CO-OPERATOR STAFF /OTTERBURNE
Business students at Providence University College received a firsthand look at politics in the lead-up to the provincial election with an on-campus debate broadcast live on Goldenwest Radio.
All in all I think it was really good, it was great to see everyone come out to take part, said 22-year-old Andrew Friesen. The third-year business student asked candidates a question about bioenergy and the rural economy, noting his father works in the bioenergy field. The school also has a biomass burning facility on site.
Responses on that topic were not very strong, to be honest, Friesen said, singling out the NDP for a previously released report on bioenergy.
It was a big 20-page essay on how bio projects would benefit Manitoba, with no concrete numbers, or solution as to how to implement the strategy, he said.
Stan Struthers represented the NDP in the debate, joining via telephone from Ashern.
We think there is a whole world of opportunities out there, he said, referring to bioenergy s potential. Struthers said the NDP has supported rural businesses in the development of bioenergy, adding that Manitoba is now producing items such as artificial fire logs made out of previously wasted biomass like stubble.
Progressive Conservative Cliff Graydon agreed there is unharnessed potential for biomass, but questioned the NDP s claim the sector will generate $2 billion in profit.
He suggested looking at phosphorus mining, dual applications and greenhouse heating systems to strengthen the sector s business applications.
There is a lot of room for innovation, said Graydon.
Immigration was also a hot topic during the debate, as candidates explored ways to get more immigrants to settle outside of Winnipeg.
A lot of newcomers do have backgrounds in agriculture, said Janine Gibson, Green Party candidate for La Verendrye. However, the organic farmer noted many newcomers may not be familiar with Prairie agriculture, or sure of how to become involved in the agricultural industry in Manitoba. She said the Greens would work to identify immigrants interested in agriculture early in the immigration process and provide them with support to pursue rural business opportunities.
Struthers pointed to the NDP s $2.8 million in funding to make adult language training outside of Winnipeg easier, and the provincial nominee program.
We re really proud of the provincial nominee program, he said.
Graydon rebutted Struthers comments by adding it was the Tories who first established the provincial nominee program.
More effort needed
The PC candidate also said more needs to be done to get new immigrants working in their area of expertise.
We would like to recognize (foreign credentials) in a much quicker fashion than they have been, he said.
Liberal party candidate Sandra Hoskins, who ran in the newly minted riding of Dawson Trail, said strong economies are key to bringing new Canadians to rural areas.
Immigrants go where the jobs are, she said, adding it is difficult for many people to find good jobs in rural communities.
It disturbs me greatly when our rural kids can t find jobs in their home towns, said Hoskins.
She also asserted the spring flood was not well handled, and that a long-term solution to flooding in Manitoba needs to be developed.
Graydon agreed with Hoskins, sharing the opinion flooding had been poorly handled.
However, Struthers said $100 million was spent preparing for the flood and that the province began warning Manitobans there was a potential for large volumes of water months in advance.
Although taxes where not singled out for discussion during the debate, the Green Party candidate made use of closing remarks to tackle the topic.
The environment is the foundation of our economy, said Gibson, stating her party would abolish the payroll tax and shift taxation on to pollution instead.
Debate moderator and director of the Buller Centre for Business at Providence, Bruce Duggan, was pleased with the quality of the debate.
I really think we brought some important issues for rural Manitoba right to the front, he said. Candidates, I think answered the questions in a really straightforward and forthright way.
Duggan added the debate also provided students with valuable insight.
One of the things we do … is teach our business students how to deal with people and how to deal with government, because it s not easy to deal with government if you re in business and it takes time and effort to learn those skills, he said.
The debate was also sponsored by Keystone Agricultural Producers, CDEM, the economic development council for bilingual municipalities.
(From left), Janine Gibson, Green Party candidate for La Verendrye, Progressive Conservative candidate for Emerson,Cliff Graydon, and Sandra Hoskins, Liberal candidate for Dawson Trail, took part in an election debate on the ruraleconomy September 28 at Providence University College. Bruce Duggan of the Buller Centre for Business moderated.
PHOTO: SHANNON VANRAES