The first All-Candidates Forum in the Skeena riding for the snap provincial election was held in Kitimat Wednesday (Oct. 7).
The three candidates — Nicole Halbauer, BC NDP; Martin Holzbauer, Independent; and Ellis Ross, BC Liberals — were given the chance to respond to questions from the Skeena community as read by the moderator, longtime Kitimat resident Thom Meier.
The forum was held at Mount Elizabeth Theatre in-person and over Zoom, to ensure physical distancing and COVID-19 safety.
The candidates began with introductions, telling the audience about themselves and what they — and their party — stand for.
“My platform is actually really simple: I am here to represent the people of the Skeena riding, if they choose to elect me, to the best of my ability,” Martin Holzbauer said. “And my only promise is that I will represent all of the people, not just the people who will potentially vote for me.”
Ellis Ross continued his focus on the Skeena economy and economic development, and how those play into bettering the lives of Skeena residents.
“A lot of First Nation leaders, like myself, have changed their approach to resource development, and it’s based on facts and information. And we realize that we could mitigate and remediate environmental impacts when we’re reviewing projects, whether it be forestry, mining, or LNG, or what have you,” Ross said. “But running parallel to that, for me, not above it, not below it, is what does this mean for the average citizen in terms of trying to build a future for themselves, for their family, whether you’re aboriginal or not.”
Ross added that Skeena has been doing well financially compared to other regions during the COVID-19 pandemic, because of the industry and what it’s been able to do for the economy, and he wants to keep the prosperity growing.
“Skeena has been the example of what it means to have an economy, for all of us,” Ross said. “But I’m not here to promise you the moon. I will not make you promises I can’t keep,” Ross said. “I believe we should get back to good governance, for the sake of all of us, aboriginals and non-aboriginals, alike.”
Nicole Halbauer said her platform involves helping people lift themselves out of poverty, as it’s something she’s personally had to deal with in the past.
“There have been times in life where I’ve been homeless, where poverty’s made it very difficult for me to believe life would ever get any better,” Halbauer said. “I made myself a promise when I was sleeping on the street in Prince George, that if I could ever get out of that situation, I would find ways to help others lift themselves up out of poverty. That’s one of the many reasons I’m here tonight asking to serve as your MLA.”
Halbauer believes Skeena needs to focus on the “fundamentals for a good life” - meaningful work, healthcare, and education. If elected, she said those are the key things she intends to work on.
Meier spent the rest of the evening asking the candidates questions sent in by the community. Topics ranged from air quality in the Kitimat Valley, to the economy during the pandemic, to industry and use of local contractors.
Several questions involved topics that had been on many peoples’ minds, such as the BC Liberals ad that was placed in a Christian magazine in June, a magazine which included articles opposing transgender rights and medically-assisted dying.
“The answer to that is, welcome to the world of politics,” Ross said. “It was an advertisement in a Christian magazine. It had nothing to do with conversion or anti-gay rights or transgender for that matter. That’s the reality of politics in B.C.”
Ross added that a similar question was posed to the BC NDP when they placed an ad in a Chinese Communist magazine.
“The charge was, well, do you support the Chinese government overtaking the democracy of Hong Kong? Of course not! They placed an ad in the magazine to actually address the Chinese community in B.C. The same way that MLA candidates were trying to address an article that had nothing to do with gay people. They were trying to address Christians.”
Ross said he has many members of the LGBTQ+ community in his family and that he doesn’t believe people should be singled out for being a part of that community.
“If it doesn’t matter to us in our personal lives, why should it matter to us politically?”
Another question, asked to all candidates, but directed toward Halbauer, wondered how much money spent on COVID-19 relief had been directed to mental health, violence, and social issues directly and indirectly attached to the pandemic.
“Here in the Skeena riding, we’ve put twenty-five new beds in the mental health facility at Seven Sisters. I know that we’ve opened the Foundry Youth Mental Health Program in Terrace,” Halbauer said.
“I know that we’ve committed to the [Mills Memorial] hospital rebuild for $441 million and these are things directly related to our riding to improve health. We have the mental health and addictions caravan in our riding, to help people who are suffering from mental health addictions and homelessness. That’s a new project under the BC NDP.”
Halbauer added that she has a list of 12 mental health and other supports that have been done or are being done in Kitimat under the BC NDP, and a list of over 80 supports throughout the Skeena riding.
The candidates finished the evening saying they will work to represent all Skeena residents and to make Skeena a better place to live.
For the full recorded video of the Forum, visit the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.