The five MP candidates for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea To Sky Country met in the ballroom of the Sea to Sky Hotel Wednesday (Jan. 18), which was standing room only during the seventh all-candidates meeting of their campaign.
Moderator Greg Gardner began the meeting by explaining the format, which limited the debate to questions from a panel and from the public via the moderator. Local political pundit Terrill Patterson interrupted Gardner's preamble to loudly protest the format. Patterson asked the audience for support in insisting that the meeting be held as an open forum allowing questions directly from the floor, but he sat down with an RCMP escort when several members of the audience booed and told him to "go home."
The question and answer period resumed with no further interruption except for the occasional boisterous applause directed predominantly toward Conservative candidate John Weston, although Green Party candidate Silvaine Zimmermann's occasionally wry comments received the most laughs of the evening.
Panel member and local realtor Marianne Wilson brought out a heated local issue asking the candidates what they would do about increasing regulations for CN. Weston said he wants to help Squamish residents come together over the issue and plans to hold a public meeting whether elected or not.
But Liberal candidate Blair Wilson said he wants no more meetings.
"What we need is a strong MP to say 'This is wrong, it's got to stop,'" he said.
"Blair, it's your party that's been in power so long," said Zimmermann. "Why is it happening?"
NDP candidate Judith Wilson said she wants to see CN drop their "arrogant attitude" and behave in a responsible manner towards the communities "they're traipsing through."
Marxist-Leninist candidate Anne Jamieson pointed to articles online on her party's website, www.MLPC.ca, taking CN to task.More than one question centered around the economy in the Sea to Sky corridor. Some asked how candidates would help get jobs back in the wake of the closure of the Interfor sawmill and Woodfibre pulp mill and the sale of BC Rail. Others asked how candidates would ensure an Olympic legacy for Squamish.
"It's true we've been passed over," said Blair Wilson. "It's gone from Vancouver straight to Whistler." He said he'd fight to ensure an Olympic legacy and that the Liberal's gas tax grants will allow a grassroots approach to establishing needed amenities.
Weston quoted Mayor Ian Sutherland's Chamber of Commerce AGM speech: "It's the government that brings in investment and the Chamber of Commerce that keeps it here." He said it's clear that Squamish has been passed over on three important Olympic legacy issues and but has no clear answer except that more consensus among stakeholders is necessary.
Judith Wilson said she agreed with Weston and suggested that looking at the necessity of Olympic housing may work well to help the "housing crunch" in Squamish.
"I wish I could believe everyone at this table and believe they're interested in this," said Zimmermann. "In all other places in the world Olympic money is used for legacies, here I don't see it happening."
Howe Sound Secondary teacher Paul Demers stumped Blair Wilson by asking why the federal government allowed the B.C. government to refuse an International Labor Organization (ILO) decision and pass Bill C12, the back to work legislation imposed on striking BC teachers last October. Blair Wilson said he would draw on "common sense" and say that yes, the federal government should insist the province abide by ILO decisions. Weston chided Wilson and said he wouldn't simply say yes to any questions asked without first investigating.
Demers also addressed abortion and gay rights, telling Weston that voters are frightened that Conservative members may attempt to put through private member's bills that would abolish established rights.
"This is not on the table, the right to choose won't change," said Weston, adding that the Conservatives would put the issue of same sex marriage in the House of Commons for a free vote and he would survey his riding for direction.
"That's a great legal answer," said Blair Wilson, "but it didn't give an opinion. It's a simple question and a simple answer." Wilson went on to say he believes in unequivocal gay rights and the right to choose. The NDP, Green and Marxist-Leninist candidates agreed. The issue of the privatization of health care and care for seniors came up through panel member and Hilltop House RN Erica O'Sullivan. Judith Wilson said she would enforce a legal mandate to make provinces place federal health care money "where it needs to go or they won't get it." Jamieson said a private health system, or two tier system, would create longer wait times because health care workers would be lured away from the public system.
Weston said the key issue is wait time and said the Conservatives have a plan to guarantee a wait time that is "medically responsible."Blair Wilson accused Weston of skirting the question and said he supports a national universal system.
"I don't want doctors to check their wallets before they check their pulses," he said.
But Zimmermann said she didn't buy it.
"There's something Machiavellian about a Liberal saying those things," she said to laughs from the audience.
Zimmermann said the Green platform is to focus on illness prevention and a better system of certification for foreign health care professionals.Panel member and 17-year old Howe Sound Secondary student Jared Nash questioned the candidates on how they would assist students to get post secondary education. Blair Wilson said as a user of student loans, he is a "huge supporter" of the student loans program, and thinks it should be expanded. He added that the Liberals would provide $3,000 in grants for the first and last year of education. Judith Wilson said student debt load is "unacceptable" and tuition fees should be decreased by increasing federal transfers to provinces. Zimmermann said Canada should emulate certain European countries where education is free and often earned through a stint of civil service.
Weston said the Conservatives have a plan to provide grants to students focusing on apprenticeships and tax credits to employers hiring apprentices.
The meeting wound down almost three hours after it began with Gardner thanking the candidates and questioners for the "very impressive" level of debate.