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Sean Willett

Calgary Confederation NDP candidate talks pipelines and student debt reform

By Fabian Mayer, September 24 2015 —

Throughout the federal election the Gauntlet will interview candidates running in Calgary Confederation. This newly created riding includes the University of Calgary and many surrounding communities.

Former journalist and communications lead for environmental think tank the Pembina Institute Kirk Heuser is the NDP candidate for the riding. We spoke with him about student issues, pipelines and more.

The Gauntlet: Why should people in Calgary Confederation vote NDP?

Kirk Heuser: As we’ve seen in a lot of the polls, it’s really hard to distinguish between the parties if you look at popular support among decided voters. But one of the things that we know is absolutely clear in every poll is that 80 per cent of the people or more want change. We’re the only party that’s offering actual change. What I mean by that is the Conservatives are no longer considered an option. But if you look at the Liberal record, the Liberals have supported the Conservatives on C-51, they’ve supported all of their budgets including giving tax breaks to large corporations. They’ve supported their omnibus budget bills, which include little side things that take away the rights of voters. When you’re looking at the three parties, the only party that’s offering actual change is the NDP.

G: Why would you make a good representative for residents of Calgary Confederation?

KH: I think I would make a good representative because of my experience as a journalist. I’ve spent nearly 20 years in Alberta talking to Albertans, talking to Calgarians, talking to Canadians about the issues that are important to them. I’ve been an advocate for them for nearly two decades. I’ve done stories that delve deeply into the challenges that are facing every day Calgarians and everyday Canadians. I’ve been an advocate for change on their behalf. I have almost two decades experience working for the people of my community.

G: Student issues haven’t been talked about very much by any party, including the NDP. What would the NDP do for students?

KH: Students should vote for us because we’re the only party talking about making it more affordable to go to university. We’ve attempted on several occasions to pass a post-secondary act in the House of Commons. This has been voted down by the Conservatives and Mr. Trudeau has not turned up for the votes. What we need to do is put something in place that keeps tuition down and makes post-secondary education more affordable for students across the country. I think that you’re seeing action like that when it comes to the NDP government here in Alberta.

One of the other things that we’re talking about is student loans. We know that the average student graduates from university now with about $26,000 in debt. The Conservatives unfortunately have decided that the way they’re going to address student loan debt is to become more aggressive in collecting those debts and the Liberals aren’t talking about it at all. The NDP is the only party, that’s talking about keeping those student loans low.

G: What is the NDP’s policy on marijuana and have you ever personally consumed the drug?

KH: Yes I have. I haven’t smoked a joint in about 13 years. I was one of those unfortunate people that all of a sudden it started giving me headaches and things like that. Maybe I just got a little too old. Our policy, and my policy, is that as soon as we’re elected to government we will decriminalize marijuana. It’s very important that we do that right away because we need to take its distribution out of the hands of criminal organizations.

Once we’ve decriminalized it we will actually work towards legalizing it. It’s a huge tax opportunity, I’m not going to lie. But it is also a very useful tool when it comes to dealing with a lot of health issues that people are facing these days and we shouldn’t be denying people access to it. A little edgier slant on it — I was a bartender for many years. I worked in bars to work my way through school and I’ve said it many times: I would rather be in a room full of people smoking marijuana than a room full of drunk people.

G: The NDP have come out against  both Keystone XL and Northern Gateway. Is that hurting your campaign?

KH: Well I need to make a correction there. We haven’t come out against those projects. When Tom Mulcair talked about Keystone, what he was saying was that the 40,000 jobs that Keystone is going to create in the United States, we should keep those here. That’s 10s of 1000s of jobs that we could keep in Canada through value-added processes.

The problem with [Northern] Gateway is the way that the Conservative government tried to hammer it through. It was an ‘our way or no way’ approach. So now is the process is stalled because the Conservative government refused to invite the people who had to be at the table to be part of the approval process. Now you’ve got those groups making constitutional challenges to the approval process. That’s what is slowing that down.

When it comes to pipelines, the NDP are in favour of pipelines. We need to get our bitumen, our raw products to market and how we do that is we build Energy East. We also need to expand the Kinder-Morgan pipeline to the southern coast of British Columbia. The fantastic thing about that is most of the infrastructure is already in place. The ports have already been developed and by going that way instead of the Northern Gateway route we preserve pristine coastline in Northern B.C.

G: Are there any NDP policies that you disagree with?

KH: I can honestly say no.

G: Is there anything you’d like to see more or less emphasis on from the NDP?

KH: I think that when it comes to putting a price on carbon, we’re going to have to be very open to the best ways of doing that because there are a number of different systems in place across Canada. When it comes to developing a national strategy to lower greenhouse gases to take effective action on climate change that is going to have to be a discussion with all provinces. It’s a discussion we’re open to having and have to be prepared to accept all potential solutions.

G: A Calgary Confederation poll has the Conservatives at 38 per cent, the Liberals at 37 per cent and the NDP at 19 per cent. Do you believe you can still win this riding?

KH: Absolutely, because we’ve done internal polling of our own that is considerably more reliable and it shows us considerably ahead of the Liberals and right behind the Conservatives. There’s all kinds of polls going on right now. I hate to use the cliché that the only one that counts is on election day, but it really is. We’re still more than a month out and a lot can change in a month.

There are polls going around that are amalgam polls where the Liberal candidate in Calgary Confederation is doing better than he actually is because of how the Liberal candidate is doing in Calgary Centre or in Calgary Skyview. Mr. Webber and the Conservatives are also polling high because of how well the Conservative candidates are doing around them. I’m the highest polling NDP candidate in the entire city, so based on the theories some of these polls use, my numbers are actually being dragged down.

These polls that are going around now, I don’t know the methodology behind the poll that you’re referring to. As I understand it from one person who got a phone call, it was an automated poll — highly unreliable. It doesn’t factor into my day at all because I know what I’m hearing on the doorsteps. I know what we’re getting in the way of support and things are looking fantastic. 

The Gauntlet also conducted interviews with Conservative candidate Len Webber, Green candidate Natalie Odd and Liberal candidate Matt Grant

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