Incumbent New Democrat Alex Atamanenko says he accepts Conservative Stephen Hill’s apology for comments at a forum in February and hopes it doesn’t distract too much from the campaign.
Atamanenko, who was present that night in Nelson, says he recalls being surprised by the exchange in which Hill referred to “the presence of the unwashed” and suggested people in the room ought to wash with bleach.
Hill now says it was a failed attempt at humour.
“He seemed kind of agitated,” Atamanenko says. “He wasn’t very respectful of the audience. I was kind of shocked and surprised he would react that way. We looked at each other and said my goodness, what’s going on here?”
Hill was initially invited by the Council of Canadians to be a panelist for the session on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. However, he was kicked off after they learned of his opposition to the agreement.
“I guess he got upset over that,” Atamanenko says, adding he supported the decision. “This was an MP forum, working with my colleague Peter Julian. It wasn’t really an all-candidates forum. Had [Hill] been on [the panel], it would have been appropriate to have someone from the Liberals and the Greens.”
Atamanenko says it’s up to the people there that night whether they accept Hill’s apology, but “we all make mistakes. We don’t have a lot of time left in the campaign, and it’s important for us to debate the issues as opposed to dwelling on things like this.”
Hill’s comments came to light after a member of the crowd posted a message on a Nelson email list.
A Conservative Party spokesman downplayed Hill’s comments.
“He was at Council of Canadians forum and the crowd wasn’t overly friendly. So he made a lame attempt at humour,” Ryan Sparrow says. “It was a self-deprecating joke, never meant to offend anyone.”
Meanwhile, Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall, who was also a panelist at the meeting, denies a statement Hill attributed to her.
Hill said he made his comments in response to Mungall invoking a Star Wars reference — calling the trade agreement’s supporters “dark Sith lords.”
However, Mungall says she was responding to a question about why governments would be party to such deals.
“I replied ‘It’s not like there are dark Sith lords from Star Wars around. It’s elected people who make these decisions.’ I did not do any name calling,” she said.
Mungall adds the scenario was “incredibly weird … All the questions were done. We were way past time. He got up and told off a room of 100 people.”
She says it showed a lack of judgment.
“He started off being self-deprecating, but it wasn’t like he was humbling himself. He was being very sarcastic and mocking. Clearly he doesn’t remember the context of what was being said.”