This week's Calgary West all-candidates forum began with the removal of a man demanding signatures on a petition to oust Calgary City Council members for not applying for the 2010 Olympics. After Campus Security removed the obscenity-shouting protestor, the debate began, and five diverse political candidates came to agreement over a major issue they wanted resolved--where is Rob Anders?
Conservative incumbent Member of Parliament Rob Anders declined attendance at the town-hall forum held in MacEwan Student Centre Wed., Jan. 9, leaving his opponents to discuss the state of post-secondary education without him. According to his campaign office, Anders was helping the Conservative candidate Derek Zeisman in the riding of British Columbia South Interior.
"Rob has been called away," explained Anders' Campaign Manager Devin Iversen. "He's in a B.C. riding where the local Conservative candidate was in a serious car wreck. He's been door-knocking for three days. Rob went there because of his strength as an on-the-ground campaigner."
Opposing candidates at the forum were not pleased with Anders' absence. Liberal candidate Jennifer Pollock admitted her campaign strategy is to use Anders' political record to prove she is the stronger candidate.
"My campaign strategy has been to place my record next to Anders'," said Pollock, noting Anders was the only MP to vote against giving former South African President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Nelson Mandella honourary Canadian citizenship in 2001. "Anders has embarrassed our province and our country with his comments about Nelson Mandella--calling a recognized world leader a communist and a terrorist."
Canadian Action Party candidate Tim Cayzer shared Pollock's sentiment.
"I think we all know who not to vote for," said Cayzer.
Other participants included New Democratic Party candidate Teale Phelps Bondaroff, Green Party candidate Danielle Roberts, and Marxist-Leninist Party candidate Andre Vachon.
Phelps Bondaroff and Roberts, both U of C students, encouraged young people to vote in order to ensure youth issues like education are not ignored by MPs.
"It's important to give ourselves a voice in Ottawa so we are heard and taken seriously," said Phelps Bondaroff.
"People in Calgary West don't vote and their voices are not heard in Ottawa," said Roberts. "Eighty per cent of youth don't vote and that's not acceptable. What I'm asking you to do today is vote. Our voices do matter."
In addition to criticizing the absent Anders, all candidates also agreed PSE should be a priority and change needs to occur at both the federal and provincial levels, but candidates were divided on what form these changes should take.
Roberts advocated for the Green Party's stance of a federal tuition freeze while the government finds a more sustainable way to finance education. Phelps Bondaroff pushed for increased federal transfer payments earmarked specifically for PSE and lowered tuition to increase accessibility. Marxist-Leninist candidate Vachon encouraged students to organize themselves for social change and demand their right for education.
"There's not one issue out there that's more important [than education], except for maybe the danger of war," said Vachon.
Pollock pledged to continue funding PSE research federally. She also acknowledged the need for the Liberal government to re-examine PSE from a federal perspective, which takes into account the importance of educated workers to the Canadian marketplace.
"The Liberal government has put $13 billion into research and research chairs for individual projects," said Pollock. "We'll need to further develop a national strategy on post secondary education."
According to Iversen, Anders has not participated in any candidate forums thus far, and has no plans to do so. Anders is expected back later this week when he will continue his door knocking campaign and speak with select media outlets.