With the 42nd federal election fast approaching, residents of Kimberley were given an opportunity to listen in on major election issues and the stances of all four candidates in the riding of Kootenay-Columbia as the Kimberley Chamber of Commerce hosted an all-candidates forum at Centre 64 on Wednesday.
Bill Green (Green Party), Don Johnston (Liberal Party), Wayne Stetski (NDP) and incumbent David Wilks (Conservative Party of Canada) were all in attendance Wednesday night, fielding 13 questions in a forum moderated by Tom Ross.
Candidates were provided with the questions immediately before the forum.
The question period was bookended by opening and closing remarks from each candidate. There was no open question period for the approximately 150 people in attendance.
The 13 questions selected came from a pool of questions submitted to the chamber from members of the voting public.
A variety of issues were covered over the 13-question forum. In order as they were addressed: rural access to affordable Internet, medicinal marijuana dispensaries, funding of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC), the mandatory long-form census, investment in veterans services, education, freedom of Canadian scientists, climate change, investment in future clean technologies, economic priorities relating to small businesses and supply of workers, electoral reform and, finally, the growing age gap and the systemic issues that come with it.
With the City of Kimberley accepting business applications for three new medical marijuana dispensaries, this was a particularly local issue early on in the proceedings.
“First of all, I think the federal government has dropped the ball on this one,” Wilks said. “That’s why we are where we are. I’m the first to admit that and I see the problems we have.”
Wilks believes municipalities should not be granting business licenses to medicinal marijuana dispensaries and the issue should be addressed by the federal government.
Stetski first took the opportunity to make it clear the NDP are in favour of decriminalizing marijuana for recreational use before describing a partnership between federal and municipal levels to oversee successful implementation of medicinal marijuana dispensaries.
“We believe that if we legalize it, regulate it and tax it, there will be huge benefits,” Johnston said of the marijuana issue. “We’re seeing this happening in Colorado, in Oregon, in Washington, in Alaska — we have lots of working examples to use data from to move on with this.”
Johnston stressed researching the elements of the drug and then educating citizens using that information.
Green congratulated the City of Kimberley on a “forward-looking step” before stating the Green Party will legalize recreational marijuana and, like the Liberals, research and educate citizens. On the medicinal side of the equation, Green said there should be no long-term need for medical marijuana dispensaries should the drug be made available through the already regulated health care and pharmaceutical system.
The topic of the CBC brought similar stances from Stetski, Johnston and Green, each of which voiced promises of a stable future for Canada’s national broadcaster.
“Not only is it a cultural institution, it’s a core foundation of this country,” Green said. “It’s hard to imagine a modern democracy existing and functioning well without a strong public broadcaster. Our public broadcaster has been seriously eroded over the last 10 or 15 years.”
The Green Party will invest $285 million in year one in the CBC, boosting investments to $315 million per year in subsequent years.
Wilks said the challenges faced by the CBC boil down to working within a television market where consumers have nearly unlimited choice at their fingertips and its the CBC’s responsibility to determine how it can compete. Wilks said funding for the CBC will “stay the same.”
The mandatory long-form census was removed by the Conservative Party after it earned a majority government in 2011. Wilks attributed this to citizens citing an invasion of privacy from the mandatory survey.
Each of Johnston, Green and Stetski stated similar opinions that evidence-based decision making has been hindered by the removal of the mandatory long-form census and therefore, it should be restored.
When it came to educational policies, Green and the Green Party stance had the strongest position presented.
“This isn’t a situation we can tinker with,” Green said. “The fastest-growing economies in the world have free tuition. It doesn’t matter whether it’s skills training, colleges, apprenticeships – you name it. Why don’t we have free tuition in this day and age when post-secondary education is fundamentally important to progress in the job market?”
The Green Party will phase in free post-secondary tuition over the next five years, with costs being covered by a restoration of corporate tax rates from 15 per cent to 19 per cent.
Wilks focused on a lack of skilled trades workers in Canada.
Stetski discussed reducing the costs of post-secondary education.
Johnston touched on the distribution of educational facilities so students don’t have to travel as far to obtain the education they seek.
A trio of questions through the mid-portion of the forum touched on environmental issues revolving around the decline in freedom of scientists, climate change and investment in future clean technologies, such as Kimberley’s Sun Mine project.
Stetski, Johnston and Green held similar stances in regards to implementing emissions-reduction targets.
“I am going to get beat up on this one, so I’m going to read right from the Government of Canada and Environment Canada processes for media relations requests,” Wilks said in regards to the communication of scientific information, before rattling off a long policy from January 2008.
With vote-splitting and electoral reform popping up as a hot-button topic throughout this extended campaign period, the topic of first-past-the-post and proportional representation was addressed by each candidate.
Johnston and the Liberals promised implementation of proportional representation at the polls as soon as 18 months after Oct. 19. Green and the Greens went a step further, promising the same, but within a 12-month period.
Stetski said the NDP favour proportional representation, but gave no timeline for implementation. Green eventually questioned the NDP’s commitment to electoral reform.
Citing the failure of the implementation of similar electoral reform at the provincial level, Wilks said the Conservative Party is committed to the current system of first-past-the-post elections.
In closing, each candidate provided their own strong remarks for those in attendance.
A selection of closing remarks from each candidate, in speaking order:
Don Johnston, Liberal
“The world is a very different place than it used to be and we are losing Canadians at the polls,” Johnston said. “We’re really losing young Canadians because don’t believe their vote counts. We have got to address that. It’s one of the biggest threats to our democracy.
“The biggest single cause of that is the absolute imbalance between the power of the Prime Minister’s Office and the power of the House of Parliament. We need to redress that and we need to redress it quickly.”
Wayne Stetski, NDP
“I described myself as a fiscally-responsible, liberal-minded, green NDPer,” Stetski said, which drew laughs from the crowd. “Those are the values I have. If you’ve been listening to three progressive parties tonight – the Green Party, the Liberal Party and the NDP – we have a lot of similar goals but we’re going to get there in a little different way and different targets.
“On Oct. 19, you need to think about Canada and what kind of future you want for our country. I’m asking you to put your support and your faith in me…I will bring back the Canada we can all be proud of.”
David Wilks, Conservative
“The job of a Member of Parliament is to ensure he or she can get as much as he can for his constituency so that the municipalities and community groups can move forward with projects they may want to move forward with,” Wilks said. “That’s my job as an MP.
“The fabric of a community is its community groups and its functionality as a municipal or regional government. Without money, they move nowhere. My job is to make sure that happens.”
Bill Green, Green
“The Green Party wants to eliminate poverty in this country rather than focusing just on the middle class,” Green said. “We have a real plan for climate change, which is about building the economy of the future rather than entrenching old industries of the past.
“Don’t waste your vote this election. Don’t vote out of fear. Don’t vote against the past. Please vote for the future.”