A mountaineer at heart, Melody Lepine has summited the highest peaks on two continents and in two hemispheres. After climbing Mount Erebus in Russia and Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, she believes surviving at 18,000 feet prepared her for the 78-day race to become the next MP for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake on Oct. 19, a challenge she shares with five other people including Conservative incumbent David Yurdiga.
“I tell everybody when I’m that high on the mountain and I’ve been there for two weeks, I’m cold, I’m hungry, tired and exhausted, 99 per cent of what is keeping me going is my brain, telling my body I have to do it,” the first-time NDP candidate said. “I’ve learned that there’s nothing, I tell myself, I can’t do.”
A native of Fort Chipewyan and for the past 12 years the director of government and industry relations for the Mikisew Cree First Nation, she said the federal government has “neglected” the riding, a concern expressed by other candidates.
“I just really noticed a strong absence from the federal government and basically neglect from them.“ she said. “Being the only candidate from this region and spending my entire life here, I am more grounded in seeing the evolution and changes in the community and truly understand what is important to the people here in Fort McMurray, Cold Lake and the entire region.”
Lepine said industrial development has been “rushed through” without enough consideration of the ramifications, either to the environment or in terms of its potential.
“Some of the companies can’t even obtain enough skilled workers so they have to resort to temporary foreign workers,” she said. “If we were prepared for all of these opportunities, we would have more of a commitment to training of local people, or Canadians, looking at different areas that could benefit from good development here as well. I want to see that grow, I want to see more local businesses.
“Obviously I see also a greater attention on the environment. We don’t have to sacrifice our environment for only the economic benefit. There needs to be a balanced approach. Social programs like daycare and childcare (especially for) single mothers, families that want both parents to work. Everything needs to be factored equally to truly benefit this region and I haven’t seen that happening.”
Giving voters a clean choice
Green Party candidate Brian Deheer, the treasurer of the Keepers of the Athabasca, is also concerned about the environment but said the party’s platform, available at www.greenparty.ca/en/platform, is about more than that, “very well balanced” and common-sense.
It also includes free postsecondary education, “which might seem ambitious and a little unusual for Canada but it’s not unheard of,” Deheer said. “Quebec has had subsidized post-secondary; there was a lot of concern about that when the province was thinking of changing that. Really, investment in postsecondary is investment in our youth (and) in our future and so I think it’s a hugely valuable investment. I was happy to see that.”
The president of the party’s riding association and a big fan of leader Elizabeth May, the reasons he let his name stand include simply giving voters the option to vote “cleaner, greener and smarter.
“When it comes to our riding, which has the oilsands in it, I think there are some things they could be doing cleaner and greener but also one of the smarter things, I think, (is it) would make far more sense to process the bitumen in Alberta, keep the jobs in Alberta, keeping any risks (to the environment and population during transportation) to a minimum.”
Deheer does not have much of a war chest compared to the mainstream candidates but he expects to hear about a slowdown in the economy when he starts campaigning in earnest. He has lived in Lac La Biche for the past 24 years.
Oil sands saved Canada, but residents stiffed by feds: candidates
“I don’t mean to be flippant to those people who are struggling, but I also want to emphasize that there are also jobs in the green sector, solar, wind and geothermal, and there’s a lot we could be doing that could start moving us toward those technologies and they would create jobs.”
Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha would already be an MP but for about 1,400 votes in last June’s by-election. He plans to beat Yurdiga, who did not respond to a pair of messages left at his campaign office before press deadline, with a shoulder-down campaign full of door-knocking, “long drives and long walks.”
“I’m running because the communities of northeastern Alberta are being stiffed by the federal government and they are being treated like work camps, not like places where people raise families and own homes,” he told the Journal. “I’m running for the Liberal Party because it has a plan to invest in Canadians, to invest in the region and make a better country.”
Harrietha has been a Liberal since 1996 and has worked as an assistant to a number of MPs. He said Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s plan to run deficits and spend on infrastructure and social services should be welcome in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake, which has been frozen out of federal funding.
“They have no rail crossings in Lac La Biche so four times a day the community is cut off from its hospital for 15 minutes at a time,” Harrietha said. “Even on the little things, the Conservative government hasn’t been getting the job done. Cold Lake has been stiffed over and over again.”
He said Fort McMurray would be more likely to see the federal government fund much-needed flood mitigation work, too, and if elected, the whole riding would see a harder-working MP.
“We have a Conservative member of Parliament who skipped all the debates last year, he’s skipping all the debates this year and in total during his entire time in the House of Commons, spoke for a grand total of eight minutes and one second,” Harrietha charged. “You can speak for eight minutes in one speech. That works out to $20,000 a minute.
“In northeastern Alberta we’ve just had an appalling lack of care or concern or any sort of action by those that have represented the riding or the government in general.”
Roelof Janssen is one of 28 Christian Heritage Party candidates in Canada, running in ridings selected for their “weak” Conservative candidates. Janssen was at the party’s founding convention in Hamilton in 1987, the same year the Reform Party of Canada was created. He said Christian Heritage values align with those of Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally, but that left-leaning candidates had made their way into the Tory tent.
“The government should uphold the laws, above all the law of God, and the law of life belongs to God.”
The party’s priorities include “defend(ing) innocent life from conception to natural death” by banning abortion and assisted suicide.
“I’m in it to win,” he said. “If we get 10 or 15 members in the House, we could form a coalition with the Conservative government. A vote for us is a double vote for Harper.”
Libertarian Scott Berry agrees and he has no illusions about the fact that it probably will not be him that makes that change this time.
A resident of Fort McMurray and a project manager for a paving company, Berry is a builder focused already on the next federal election.
“This election for me is about getting on the ballot, getting some signs up and making a little bit of noise. This is my first rodeo, (and) the beginning of my political career. I have a lot to learn and I hope to make as many mistakes as possible when it doesn’t count so when the limelight is really on me, I have my stuff dialed in.”
The Libertarians are all about smaller government, as little as possible in fact, allowing people to do anything they want as long as it does not hurt someone else and paying a lot less income taxes in the process. What the government should do, Berry said, is pay more attention to the communities in the oilsands region.
“This riding singlehandedly pulled this nation out of a recession and it really, really bothers me that we are still getting the tax rates we’re getting,” he said. “I just don’t see anybody caring about the people who saved (Canada) from disaster.”