The federal election debate hosted by the Stettler Regional Board of Trade and the Stettler Library on Tuesday, Oct. 6 saw the Stettler Community Hall comfortably full, with almost all the seats set out full of people from the riding, including a strong contingent of students.
In addition to the incumbent Sorenson, the NDP candidate Katherine Swampy and Liberal Party candidate Andy Kowalski attended while Green Party candidate Gary Kelly didn’t, due to what was described as personal obligations, but the CEO of the Green Party’s Battle River-Crowfoot association, Nora Abercrombie, stood in for Kelly.
Sorenson led the pack with his practiced spiel, clearly on top of information about the riding he has represented, in some form, since first being elected 15 years ago in 2000. Sorenson spoke easily about the various topics broached at the debate, referring to notes only when seeking specific numbers in answer to questions.
On the other hand, Swampy, who hails from Maskwacis, sounded somewhat scripted and at times lost in front of the crowd. While passionate about child care and post-secondary education, she struggled to persuade the audience who insisted that the $15/day childcare plan promised by NDP leader Tom Mulcair wouldn’t work in a rural setting and would only benefit urban centres.
Kowalski for his part appeared clumsy when he banged his knee every time he stood up. He failed to convince the audience that he had an understanding of the community and his knowledge of the Liberal platform seemed to be lacking details. His answers to the questions appeared to be off the mark, frequently involving personal anecdotes rather than factual statements. More often than not, he relied on personal attacks on either the candidates or Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s record.
More than once, the fellow candidates at the table would correct him when he provided inaccurate information.
Sorenson’s biggest challenge came from the only person at the table not running.
The Greens’ Abercrombie, speaking much like Sorenson — not needing to refer to papers, sounding genuine, and not scripted, sent her message home in clear terms. While she managed to connect with some people, her rejection of the coal industry entirely, as well as some of the Greens’ other plans, drew reaction from those following the debate.