Federal candidates from the Southern Interior riding were on the hot seat Tuesday night during a forum held at the Cominco Gym. From the left; moderator Ron Clarke

Federal candidates from the Southern Interior riding were on the hot seat Tuesday night during a forum held at the Cominco Gym. From the left; moderator Ron Clarke

Candidates pitch platforms at forum

Hockey night in B.C. leads to small turnout for debate

Hockey outweighed politics at Tuesday night’s all-candidates forum in Trail.

Going up against Game 7 of the Vancouver-Chicago Stanley Cup series, only 40 residents turned up to hear what the federal representatives from the Southern Interior had to say at the debate held at the Cominco Gym.

It’s time for a change was the message from all four candidates – incumbent Alex Atamanenko of the NDP, Conservative Stephen Hill, Liberal Shan Lavell and Bryan Hunt of the Green Party.

Atamanenko, a former teacher, said Parliament is a lot like school, adding that the morale in the hallways was excellent where he worked because of the principal’s leadership skills.

“I try to bring the cooperative approach to Parliament and it works,” said the riding’s two-time winner, adding that he’s established relationships with politicians across the board, regardless of the party they come from.

Calling himself a “hard-nosed businessman,” Hill pointed to his work in reopening the Midway mill as one of his many success stories, adding that he’s already met with area mayors to discuss regional assets he can bring to the frontline if elected.

Calling the area the “Newfoundland of B.C,” he noted that this region has the lowest unemployment rates of the province and that 22 storefronts in Trail alone remain empty.

“I make promises, I keep promises and I deliver results,” said the Trail resident who owns Septen Financial in Trail and Grand Forks.

Centering around the discussion of the economy, Hill said youth “speak with their feet,” leaving the area for well-paying jobs in larger centres.

Hunt just felt lucky to be part of the debate in his riding, since Green Party leader Elizabeth May was cut from the nationally-televised leader debate.

While Greens won 6.8 per cent of the national vote in the 2008 election, without winning a seat they are not part of the parliamentary play in this country.

“I’m here not because I’m a politician, I’m here because I see a problem that I can fix,” said the architectural software developer who lives in Calgary but grew up in Kaslo.

“We had nearly a million votes last time and we got no seats,” said Hunt, when the candidates were asked whether they supported proportional representation.

“From a global view, our electoral system is a dinosaur. Everyone else is using proportional representation very well.”

While Hill pressed that he shared much of the same ideas as Atamanenko, there was a clear difference on how they felt about the long-gun registry.

“It’s time we took this money and diverted it to where it needs to go and not go after law-abiding citizens,” he said.

Meanwhile his counterpart believes doing away with it wholesale is the wrong step to take for the future of gun control in this country.

“In some way, if it can save one life or help one police officer on the job then it’s worth preserving,” said Atamanenko. “If it’s abolished, there’s no guarantee that this money will go toward crime prevention. We need to fix it, not abolish it.”

Hill’s views on childcare stood out from the rest of the contenders. The man who took four years off to raise his own children, said there is no “one-size fits all” solution and that providing $100 a month per child to parents allows them to make decisions.

The other candidates found this hard to swallow, concluding that a paltry $100 a month to families with small children was not affective and that instead the government should be investing in equal-access, quality childcare and early learning programs across the nation.

Patsy Harmston, president of the West Kootenay Labour council, said community social service workers are some of the lowest paid, and wondered whether the candidates’ plan includes proper compensation for these workers.

“We need to stop subsidizing banks and the oil industry and then we can invest in our children,” said Lavell. “Women manage life and death priorities all the time . . . we do economic and social justice every day.”

Lavell’s answers fell back to social justice, an area the former nurse is quite comfortable talking about.

The Kelowna resident with a nursing degree and a master’s degree in counselling psychology is a single mother and still plays that role today, acting as a foster parent for hard-to-house youth.

Beyond asking the candidates their position on returning to a peacekeeping role instead of a war-mongering country, the crowd gravitated to questions about senior care, specifically slamming Hill for his government’s registered retirement income fund, which makes it financially difficult for seniors.

The candidates will be in Golden City tonight from 7-9 p.m. at the Rossland Miner’s Hall while Castlegar attracted about 75 citizens to its debate about two weeks ago.

Election day is Monday from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. at the Trail Memorial Centre, Glenmerry Elementary School, Rossland Secondary School and Warfield, Montrose, Fruitvale, Oasis and Genelle community halls.

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