Around 70 voters, plus a teenager and two children, attended the all-candidates forum hosted by the Prince Rupert District Chamber of Commerce at the Lester Centre of the Arts on April 19.
Overall it was a polite night, with few arrows slung by the candidates and no heckling from the crowd. Other than sporadic applause and chuckles, especially when moderator Tom Harvey read out a question from the audience asking if the Tories are tough on crime why isn`t former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in jail, the evening was fairly low key.
It was the first time all six candidates were present for the debates in the region, and the first opportunity for locals to see some of them in person.
After hearing an opening statement from each of the six candidates, members of the panel, made up of local media and the chamber, posed a question for each one to answer
Mary Bartlett of CFNR referred to the Northwest Transmission Line and asked how constant conflict between developers and First Nations can be avoided.
After hearing Green Party Candidate Roger Benham opposing the line because it’s opening up mines, using up resources and not recycling what already exists, and advocating that First Nations need to be consulted, Liberal Candidate Kyle Warwick said it’s tricky to negotiate in every community because there are often a variety of opinions.
“People in First Nations communities where transmission lines are coming are not opposed to development, but want to have a voice in shaping that development. It’s quite easy to say these lines aren’t necessary or they’re just going to power mines, but it’s also the case that they’re going to power First Nations villages and in many cases right now they are relying on diesel generators and are not being able to develop economic opportunities as fully as they’d like,” Warwick said.
Sitting here in relative comfort, he added, it’s unfair to cast an unfair eye down at people who are in tough economic straights and trying to make the best out of it that they can.
“To fully incorporate the First Nations community into economic development is absolutely a worthwhile goal and one I’ll be pushing for one hundred percent,” Warwick said.
The focus switched to the improvement of transportation infrastructure when Jason Scherre of the chamber asked with the end of federal government’s stimulus funding program, how would the parties prioritize and fund transportation projects to facilitate trade.
Answers ran the gamut. While Christian Heritage Party candidate Rod Taylor proposed the federal government should provide interest free loans through the Bank of Canada, NDP candidate Nathan Cullen talked specifically of Phase 2 of the container port.
“My sense is in parliament in talking with all the parties is that no one will stand against it. My confidence is very high that when the port is ready for the money and we’ve got everything in place, that whatever the formation of government is, people get that this is a strong investment,” Cullen said.
He also commented since the global recession, 200,000 jobs have not been replaced in the economy.
“We’re not convinced it’s time for the government to start cutting, as they proposed in their last budget, five hundred million dollars out of HRSDC, which is for job training, job support, and employment insurance. That was what was on the table before this election. That’s government pulling back. Things like container ports start getting jeopardized if you start thinking that way,” Cullen said.
Conservative candidate Clay Harmon emphasized that the Conservative government was responsible for bringing funding to the container port and making it happen.
“Phase Two of the Canada Action Plan is about to start and is the next step to moving our recovery further along the path. If there’s a Conservative majority, when you elect me as your member of parliament, I can form part of that group that will help to move this region forward in phase two of the Canada Economic Action Plan to make sure these jobs happen,” Harmon said.
Rebutting Cullen took exception to Harmon’s claim that the container port was a Conservative project.
“There was a memo circulating around Ottawa about three or four months ago from the Prime Minister’s office saying that the federal bureaucrats were no longer to refer to the federal government but to refer to it as the Stephen Harper government,” he said, adding there was something in that was “arrogant.”
“Whoever is elected in government is a steward for the Canadian people. The funding that went into this port is Canadian. It wasn’t Conservative money, it wasn’t Paul Martin’s money, it was all of ours. That’s the way it works. It was because of the advocacy of the people from this community,” Cullen added.
Harmon responded it was the leadership of Mr. Harper’s Conservative government that made the port happen, but that the Mr. Harper’s government is the people’s, not his government.
“You folks in the community have the input, it’s your money, but it takes leadership to make things happen and that’s what the Conservative party of Canada provides,” Harmon said.
Warwick weighed in saying the memo was worrisome and something that’s never been officially done in Canada.
“I’m grateful to hear that the Conservative candidate in this riding has said it’s not the Harper government, that it’s the Canadian government. But I’m also surprised to hear that because that’s explicitly contrary to what the memo sent out to bureaucrats in Ottawa said. I hope the attitude that the Conservative candidate in this region has taken will filter up to the Conservatives in Ottawa, but I’m not too confident about that because we’ve seen a lot of narrow ideological approaches from the Conservatives and a kind of ignoring of the grassroots, so I think if you want to avoid that kind of thing you should not go for the party all together,” Warwick said.
When it was Benham’s turn to reply he said he believed the question was all about transportation and told the panel his party stands for railways.
“We like increasing railways, and double tracking the whole way so we can move things back and forth a lot quicker. Oil is going to get to a point where we’re going to be forced to greatly increase our use of railways,” he said.
The second half of the debate featured questions from the audience, but because each candidate was given an opportunity to respond, there was only time for three questions.
Canadian Action Party candidate Maggie Braun when asked what her party had to offer young people, said better education where teachers can be more inspiring is crucial.
“I think also offering them, and they may not completely understand this because they don’t teach this in school very often, a restored sovereign country capable of making its own laws would be wonderful. Also restoring our charter if rights to what it was intended,” Braun said.
Taylor said education extends beyond the walls of the school, begins in the womb and continues to the grave and proposed interest free student loans and no repayment for the first ten years after completion.
After the debate local reactions were varied.
Jan Jesser said he felt there wasn’t a real discussion about the issues, but that was symptomatic of the entire election campaign.
“There wasn’t anything to really get excited about,” Jesser commented.
Lorne Clerihue, sporting a Nathan Cullen button, said he felt Cullen had done the best, but praised the others for their contributions.
“I think Nathan did extremely well. It’s kind of embarrassing because he was the best speaker and had the best platform, but it was interesting to see what some of the smaller parties had to say and I think the young Liberal did well,” Cleriihue said.
Liberal party support Corina Mohart described the debate as very well represented.
“I’ve talked to all the candidates and I think it was very nerve racking, especially for people running for the first time. But I think they all did wonderful and covered a lot of the issues that are important to this region,” she said.
Ken Minifie of Kitimat, a Conservative party member, pinpointed two specific issues raised in the debate that were significant.
“That comment from Maggie Braun about the Bank of Canada producing money was so,” Minifie said, pausing mid-sentence and shaking his head. “When they printed money in Germany after the war, it got to the point where they had to have a million marks for a loaf of bread so they kept printing money. It just doesn’t function, you have to have some standards for the price of money, it’s inevitable.”
His second point was a reaction to Cullen’s comment that the Senate turned down a bill on climate change that had been passed in parliament and worked on for five years.
“Canada produces two percent of the world’s greenhouse gases and if we cut our emissions by one percent, the number of job losses would be in the millions. We couldn’t function. One of the reasons Canada does not feel too hard about climate change is compared to China and Russia and all of Europe, we don’t produce any greenhouse gas. That’s why the Senate didn’t want consider it, because it was going to be so significantly damaging to the economy that we couldn’t afford it,” Minifie said.
CityWest was there televising the debate and people who missed it can catch it on Channel 10.