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Liberal and Tory pick at each other at Squamish all-candidates debate

Greens espouse unity, while People's Party and Rhino Party decry the current state of politics as West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country candidates face off.
all candidates Squamish
The candidates at the Sept. 16 Squamish debate.

During the Squamish Chamber of Commerce All-Candidates Meeting, the parties leading the polls spent time trading shots, while largely ignoring the other representatives present.

Liberal Patrick Weiler and Conservative John Weston spent much time targeting each others' platforms. 

On the other hand, Green party candidate Mike Simpson offered up a message of co-operation and unity.

The People's Party candidate Doug Bebb and Rhino candidate Gordon Jeffrey railed against what they perceived as rampant corruption in politics and media.

Independent Terry Grimwood provided a number of personal anecdotes he believed would be relevant to local problems.

Most notably absent was the NDP's Avi Lewis, a high-profile candidate who missed the event due to Yom Kippur. Independent Chris MacGregor was also not in attendance. 

The Sept. 16 debate among the West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country candidates was held online via Zoom.

The event was organized by the chamber. The Squamish Chief, Tourism Squamish and the Downtown Squamish Business Improvement Association were partners in the event. Representatives from all four organizations each asked a question of the candidates. 

Doug Munroe of Politikos Research moderated the night. 

About 140 people tuned in to watch the stream.

With the NDP candidate absent, the candidates for the two other biggest parties were left to spar with each other. 

Weiler championed the Liberals daycare plan, while picking on the Tories' proposal.

"The Conservatives want to bring in a boutique tax credit that does not work," he said.

Weiler said the Liberals will deliver 40,000 new spaces across B.C.

Regarding pandemic tourism recovery, Weiler said that the Liberals have restored about 258,000 jobs in the province and noted the 75% wage subsidy has been extended for tourism businesses through the winter.

However, the key to bouncing back, he said, is to ensure everyone is vaccinated. This would take the form of vaccine requirements for inter-provincial travellers and federal workers.

On reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, he noted that further tackling boil-water advisories that have been plaguing many First Nations communities is a priority.

Weiler also noted that the Liberal government passed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into federal law.

"This is the most transformative piece of legislation for reconciliation in our country's history," he said.

Weiler said he has met biweekly with the representatives from Sechelt and Lil'wat nations, and served on boards with Squamish Nation leaders.

On the topic of housing, Weiler said he believes that there is a housing crisis.

He pointed to the federal national housing strategy to build affordable housing, which has supported projects in Squamish.

Weiler said the Liberals aim to build 1.4 million homes in the country.

There will also be bans on blind bidding and a two-year ban on new foreign ownership, among other things.

On climate, he said the Liberals have put forward one of the world's most ambitious climate plans, which is on track to exceed the original Paris targets.

He warned that Conservatives would roll back the targets and bring back the Northern Gateway pipeline.

"We can move forward, or we can move backward," Weiler said.

On a number of occasions, Weiler framed a Conservative government as a regressive force that would hold the country back on making progress.

Conservative candidate Weston painted his party as the most responsible in terms of economic recovery, and described the Liberals as a ruling party that could not be trusted.

"This prime minister called for transparency and accountability and what did he give us?" he said. 

"Three ethical scandals, breaches of the law. He promised us a profile in foreign affairs, but what did he give us? He left our Canadian people and allies stranded in Afghanistan. He promised us reconciliation, and what did he deliver? He didn't deliver water on reserves."

Regarding childcare, Weston went on the attack, saying that the Liberals have repeatedly failed to deliver their promises on this matter.

He said the Conservatives would use a tax credit worth up to $7,500 per family to assist people with the cost of childcare.

With respect to tourism, Weston said the best way to get that industry going again is to bring back jobs.

He said the Conservatives are promising to restore one million jobs in a year, and will be providing incentives to hire people back.

This would take the form of a new hire subsidy between 25% and 50% and a loan of up to $200,000 for people expanding their small business.

Regarding reconciliation, he said that the Conservatives would work with the First Nations financial authority. The party would also provide mental health resources for Indigenous people struggling with mental health issues.

For affordable housing, Weston said the Conservatives would build one million new homes in three years, while banning foreign investment in residential dwelling and redirecting it to purpose-built rental houses.

"The emphasis on the supply side," he said.

Regarding gun rights, Weston added that Conservatives would review a Liberal initiative that moved a number of guns into the restricted class.

On the topic of vaccines, he said his party encouraged getting the shots, but also said that individuals have a free choice. The Conservatives would also defer to the authority of individual provinces.

Green candidate Simpson emphasized the bigger picture, saying that the climate emergency would have an effect on all other issues affecting the town, such as jobs, tourism, housing and more.

"That's the elephant in the room tonight — because no matter what we were to talk about, if we're actually on our way to [a global temperature rise of] 3.5 C by the end of this century, it's not business as usual," he said..

"If we don't answer that fundamental question, nothing is relevant."

Regarding childcare and the revival of tourism, he pointed to the idea of universal basic income.

Such a program would soften the blow of economic hardship.

"We take the holistic view to make sure that people have a universal basic income so that we can come out of COVID, not go backwards to the way it was before, but go forward to the way it needs to be," said Simpson. 

"And if everyone has a universal basic income, you can rest assured that you will survive. You're going to be okay. And then we're going to be able to move towards a more resilient and diversified economy."

He also called for a coming together of parties and ideas, and was the candidate who most espoused co-operation and unity in his messaging.

The People's Party candidate promised a combative night, and on that part, Bebb delivered.

"Freedom in Canada is under attack on multiple fronts, and we must mount a defence," he said.

"We will not pander to special interests to buy their votes...equal rights for all must mean special rights for none. Well, the gloves are coming off tonight and I can promise you a thoroughly entertaining evening."

On the childcare front, Bebb espoused following a model similar to Quebec's, which has a reputation for its solid childcare program. He also called for a halt on immigration, which he said was putting pressure on childcare and other things.

He was in favour of removing COVID-19 restrictions and said that Canada will have to learn to live with the disease. 

Bebb also promoted ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as treatments for the disease, though Health Canada says Ivermectin is not authorized to prevent or treat COVID-19 and may cause serious health problems. Health Canada has also not authorized the use of hydroxychloroquine to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19, and has warned Canadians about products making false and misleading claims.

Bebb also used his time to throw a number of jabs.

He called the Liberal government corrupt. 

He called the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change fraudulent and said there was no climate emergency.

Asked by The Squamish Chief about steps he or his party would take toward reconciliation, Bebb instead used his allotted two minutes to attack the news media, including in The Chief and Pique Newsmagazine, for receiving government subsidies during the pandemic.

Asked again about reconciliation by an audience member, Bebb said he was in favour of repealing the Indian Act and replacing it with another legal framework. He said the current act keeps Indigenous people in a state of dependence and allows the federal government to control most aspects of their lives.

Rhino Party candidate Jeffrey railed against the status quo, decrying political institutions as corrupt.

"To Liberals and Conservatives both, you are all equally worthless piles of votes and tax revenue," said Jeffrey. 

"If you're leaning Liberal — just vote Avi. If you're leaning Tory — just vote for Doug. And if you think the whole lot are full of crap — and they always have been — I'd be honoured to accept your vote."

Watch the whole debate here. 

Election Day is Monday, Sept. 20. 

Find out how to vote here.