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Parties bring heavy hitters in for last gasp of campaign

Dee Hon Special to the Chief With just days left before Canada votes on Monday (Jan.

Dee Hon

Special to the Chief

With just days left before Canada votes on Monday (Jan. 23) and with the riding of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country to close to call, the three leading candidates brought in some top guns from their respective parties to help support their campaigns.

Conservative candidate John Weston brought in MP Chuck Strahl from Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon on Saturday (Jan. 14) to discuss diversification of the local economy, while on Wednesday (Jan. 18) Cariboo North NDP MLA Bob Simpson made the rounds with Judith Wilson and Liberal federal Minister of Natural Resources John McCallum toured the town with Blair Wilson and addressed local issues.

"One of the most pressing issues is accessibility to MPs," said Blair Wilson. In what's been called Canada's most diverse riding - and a fairly large one geographically to boot - getting face time with your MP is not always an easy task.

Wilson plans to conquer that divide by setting up "digital constituency offices" in West Vancouver, Whistler, Squamish, Sechelt, and Powell River. He said the offices would make him available via teleconferencing equipment for two hours each day. "I'll be available for people in Squamish no matter where I am," he said.

The West Vancouver accountant and restaurateur cited his party's plan to give gas tax revenues and other funds to municipalities as one way the Liberals would affect change locally.

"We'll have to work closely with municipal leaders," he said.

Like his fellow candidates, Wilson has been racking up kilometres on his odometer trying to meet people from throughout the region. "I would say more and more, politics in Canada is coming down to the candidate," he said.

Conservative Party candidate John Weston said he wants to listen to his constituents before deciding how he will act on one of this campaign's most divisive issues: that of same-sex marriage. Conservative leader Stephen Harper promised to revisit the issue with a free vote in the House of Commons should his party get elected. Weston is the only local candidate who has not publicly stated how he would vote.

Weston said he did not yet know how he would take note of his constituents' opinions. "I'd survey the logistics," he said. All his opponents in the riding have stated their support for the right for same-sex couples to legally wed. On Tuesday, the anti-same-sex marriage group Vote Marriage Coalition publicly endorsed 150 federal candidates, including Weston.

As far as local issues are concerned, Weston cited the region's economy as a pressing issue. "I want to expand jobs in Squamish and Whistler," he said.

Weston expressed interest in the possibility of the proposed wind turbine manufacturing facility replacing some of the jobs lost with the closure of the Woodfibre pulp mill.

Weston, who worked in Taiwan for a decade, said he would be well-suited to the task of forging ties between local businesses and those in the booming Chinese economy. "It's a great opportunity, with a Mandarin-speaking MP, to showcase our riding," he said.

But Weston pointed out the job of representing everyone in the diverse riding was beyond the scope of one person. "No one MP can do this alone," he said. "I'm building advisory groups to keep me informed."

New Democratic Party candidate Judith Wilson doesn't agree with much of Weston's platform, but she shares his hope that a wind turbine facility might mitigate some of the damage caused by the mill closure.

"But wind turbines are just one thing that can be explored," she said. She said there should be training and other services available for people affected by the mill closure. "We need to provide supports for people."

Wilson said she was concerned Squamish would be left out of some of the benefits from the 2010 Olympics. "Squamish needs to get its share of legacy funds," she said.

Wilson acknowledged the challenge in representing a riding as diverse as West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country. To save money, her campaign has no office in West Vancouver.

However, Wilson said voters should think beyond local concerns when casting their ballots.

Local voting patterns make the Green Party more relevant here than it is in many other ridings. The party trails in national polls by a long shot, but the party has pockets of strong support in this riding. In the 2004 election, the Greens beat the Liberals 50 votes to 31 in one poll in Lund. In the same poll, the Conservatives were shut out. (The NDP won that poll with 101 votes.)

Green Party candidate Silvaine Zimmerman recognizes the riding's diversity but wants to tackle issues for the benefit of all. "We can't pit one part of the population against another," she said.

One of Zimmerman's goals would be to clean up the toxic mine site at Britannia Beach.

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