“We’re lucky. We have four strong, credible candidates.”
That was one comment heard following an all candidates forum held Thursday evening, Sept. 24, at Dutch Lake Community Centre in Clearwater.
All four candidates running to be the next Member of Parliament for the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo riding attended.
Present were incumbent M.P. Cathy McLeod of the Conservatives, plus challengers Matt Greenwood of the Green Party, Liberal Steve Powrie, and Bill Sundhu of the New Democrats.
Speaking order for the introductory remarks was chosen by lot and Bill Sundhu led off.
“This will be one of the most important elections in our lifetimes,” he said. “It’s a battle for the soul of our country.”
Sundhu said he was born in Canada to an immigrant family. His father was disabled when he was 10 and his mother had to support the family with minimum wage jobs.
Despite these setbacks, he was able to go to university, become a lawyer, and eventually become a judge.
“I got a chance to get ahead because of a fair and generous Canada,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it today, after what Stephen Harper has been doing to this country.”
Steve Powrie said that many of the students he teaches at Thompson Rivers University come from Clearwater.
Despite his and other’s efforts, involvement by young people in politics is at an all-time low.
He described the behaviour of politicians in Ottawa as “synchronized head-bobbing.”
Powrie said people in power should remember the saying, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
Cathy McLeod said she wanted to focus on how her government and she had made a difference in local people’s lives.
“When Canfor shut down temporarily, I worked with mayor and council to help get the community through,” she said.
Other accomplishments included working with Yellowhead Community Services on violence against women, the skateboard park, Dutch Lake Community Centre (which she described as “absolutely a phenomenal facility) and helping to change rules at the federal end to get more doctors for rural areas.
Matt Greenwood said he had run for M.P. during the 2006 election when Stephen Harper was elected prime minister and he hoped that 2015 would be the election in which he was voted out.
One plank on the Green platform is the guaranteed annual income.
Canada presently spends about $80 billion per year on what he said the Fraser Institute describes as the “poverty industry” – welfare payments, old age security, special programs for the poor, and so on.
If we gave every adult in Canada $20,000 per year in a guaranteed annual income, plus $6,000 per year for each child, it would only cost $45 billion, he said.
“Even small “c” conservatives who are not happy with Stephen Harper can still vote on their principles by voting Green,” he said.
Audience asks questions
The question period started off with longtime North Thompson resident Jean Nelson asking the candidates where they stood on carbon fee-and-dividend as a way to control global warming.
The New Democrats are the only federal party with hard standards they intend to meet, said Bill Sundhu.
“It’s a survival question and we will do it,” he said.
Steve Powrie said he was not familiar with carbon fee-and-dividend but felt the federal government should not tell the provinces what to do on this issue.
It would be best to develop a bilateral agreement and then hammer out the targets, he said.
“Absolutely, we need to do something about climate change,” said Cathy McLeod.
She noted, however, that whenever gas prices go up, her office gets numerous phone calls from people in trouble.
The Conservatives believe a sector by sector approach is best, she said.
Matt Greenwood noted that carbon fee-and-dividend is part of the Green Party platform.
The federal government recently stopped releasing information on gas prices, making it more difficult to find out if we are being gouged at the pumps, he said.
“Should we let all that extra money go to the oil companies or use it to get this country off of oil,” he asked.
Sandra Holmes asked Bill Sundhu if the New Democrats plan to end income splitting for seniors.
Sundhu replied that information to that effect on a Conservative pamphlet was false.
His party plans to keep income splitting for retirees but end it for those who are still working, he said.
Another questioner asked about support for the CBC.
Cathy McLeod said the CBC gets $1 billion per year from taxpayers.
All government departments were asked to cut from five to 10 per cent, including the national broadcaster, she said.
The New Democrats would restore the $115 million taken from the CBC budget plus restore the integrity of the CBC’s board, said Bill Sundhu.
Max Roy asked how we can make sure any refugees from Syria are not members of ISIS or other radical groups.
Bill Sundhu replied by saying that Canada has a history of taking refugees from trouble spots, whether the Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Hungary or Vietnam. We should have security checks but we should keep our humanitarian and global vision, he felt.
Sally Dawe asked about funding for healthcare and pharmacare.
Bill Sundhu said Canadians are proud of our healthcare system, which was started by Tommy Douglas but being undermined by cuts by Stephen Harper.
There have been major cuts in healthcare transfers, said Steve Powrie. We haven’t seen the impact yet, he felt.
Cathy McLeod reminded the other candidates that healthcare is a provincial responsibility, although partially funded by the federal government.
Ottawa has committed to six per cent increases until 2020, she said.
How healthcare is delivered should be left to each province to decide.
Matt Greenwood said the federal commitment had been six per cent but now it is tied to GDP growth, with a minimum of three per cent.
“It’s pretty clear that we can expect closer to three per cent than six per cent,” he said.
What about veterans?
Local Legion member Joe Short asked about support for veterans.
“We can never repay the debt we owe our veterans but we should never stop trying,” said Bill Sundhu.
He said $1.1 billion that had been budgeted to help veterans had been unspent, which helped the federal government balance its books.
Steve Powrie said the government is prepared to spend money on photo opps for politicians but not to keep open the nine service centres for veterans recently closed.
Cathy McLeod said the Veterans Charter is the result of excellent work by all parties.
There have been a number of recommendations to fix gaps in the program and the minister is working to implement them all, she said.
Veterans Affairs Canada has been acting like a for-profit insurance company and trying to get veterans off their benefits as soon as possible, said Matt Greenwood.
Barriere resident Carman Smith asked the candidates about the Softwood Lumber Agreement with the United States, which is due to expire.
Bill Sundhu felt the Conservative government has reduced Canadian sovereignty and lost 400,000 industrial jobs since taking power.
Canada needs a forest strategy, he said.
Steve Powrie compared the SLA to the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would give China the power to sue for environmental reasons.
Canada has been active at the table in negotiating with the Americans on softwood lumber, said Cathy McLeod.
SLA expires next month but there will be no change for 12 months, she said.
Matt Greenwood said Canada won in court at every stage in the softwood lumber dispute, but then Stephen Harper gave in to the U.S.
The Green Party would try not to have such investor/state agreements, he said.
Dave Sager said he had great difficulty in getting employment insurance and that M.P. McLeod’s office was no help.
He asked what the NDP would do to ensure the program is not plundered to balance the budget.
Bill Sundhu said that all workers pay into employment insurance but only 40 per cent benefit.
Charlene Lau asked about Bill C24, which she said would discriminate against those with dual citizenship.
“There is only one Canadian,” Bill Sundhu said, adding that the bill is against international law.
Steve Powrie said several members of his family have dual citizenship, although he does not.
“Enough of the divide and conquer; enough of the fear rhetoric,” he said.
Cathy McLeod said Bill C24 would only apply to those who are convicted of a terrorist offense or of taking up arms against Canada. If they are citizens of another country as well as of Canada, then they would lose their Canadian citizenship, she explained.
“It’s odd to give the minister the power to say who is Canadian and who is not,” said Matt Greenwood. “Once you have the law on the books, you have to trust that all governments for all time will use if for the best of all purposes.”
The forum was sponsored by Clearwater and District Chamber of Commerce and the Times.
Chamber president Jon Kreke gave the introduction. Harry James was the moderator. Isabell Hadford was timekeeper.