A steady queue of questions, one outburst and polite applause accompanied the rather civil all candidates forum in Trail Tuesday night.
About 200 people gathered for the two-hour event, which was hosted by the Trail and District Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Catherine Adair from Teck Trail Operations.
Granted the audience learned a bit of personal background from each of the five candidates in the South Okanagan-West Kootenay (SOWK) riding, there were no standout revelations. The night mostly centred around reiteration of the four respective party platforms as well as the politics of Independent Brian Gray.
First up in the public question period, was a query about Bill C-51, aerial surveillance of Canada, the U.S. involvement in the country’s airspace, and chemtrails, all directed at New Democrat Richard Cannings.
Cannings, an Okanagan-based biologist and ecologist, assured the crowd his party would repeal the bill, saying adequate anti-terrorist legislation has been in place since 9/11.
As to the latter part of the question, he addressed the theory behind contrails (white lines left behind high flying aircraft) mentioning there is no evidence of atmospheric chemicals in the contrails behind commercial airlines.
From there, candidates were queried about health care, environmental issues such as climate change, campaign spending promises, the long gun registry, and proportional representation or the fairness of the current voting system.
Many of the night’s questions were aimed at Conservative Marshall Neufeld, though other candidates took advantage of a “wild card” to chime in a response reflective of their party platform.
One question that had only Neufeld in the hot seat, came from the most vocal audience member, who asked, “Why should we trust you?”
The question was preceded by impassioned statements about Stephen Harper’s accumulation of power in the Prime Minister’s office, and the PM’s lack of responsibility in Conservative scandals, involving Dean Del Mastro, Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and Nigel Wright.
Neufeld addressed the person’s clear emotion, saying as a Conservative and Canadian, he resented the behaviour of said individuals and they do not represent the majority of party representatives.
“They are facing the penalties for their actions,” said Neufeld. “What I resent even more is we as Canadians have no opportunity to kick them out (of senate). We need to have an elected senate, if we are going to have a senate at all, so people who act as they did, have to go back and face the music.”
Green Party candidate Samantha Troy, last to join the SOWK campaign trail, seized the opportunity to express a concise point.
“The Green Party and myself need to protect the fundamental principal that the Prime Minister reports to Parliament,” she said. “Not that Parliament reports to the Prime Minister. The Green Party would work to end this American-style attack politics that’s slowly becoming the norm in Canada,” she added. “And we would do that by slashing the Prime Minister’s office budget by 50 per cent.”
Troy, a newbie to politics, held her own throughout the night, sharing views about topics such as climate change, improving literacy, job losses and improving job security.
Liberal Connie Denesiuk spoke with enthusiasm and confidence throughout, with answers reflective of her time spent in Trail, and grasp on local issues.
Whilst often beginning responses using Justin Trudeau’s name, she reiterated Liberal promises of $125 billion in infrastructure spending and $3 billion over three years to support seniors staying at home.
In fairness, she was called out about such Liberal promises, when an audience member asked, “Who’s holding the bag?”
“Mr Trudeau wants to run a deficit in three consecutive years and in the fourth year wants to balance the budget,” he clarified. “A balanced budget means if you only earn one dollar you only spend one dollar. Who’s paying for the accumulated deficit in the fifth year?’
Without missing a beat, Denesiuk replied the Liberals are taking the advice of many Canadian economists because the country’s borrowing is at a record low.
“If there is a time to invest in the future, it is now,” she said. “To continue with the recession, the last thing you would want to do is cuts and austerity, because it just prolongs the recession. So we are going to kick start the economy and make sure we have the jobs and growth that Canada so desperately needs.”
The final question, from a climate change adversary, was directed to Cannings.
“As of now, fossil fuels are producing food from farmers on the prairies to get to market by truck or train,” he said. “And other products of the economy shipped by large freighters across the oceans. Fossil fuel also make the highway so politicians can go to their G7s, G20s, and travel around the world. How in the world is the NDP going to stop fossil fuel when that will stop you moving to and from your location in Ottawa?”
Taking it in stride, Cannings replied, “There is no choice, we have to act now.
“Right now I’d much rather have an electric car powered by solar of something like that,” he explained. “So I wouldn’t be putting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”
He says subsidies to build roads, or given to oil and gas companies need to end.
“We need to turn that around and provide subsidies for alternative energy,” Cannings concluded.
The evening progressed to rapid fire questions from the media about food security, the large riding and maintaining focus on West Kootenay issues, and rising inequality in wealth and income.
Garnering audience applause was the Trail Times question which asked how the candidates would ensure voters that a majority of attention and benefits wouldn’t flow specifically to the vote-rich Okanagan region.
Each candidate has already travelled extensively through the riding, and all agreed a mobile office would be key in connecting to the very unique communities within.
Perhaps Independent Brian Gray’s response was most memorable and forward thinking because he didn’t negate the power of the Internet.
“In this ridiculously large riding, I believe that a representative can still adequately serve the citizenry if indeed we start thinking outside the box a wee bit,” he said. “It’s great to have the personal contact with your MP which usually happens every second weekend when they are back in the riding,” Gray continued.
“But if that MP is worth their weight they will delegate the right kind of people to run their offices. With our technology, I don’t see why an MP can’t be more accessible and start using those innovative technologies to communicate with his or her riding as well.”