born in Zimbabwe. She is a reporter/editor at CBC Edmonton. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter:


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