Lots of questions at federal candidates’ forum

By: Laura Keil

It was a forum full of zingers, contradictions and rhetorical questions – jabs and counter-jabs.
About 50 people came to the federal all candidates’ forum in Valemount Monday night. Another forum was held in McBride, after the Goat’s press deadline for this week.

The forum was filmed by Valemount Community TV and will be broadcast in the coming weeks on Channel 7 if you’re using bunny ears and Channel 653 if you have Bell or Telus satellite.

Four of five candidates in this riding attended the forum – Kathi Dicki of the NDP, Bob Zimmer of the Conservatives (the incumbent), Elizabeth Biggar of the Greens and Matt Shaw of the Liberals. The Libertarian candidate Todd Keller was invited but unable to attend due to work.

“I think we have a good record,” said Bob Zimmer in his opening remarks. He says his party is positive about weathering the global economic storm, but work remains in terms of diversifying and opening up new resource markets like forestry.

Kathi Dicki, NDP, said she is worried about the future of Canada. She was born and raised in Fort Nelson and her dad was very involved in helping the community. She says she has seen the boom and bust economy and the forestry industry slow down.

Matt Shaw, Liberal, said Canadians know the nature of Canada is changing “Do we want to go another four years down this path?” he asked. He says when a government has been in power too long it becomes beholden to special interests. He also said the Conservatives want us to believe they’re
good money managers, “but all the evidence seems to contradict that.”

Elizabeth Biggar, Green, says climate change is the most important thing facing the planet. “Maybe it’s scary but it shouldn’t be.” She says the Green have a fully costed platform that transitions Canada into a green economy. “Everyone comes with us – nobody loses their jobs.” She says people will be retrained out of the oil patch and into green jobs.

When asked about how their parties will protect the environment and create a green economy, Bob Zimmer said the biggest mistake is to assume the Conservatives don’t care. “We’ve been part of responsible resource development,” he said, and noted the potential for geothermal in Valemount.

Matt Shaw said exploiting natural resources is a reality and a transition won’t happen overnight, but the government should help it along with tax incentives and investing in clean technology.

Elizabeth Biggar noted Canada subsidizes the oil and gas industry to the tune of $1 billion per year. She says the Greens have a plan to move that money into green infrastructure. They plan to give one per cent of the GST to municipalities to improve roads, bridges and buildings and get their buildings up to par to lower carbon emissions, work that will also create jobs.

Kathi Dickie says it’s going to take a while to get into renewables. We need human ingenuity, she said. “Human beings invented fracking. Human beings can invent solutions.”

On supporting small business, all the candidates mentioned the idea of dropping the tax rate for small businesses and reducing red tape. Bob Zimmer noted his government had also reduced the GST from 7 to 5 per cent and said it’s a mistake to tax corporations higher since the big corporations are what feed small businesses.

On seniors living in poverty, Elizabeth Biggar said she works for AIDS Vancouver in the grocery program and half her clients are seniors. Half of those people are homeless. “How can you fix your life when you’re living on the street?” She noted the Green Party’s Pharmacare plan to provide free drugs, a guaranteed liveable income, extend pensions and a $15 minimum wage for federal workers. “We need to give people back their dignity.”

Both Liberal and NDP candidates said their parties would reduce the pension collecting age from 67 back to 65. Matt Shaw said his party had committed money for affordable housing to help seniors.
Kathi Dickie says her party has a Pharmacare program as well; an elder shouldn’t have to choose between medicine and food. “Both are critical for life.” Bob Zimmer said he’d just made a seniors housing announcement this week.

On the economy and job creation, Matt Shaw quoted statistics about Canada having the lowest growth rate for GDP of any Canadian government in the last 70 years. It’s also been the worst time for job creation, trade deficits, but the best time if you are in the richest 1%. He quoted his party’s promise to provide deficit spending to lift us out of the recession.

Bob Zimmer says his party has a great record and has been working tirelessly on trade agreements so Canadian companies can sell overseas.

Kathi Dickie says we need more innovation, as well as reclaiming of lands used for natural resource development which creates more jobs.

Elizabeth Biggar says her party is not reinventing the wheel – lots of countries are already doing what they propose. This year Germany got 78% of its energy from renewable sources. She says the greens will spur jobs through investment in green technology and infrastructure spending, by diverting oil and gas subsidies.

A question came from the floor about Canada’s role in combat missions and its preoccupation with security. “Who is your enemy?” the person asked. “Do you really believe you can solve those problems with the military?”

Bob Zimmer said it was unfortunate there are bullies in the world, but it’s a reality, and his party is committed to keeping Canadians safe. Elizabeth Biggar said Bill C51 was drawn up to scare us. “You’re more likely to drown in your bathtub than be killed by a terrorist in Canada.” She noted that the scare tactics seem to be working, according to polls, but talking about the hijab is distracting people from the real issues and putting a barrier between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Kathi Dickie asked rhetorically who the bully really is, when you look at how Veteran Services have been cut. “You can’t have fear-based decision making. How do you build your community if you’d afraid of your neighbour?” she asked. Matt Shaw said it’s all about politicians creating a bogeyman.

A question from the floor came about the feasibility of a $15 minimum wage and free daycare.

Bob Zimmer and Matt Shaw both said the NDP promise was not feasible as it relies on the provinces to pitch in 40% for the daycare. Shaw noted the raise in minimum wage would only apply to federally regulated industries so it wouldn’t help everyone. Kathi Dickie says having affordable daycare helps families contribute to the workforce and, because they have more disposable income, to the economy as well. “It’s a way to support human potential.” She said. Elizabeth Biggar says reducing the small business tax rate should offset the increase to minimum wage.

When asked about the gun registry, all candidates said their parties would not touch the long gun registry. Bob Zimmer noted that only his party voted to strike it down when it came to a vote in the House, however.

A question from the floor was asked regarding majoriy, minority and coalition governments and how the parties might cooperate.

All candidates said they would work with other parties for the benefit of Canadians and Green and Liberals noted the Canadian voting system needed reform. Zimmer said he’s practical. “I like to say ‘if it’s a good idea it’s a good idea, if it’s a bad idea it’s a bad idea.’ To hear a mandate that I’m never going to work with someone – what if it’s a good idea?” he asked.

When asked about proportional representation (a voting system where the popular vote determines seats), Elizabeth Biggar said the Greens are the only party that don’t whip votes (force MPs to vote in line with the party). Bob Zimmer said conservatives have the most free votes of any party. Matt Shaw contended that conservatives may have free votes, but they all think the same anyway. “It’s like a big groupthink.”

“We don’t want a bunch of robots coming from Ottawa, transplanted to our communities, and spouting the party line and telling us what we’re supposed to think,” he said.

On veterans, Greens, Liberals and NDP bemoaned the cuts to Veterans Services promising to reverse the cuts including to Veterans Affairs offices closed under the Conservatives. Bob Zimmer said there has been no decrease in spending on veterans. In fact there has been a net 5 billion increase. “Don’t believe the hype,” he warned.

All the candidates said people should vote for the party they believe in, when asked about strategic voting. “Don’t vote for a party you don’t believe in to defeat Stephen Harper,” Elizabeth Biggar said. “Vote for the party you believe in or else we’re already defeated.”

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