It was a debate of three of the five candidates running for MP in the Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding.
Absent from the All Candidates Forum was Green Party candidate Jeannie Parnell, who was not expected to attend, and Conservation candidate Tyler Nesbitt, who, the candidate forum host explained, said he could not attend due to a family emergency.
That left the NDP’s Nathan Cullen, the Liberals’ Brad Layton, and the Christian Heritage Party’s Don Spratt on stage at Mount Elizabeth Theatre to woo voters to their side.
The format was a series of pre-written questions given by the Rotary panel on stage to the candidates.
The second half was questions directly from audience members.
The opening remarks:
SPRATT introduced himself as running for a party which he says values openness and free speech.
He spoke to his position as a pro-life candidate, saying you can’t express that view under the other parties. He also said free speech is being muzzled in the country and wants to push for more openness.
“If we’re driven from the public square then the whole country is going to suffer for that.”
CULLEN pointed to his 11 years on the job as MP for this riding and noted his two main ambitions: putting the northwest on the map to be in the “national conversation” and secondly to work closely with all parties for the nation.
“To varying degrees we’ve had some success,” he said. Now, he says the goal is to develop an economy that does not leave the planet worse off and to maintain a viable wild salmon economy.
He also said reconciliation and respect with First Nations is a priority as well to chart a path forward.
LAYTON pointed to two issues, one that the Canadian government “has stopped listening” to people, and second that the incumbent MP “belongs to a political party that hasn’t offered a plan to Canada in this election.”
He pointed to his experience with two terms on a municipal council and said his experience has taught him to be an effective listener.
He said the Liberal party has a strong platform of infrastructure development which he says will kickstart the economy.
He said as our MP he will fight for local communities getting a fair share of that investment.
He also said the Liberals have a plan to emphasize and work with First Nations.
Below are some highlights from the evening’s questioning:
FEDERAL SUPPORT DURING INDUSTRIAL BOOMS
For local issues, candidates were asked about how their federal party would support Kitimat specifically in the face of another potential construction boom.
Spratt said the free market can be relied on to deal with most of how a community handles such an influx.
“I think the free market and reducing taxes on small business and cutting the red tape basically makes it possible for entrepreneurs to open new business and existing business to hire more people,” he said, also saying projects would provide many spin-offs.
Cullen pointed to the “legitimate concerns” of renovictions and housing affordability for people who can’t access the higher paying jobs.
“We’ve [NDP] been investing in a number of the trades programs so young folks get a shot at some of those jobs.” He also said dealing with the Temporary Foreign Worker issues is a priority as well, and for better revenue sharing with municipalities from the federal government.
Layton highlighted the Liberals’ national infrastructure plan as a crucial piece to supporting municipalities, and also their emphasis on building or developing more affordable housing.
“As your MP I will fight for every cent we can get…to help our municipalities.” He said municipalities get such a small share of Canadian taxes that if nothing is done to address the shortfalls the result would be that local governments would have to spike their own property tax rates.
FIRST NATIONS AND ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW
The subject shifted to how the parties would address challenges to First Nation communities.
Starting off was Cullen saying that making education fair is a start, reducing the funding inequality for kids going to school in, for instance, Kitamaat Village versus in town.
Layton said the Liberals plan to immediately re-engage First Nations in a respectful nation-to-nation process. The party has also committed to a $515 million budget boost to education for K-12 level First Nations students.
Spratt said his party wants to reform the Indian Act and give First Nations better control over their future, a process to be done with open and honest consultations.
During the public question portion the candidates were pressed on Northern Gateway and First Nations issues by Haisla Chief Councillor Ellis Ross who asked a two part question on if their party would reverse the federal government’s decision on Northern Gateway, and also if they would legislate adequate consultation with First Nations in to environmental review processes, as has been established through court cases.
Spratt began saying he isn’t sure the Enbridge decision could be reversed, adding, “As far as I know there are people in favour of it, native nations as well.”
He said consultation is needed to move forward, but also said the federal government does have to make decisions to increase income to the country.
Cullen was direct in saying the NDP would turn back the government’s decision on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, joining other governments and groups who do so as well.
“In doing so we’ll join the vote that was taken here in this community,” he said.
He also said the environmental review process is not one that has much trust, and his party will build a duty to consult right in to legislation for it and will also define what consultation means.
Layton also said Northern Gateway would not be built under a Liberal party, which has publicly opposed it.
He also said the environmental review process needs to be gutted and rebuilt with better consultation and to be less secretive. He said sitting on a municipal council he’s had trouble providing input on environmental reviews and can’t see how a regular citizen could if a council couldn’t.
“We need to entrench consultation within it then we can restore the trust,” he said.
On whether they support LNG tankers through Douglas Channel, Spratt said it can be done safely and has been, noting the economic potential for exporting Canada’s gas. Layton said it can be done safely but wants to see a revamped environmental review process that is not so secretive.
Cullen agreed it can be done safely but trusts local governments and First Nations over Ottawa on the matter, and says the current system is not designed for adequate environmental reviews.