Although each BC Southern Interior candidate touched on multiple issues during Tuesday night’s debate in Castlegar, each kept gravitating to the topic they were most passionate about.
For Liberal candidate Shan Lavell, it was families.
“It’s investing in people,” she told the room of about 75 people. “That’s what draws me to the Liberal Party of Canada.”
Incumbent NDP MP Alex Atamanenko, who served as his party’s agriculture, agri-food and rural affairs critic, kept touching on farming and food issues.
“We do work hard, we work behind the scenes,” Atamanenko said in regards to food security and organic food bills he’s been working on. “We’ve been trying to work hard on your behalf.”
Conservative candidate Stephen Hill, meanwhile, kept his focus on job creation.
“I’m not a singer, I can’t speak four languages, I can’t play guitar and I don’t have a black belt in karate like Alex,” Hill said in his opening statement, referring to the well publicized talents of the incumbent Atamanenko. “I am, however, a tough-nosed businessman.”
Bryan Hunt, the Green candidate, spoke generally of his party’s platform with an environmental edge.
“Think of where we live here,” he said. “You don’t live here for the convenience – you live here for the place.”
Most questions from the audience during the two-hour debate were directed at Hill and Atamanenko, although all four candidates usually took turns rebutting. Hill was razzed by the audience mid-debate for not answering a question he was asked.
In response to one audience query, Hill said he didn’t see any reason for subsidizing the oil industry, but with the ever-increasing demand for the product, he thinks people should try to rely less on fossil fuels. The only specific solution he presented was the use of greener technology, such as hybrid vehicles.
Lavell said she would like to see rail transit brought to the area as an alternative, and Hunt’s idea was to have more workers telecommute (in other words, work from home over the Internet) to get cars off the road.
Atamanenko said oil subsidies should be done away with altogether, the money should be put into renewable energy development and projects instead, and jobs will be created as a result.
“We could start our way on to a great green economy,” he said.
Later on, Hill blasted Atamanenko for voting against a bill that would have seen Celgar receive $57-million for a co-generation plant.
“Celgar is extremely fragile,” Hill said. “Your MP voted against that bill one, two, three times.”
“They had other bills that we couldn’t support,” Atamanenko said, adding he would have voted for it had there not been other bills lumped together as part of the Conservative government’s style of putting forward “omnibus” legislation.
However, each candidate did support one or more parts of each other’s platforms.
“If you took out the name you would think it’s an NDP platform,” Atamanenko said about the Liberals, although he said he hadn’t read either the Conservative or Green platforms.
He did, however, agree with Hill’s stance on the military, where the Conservative candidate said if Canada is going to have a military, they should have the proper equipment.
“You can find something to admire in just about everyone,” Hunt said, while Lavell said she liked the networking ability of the Conservatives, the environmental platform of the Greens and how the NDP supports unions.
Each candidate also criticized the tone of the discourse within the House of Commons after the topic was brought up by an audience member.
“Lately I’ve been fed up, especially with my Conservative collages (in the House of Commons),” Atamanenko said. “Nevertheless, we have to try.”
“As leaders in the country, there should be a minimum standard of etiquette,” Hunt said.
A question regarding voter apathy and the youth vote was asked, and all candidates said they would like more young people to participate in the democratic process, but noted challenges in engaging them.
“No wonder they’re not engaged,” Atamanenko said. “They don’t have time. They’re just trying to survive.”
Lavell agreed, saying her heart opens for young people but basic needs like food, shelter and paying off student debts need to be covered before the youth has time to be engaged in politics.
During his short closing statement, Hunt admitted he’s not a politician, but thinks he has the ability to make a difference in Ottawa.
Hill referred to himself as a “wannabe MP” but believes he has already delivered to constituents in the BC Southern Interior, pointing to his involvement in the re-opening of the Midway mill.
He slammed Atamanenko again, saying he hasn’t delivered on bringing jobs to the area.
“I’m not concerned about what’s going on in Ottawa,” he said. “I’m concerned about what’s going on in BC Southern Interior.”
Atamanenko repeated points in his opening statement regarding working for constituents behind the scenes, such as helping them with border services and immigration.
“What we need to do is have someone here that will work on your behalf,” he said. “Most often, the work we do doesn’t make headlines.”
“I would be proud to represent you in Ottawa,” Lavell said. “I think the federal Liberals have a revolutionary platform.
“I’ve done a lot of things, I can do this too,” she finished.
The all-candidates debate series continues next Tuesday in Nelson and on April 26 in Trail.