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This article was published 1/10/2015 (1536 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
STEINBACH — Sheltered in his rookie campaign from debates in a byelection race two years ago, Conservative incumbent Ted Falk looked seasoned through applause and jeers during an at-times heated forum Thursday in Steinbach.
Falk was praised, sometimes with shouts of "amen," when he defended his commitment to family values and his pro-life stance, but was drowned out by laughter when he said every trade agreement Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed has benefited the country.
Falk tangled with Liberal candidate Terry Hayward, NDP hopeful Les Lilley and Jeff Wheeldon of the Greens at the Provencher all-candidates forum. More chairs were hauled out to accommodate a capacity crowd exceeding 320 spectators at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School theatre.
The questions posed were submitted by the audience and high school students.
The southeastern Manitoba riding perceived as one of the country’s safest Tory seats proved why at various points during the forum. Before it began, Falk’s walk on stage was the only one greeted to applause.
Again, the applause came when Falk admitted though eradicating abortion is unlikely, more should be done to help the rights of unborn children.
His main rival, Liberal Terry Hayward, was laughed at when he said neither he nor anyone else is in favour of abortion, but he respects a woman’s right to choose.
"Listen to me," said Hayward to calm the snickering, "I’ve been called an abortionist at the door in this town and guess what, it hurts because I am not."
Though the Provencher race is seen as a sleeper, Hayward, a former agricultural official, has boosted the Liberals’ fortunes from a meagre single-digit showing in 2011 to surge to nearly 30 per cent in the 2013 byelection.
Hayward was on the attack all night. Hayward shut down Falk when the Liberal candidate asserted the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, which supported sustainable development, has been shut down.
Hayward balked, too, when Falk suggested Canada already accepts 14,000 refugees a year.
NDP candidate Lilley, a former CN worker, admitted at times he didn’t know the specifics of his party’s platform but he ignited the debate early when he said more can be done to assist First Nations.
He decried the federal government’s resistance to funding a road to connect Shoal Lake 40 First Nation to the mainland.
"I think we should address that first before anything else," he said.
Green party candidate Wheeldon, a registrar at Providence University College, argued Provencher is not benefiting from the country’s focus on an oil-based economy and instead should focus on greener alternatives.
Wheeldon said only his party would not whip the vote.
"They would make really great MPs if their leaders would let them."
Falk won his byelection seat in 2013 with 58 per cent support.
He replaced former Provencher MP Vic Toews, who is now a judge on the Court of Queen’s Bench in Manitoba.
— Steinbach Carillon
Updated on Thursday, October 1, 2015 at 10:44 PM CDT: Minor editing
October 2, 2015 at 9:24 AM: Adds live stream replay