The three candidates vying for Kootenay East traded policy positions and debated election platform ideas during a virtual forum on Tuesday night at the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce office.
Tom Shypitka, the incumbent BC Liberal candidate, faced off against two challengers in Wayne Stetski, running the BC New Democrat Party and Kerri Wall, running for the BC Green Party.
The forum, hosted by JCI Kootenay and Artistic Media Productions, was moderated by Bruce Seitz and ran for approximately one hour, featuring questions submitted in advance which were typed up on pieces of paper and drawn from a bowl.
Each candidate was given an opening statement, while questions were directed to one individual candidate, while the other two were given opportunities for rebuttal. Following the question and debate period, each candidate gave concluding remarks.
During introductions, both Shypitka and Stetski leaned on their service in public office — the former as the incumbent MLA and as a city councillor, and the latter as the Mayor of Cranbrook and Kootenay-Columbia MP — while Wall highlighted her experience working with local governments through her career as a Healthy Communities Facilitator and as an active union member with the BCGEU.
Shypitka also drew on his experience as a business owner over nearly 30 years, while Stetski also touted his credentials as a former regional manager for the Kootenays with the Ministry of Environment.
Examining the issues
Drawn at random, questions covered a wide variety of topics such as supporting the education system, wildlife management and urban deer, economic resiliency in the natural resources industry, long-term seniors care, water quality issues in Indigenous communities and the future of implementing policies aligned with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Wildlife management for declining ungulate populations was a topic where all three candidates were nearly universally aligned; as all advocated the need for more long-term provincial government funding.
Stetski fielded the opening question, noting more needs to be done for habitat restoration, addressing invasive species and focusing caribou recovery on existing healthy herds, while Shypitka added that predator control needs to be included as a priority and more consultation with local communities regarding caribou recovery.
Wall agreed with the points raised by the other two candidates, but added that human development, such as roads, pipelines and forestry projects, has the biggest impact on wildlife landscapes.
On long-term seniors care, Shypitka fielded touted the BC Liberal plan to invest $1 billion over five years into upgrading and replacing long term care facilities, as well as tax credits for home-based assistance care. Stetski knocked the BC Liberals during their tenure in government from 2001-2017, and highlighted the NDP promise to hire 7,000 new health care workers long-term and assisted care.
Wall noted that long-term care was the first election announcement from the B.C. Greens and emphasized opposition to for-profit companies running long-term care facilities.
While it was a cordial debate, there were moments where each candidate got to land some partisan shots.
Wall knocked Shypitka for a “colonial overtone” towards addressing poverty issues and resource development and benefit agreements in northern Indigenous communities. Additionally, both Wall and Shypitka went after the BC NDP for calling a snap election during a pandemic, while Stetski directed much of his criticism on specific issues to the B.C. Liberal tenure in government over the last 20 years.
On a question about local representation, all candidates also spoke about the importance of duty and service to constituents, regardless of political affiliation or any other status.
But Wall took the B.C. Liberals and the BC NDP to task for whipped votes, and pledged the BC Greens will not demand their members vote along partisan lines on issues. However, Shypitka responded with a declaration that he’s “never been whipped into a vote, ever”, and went after the BC Green Party for siding with the BC NDP on most legislation that’s passed through Victoria over the last three years.
Stetski also circled back on a separate question to whipped votes, noting he did not vote with the federal NDP on some issues during his time as Kootenay-Columbia MP in order to put constituents first.
Education in Kootenay East was the final topic raised as each candidate contrasted their respective plans.
Wall touted the importance of working closer with the BC Teachers’ Federation, while Stetski went after the BC Liberals for stripping class size and composition in collective bargaining, a 15-year saga that was decided in favour of the teachers’ union by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Shypitka knocked the BC NDP for a convoluted COVID-19 response in the school system with 60 different districts having 60 different plans, as well as criticizing lack of action on reducing the need for portables at Isabella Dickens in Fernie.
The provincial election will be held on Oct. 24.
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