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The recent federal election forum held by Public Interest Alberta gave candidates from all the major parties a chance to tackle the big issues facing Canadians in the upcoming election. Unfortunately, the Conservative Party was not present, so the organizers did the only logical thing they could: they had a bobbing duck sit in for the Tories.

"We invited the party on Dec. 9th to select a candidate for this forum and we find it very hard to believe that all the candidates in the Calgary area are too busy to attend," said PIA Executive Director Bill Moore-Kilgannon. "We have therefore opted to have the Conservative Party represented here tonight by this very friendly drinking bird. Give it a little nudge if it stops drinking."

During the first hour, candidates from the Liberal Party, New Democratic Party and Green Party debated predetermined questions about topics ranging from health care to post-secondary education to the democratic deficit. During the second half, questions were fielded from the audience.

Representing the Liberals, Calgary-West candidate Jennifer Pollock presented a few new ideas but mostly defended the Liberal Party's track record. She made it clear, however, that while she was running under the banner of the Liberals, she was campaigning for Calgary-West--not Ottawa.

"I'd much rather speak for myself than for my party," said Pollock.

The NDP, represented by Brian Pincott in Calgary Centre, took a variety of stances on different topics. Some ideas unique to his platform were a $1 billion national drug plan, $1.5 billion for direct tuition relief and the investment of energy surpluses into a crown corporation to enable conservation research, an idea similar to one mentioned by Pollock. A large advocate of environmental policy, Pincott also vowed to improve energy efficiency standards, saying that poverty is partially an energy issue.

"We can no longer separate environmental issues from social issues and economics issues," said Pincott.

Along with Pincott, the Green Party's Mark MacGillivray, representing Calgary-Centre North, brought the environment into the debate and made it one of the larger, over-arching issues. Both MacGillivray and Pincott managed to frame most questions using an environmental stance. MacGillivray especially managed to tie it in with the other issues, from advocating cleaner air as a method of preventative health care to creating a fund to retrofit houses, making them more energy efficient. He also mentioned how the Green Party would work to constitutionally protect the environment for future generations by enshrining clean water, air and soil within the Charter of Rights, as well as to renegotiate NAFTA, a position shared by Pincott.

"We believe a trade system that puts local decisions in the hands of Washington or Ottawa is a fundamentally bad system," explained MacGillivray.

Meanwhile, the drinking bird representing the Conservative Party bobbed its head--and drank a lot of water. But mostly bobbed.

Other topics included media concentration, proportional representation, gun control and adequate representation in debates.

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