The all-candidates meeting at the Miners’ Hall on Wednesday evening drew roughly 60 Rosslanders to hear the four candidates in the BC Southern Interior riding debate their platforms.
Plenty of slings and arrows were fired over the devilish details that separate the candidates: Alex Atamanenko, the NDP incumbent, Bryan Hunt of the Greens, Shan Lavell of the Liberals, and Stephen Hill of the Conservatives.
“We’re having this election because there was a contempt of Parliament,” Atamanenko began. “It’s not on the budget.”
The problems, he said, will be solved if Canadians find the political will to “shift our priorities,” for example from corporate tax cuts to small business cuts. “We need to fix the way things are done in Ottawa.”
Of many problems he highlighted, from the “fiasco of the fighter jets,” to a Senate that struck down climate bill C-38 “without even a debate,” he focused first on 58 recommendations made by the all-party committee on alleviating poverty, addressing issues such as affordable housing and childcare.
“Not one of these recommendations was adopted,” Atamanenko said.
Hill said the election had come about due to Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff’s “lust for power,” and took direct aim at Atamanenko, holding him personally accountable for the riding’s standing with the “lowest employment in B.C.,” pointing to empty store fronts, job losses in all sectors, shrinking population, and low incomes as evidence that the Southern Interior is the “Newfoundland of B.C.”
Hill borrowed the phrase from a “dejected” young man who brought his woes to a previous debate.
Hunt later mentioned the same young man, said they had remained in contact since that time, and “now he has hope, he’s voting Green!” Hunt said.
Atamanenko responded to Hill’s critique: “This election is about choice. Do we want something different? Conservative candidates have to be responsible for the policies of Stephen Harper. The election is not only about here, it’s about what’s happening in our country. The conditions in some of our communities are the result of failed government policies.”
Hill, however, branded himself as the candidate for change, further criticizing Atamanenko for voting to maintain the long gun registry and voting against subsidies for the Celgar mill.
Hill reviewed his own resumé for contrast, from aiding in the transfer of the Nelson Historic Railway from Canada to Nelson, working to advance the interests of Red Mountain Resort, and of course his efforts for the Midway Mill.
“When Teck Cominco was on the verge of collapse, in 2009,” Hill said, “I was working on the West Kootenay venture capital fund to raise $1 billion to purchase shares to take Teck back from Toronto and Bay Street and bring it to Trail to protect good union jobs.”
“We’re about the environment,” Hunt said about the Greens, “and you likely are too. You’re living here because it’s a beautiful place.”
“I’m a business man,” he continued, “so a plan has to be fiscally sound for me to get behind it, and this one really is.”
He laid out his party’s top priorities: “Smart economies, strong communities, and true democracy.”
Economically, the Green Party plans to cut subsidies to oil and gas and use that to help industries transfer to sustainable practices and create green jobs. In communities, they plan to increase funding to municipalities and decrease income tax.
For the Greens, true democracy ranges from implementing proportional representation at home — as opposed to first-past-the-post which can give majority power to parties with only minority support— to returning to our position as “leaders in peacekeeping and the environment” abroad.
“We used to be there,” he said. “We’re no longer there.”
Lavell, the Liberal candidate, is a nurse with a background in counselling psychology and a grandmother. She said her party is committed to “equality and diversity” and targets the “centre of Canadian life.”
She criticized the NDP platform for not going “as far left, or as comprehensively, as our incredible platform,” and later she criticized the Conservatives for undemocratic policies such as the “gag order” on teachers and other government employees — for example Environment Canada scientists — since the Conservatives took power.
Lavell said the Liberal plan included better child care, a “learning passport” for youngsters to university students, support for family care, stronger public pensions, green renovation tax credits, and a goal of “national collaboration.”
She heavily prioritized the issue of care and education for children below the age of six.
“This falls off the table all the time,” she said. “This is crucial.”
“Social determinants of health,” she continued, will improve with Liberal policies on affordable housing, food, transportation, and early learning. “We’ve nailed it this time in this platform.”
When asked if “our constitution on the table in Quebec” both Lavell and Atamanenko said no, but Atamanenko added: “It’s nothing to do with blackmail or deals with the Bloc,” but “Quebec never signed on to the constitution and Jack [Layton] says the time has come.”
Atamanenko continued with a strong endorsement of the NDP leader’s abilities. “I’ve seen how he operates, I’ve seen how he brings together all us crazy MPs together in meetings, I’ve seen how he works behind the scenes with the prime minister.”
In response to a question about the tar sands and Canada’s last-place standing on the “G8 climate scorecard,” Hill said replied: “We like to refer to the tar sands as oil sands.”
Hill added that he thinks climate change is a “very important issue,” but he argued — with Teck as an example — that he trusts business to do the right thing.
Lavell disagreed, saying we’ve been “lacking in leadership and have been for five years.”
Hunt was more direct: “These are not responsible people,” referring to Suncor and others. “They’d steal candy from a baby. That’s what I’ve seen. Stop giving them our money. They’re making enough already.”
Atamanenko offered the NDP plan to use the $2 billion in tar sand subsidies for “incentives and innovation” in the green economy.
The problem of parachute candidates became apparent when Norm Fraser of the Chamber of Commerce asked about the “Cancelgar” airport. Lavell and Hunt seemed unfamiliar with the situation, with Lavell suggesting transport by rail and Hunt suggesting smaller planes and that Nelson and Trail airports fill in when Castlegar “has a bad hair day.”
Both Hill and Atamanenko said they were in contact with area mayors and were trying to move forward with the necessary upgrades to planes and the runway.
Preferring to leave announcements to the mayor of Castlegar, Atamanenko did allude to “exciting” measures currently under discussion that “will improve the situation.”
When pointedly asked why his party was pursuing measures such as decreasing the GST and income tax, even as services like food banks and shelters see increased use, Hill called the poverty issue a “black hole” that sucks up “billions of dollars,” as “many of these agencies have failure rates [above 70 per cent].”
The loaded issue of the F-35 fighters came up and Hill said, “you have no idea the abuse I’ve been taking for the past 30 days,” continuing that there is no “pot of gold” to save by cancelling this long-standing contract because the jets’ payment isn’t in the budget until 2015. Hill promised that a “balanced budget” by that time will have room to pay the multi-billion-dollar bill.
Hill added: “If we want a military, we need to equip them properly,” so that we can help the “kids in Haiti.”
Nevertheless, veteran Doug Halladay asked pointedly about the deteriorating standard of care and a callous handout approach to injured veterans returning from Afghanistan. Hill agreed that veterans deserve respect and support, but Hunt said he was flabbergasted by the “hypocrisy” of buying jets while short-changing vets.
A woman from Castlegar asked about health care, particularly upset by the current government which “closed the door on 12,000 Canadians” suffering from MS. These people were forced to go overseas for treatment due to Conservative policies, she said.
Hill promised to “fight and lobby on your behalf to make it available.”
Another person asked when MPs will begin to “act like adults in the house?” Atamanenko agreed that, as a former school teacher, he wouldn’t bring his children to question period. The behaviour of these “yahoos” was intolerable, he said, and the problem was found in all parties.
“They find it a game and get caught up,” he said, adding: “I practise what I preach.”
Hill said “308 five-year-olds might do a better job” and blamed two root causes: the media for a sound-bite approach and the people for being uninvolved.
“Fifty people are here,” he said about the Rosslanders in attendance, “3,500 are at home. The bad behaviour starts here.”
The Liberal and NDP candidates were asked about their support for the long gun registry. Lavell mentioned that the registry is accessed by the RCMP 11,000 times each day, reminded us about “580 unaccounted murders” of aboriginal women in B.C., and was firm that the registry was important for the victims of violent crime who are mostly women and children.
Atamanenko said he owns registered long guns and supported the registry. “The RCMP have concluded that it saves lives,” he said. “If there’s a slight chance it can help, there’s no reason to scrap it.” He further noted that scrapping it would not save much money because of other bureaucracy, such as acquisition licences.
The candidates were asked about the toxicity of food on supermarket shelves and the lack of adequate labelling. Hill said he favoured accurate labelling of foods, despite his party’s strong resistance to such policies and their continued support for big agribusiness priorities such as no labelling for GMOs. Hill said the “consumer makes the decision.”
Lavell disagreed, saying that many vulnerable consumers do not have many choices, particularly when labelling laws are lax, and Atamanenko pointed out the double standard where toxic chemcials can’t be used by Canadian farmers, but Canada buys imports with these same toxic residues.
“That’s not right,” he said.
A comment from Bob Reardon centred around what he facetiously called “the dangers of coaltion.” He spoke about Sweden’s long and positive experience with coalitions. Now Sweden has the “strongest economy, growth prospects, industrial base and green base in Europe and probably the world,” he said.
“I look forward to a coalition. I think it will lead to more co-operation, better cost efficiency,” he said, and might lead to “cooling” partisan tensions.
Hill said he was not opposed to a Liberal-NDP coalition, but objected to the inclusion of the Bloc.
The Conservatives may indeed face such a prospect on Monday when polls close and the final effect of the projected national surge in the youth vote and NDP support is counted.