Members of the United Conservative Party in Lacombe-Ponoka heard from the two candidates vying for the riding nomination last night.

Ponoka County’s Rita Reich recently dropped out of the race, citing “personal reasons,” leaving incumbent MLA Ron Orr and current Lacombe city councillor Thalia Hibbs in the contest.

During Thursday night’s candidates’ forum at the Lacombe Memorial Centre, much of the discussion was about pipelines, Alberta’s standing within Canada and school choice. There were also questions about rural crime, health care and the opioid crisis.

Speaking to reporters, Orr said he’s the candidate with the legislature and caucus experience.

“It takes a long time to build the relationships, the network, to understand how the system works and I think that’s going to be extremely important as we move forward,” Orr said.

Meanwhile, Hibbs billed herself as a younger option with first-hand experience with the issues that children and seniors face.

“When we’re talking about all these issues with education, that’s something that’s around my dinner table. When we’re talking about health care, we’re talking about seniors, again that’s really relevant to what’s happening in my life because I have aging parents that are starting to access the health care system more and that’s only going to continue,” Hibbs said.

Candidates were asked how they would advocate for central Alberta’s interests within their own party should the UCP form the next provincial government.

Orr said a lot of that heavy lifting happens in caucus.

“Being able to speak up in those very free-ranging conversations, and first of all, know the details of the issues,” he said. “And then be able to voice those in a way that gets the attention and awareness of the rest of caucus.”

Hibbs said persistence is key.

“It means that you’re not afraid to continually bring up the situations, the issues, the concerns that you’re meant to be bringing forward in caucus. That’s your job,” she said.

She also fielded questions from one man in the crowd about pursuing the nomination as a city councillor.

Hibbs said she made the decision to run carefully and believed she could still fulfill her duties on council, adding that she’s attended every meeting, returned every phone call and gone to all the public engagement events.

She pointed out there have been sitting municipal politicians who’ve run for office in the past, including current Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins.

“This isn’t anything unusual and I wouldn’t be setting any new precedent there,” she said.

The membership votes next Thursday at the Lacombe Legion and next Friday at the Ponoka Legion.

Winner carries the UCP flag into the next provincial election.

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