Fair treatment for veterans and getting rid of Bill C-51 drew some of the largest rounds of applause at Thursday night’s all-candidates meeting.
More than 150 people packed the Fifth Avenue Seniors Activity Centre to hear the views of the four candidates vying to become the North Okanagan-Shuswap MP.
The first four questions the candidates answered, in random speaking order, came from the host Shuswap and District Retired Teachers Association, while the remaining 12 were generated by the audience.
In what was a civil debate with few barbs thrown, health care and supports for seniors and veterans were predominant topics, with questions also ranging from price gouging at the gas pumps to the future of the CBC.
Asked how the parties would meet the medical needs of Canadians without extra charges or discrimination, Jacqui Gingras of the NDP referred to the creation of Medicare by the “steel will and determination of Tommy Douglas,” and said the national health accord must be renegotiated with the provinces. To applause, she noted that 20 per cent of seniors in B.C. live in poverty and should have universal access to affordable medication, which has been put in jeopardy by the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Chris George of the Green Party said the Greens understand that health is about more than just health care. He noted that Canadians are in the midst of a cancer epidemic that no one wants to talk about. Greens would tax the creation of toxins, he said.
Conservative candidate Mel Arnold said the Conservatives support the five basic principles of Medicare, and have increased the amount of health care transfers by 70 per cent since 2006. He said the federal government has penalized B.C. doctors for billing separately.
Cindy Derkaz of the Liberal Party said the Liberals negotiated the health care accord that has now expired and noted the prime minister has not met with the provinces since 2009 – a problem that Justin Trudeau would remedy. She said health care needs to be patient centred, keeping people healthy at home longer.
Regarding care for seniors, George promoted a “guaranteed livable income,” which he said would lift all Canadians out of poverty, including seniors. He said the plan was implemented in Dauphin, Manitoba and resulted in the reduction of acute care visits to hospital as well as an increase in the number of high school graduates.
A response to a question about veterans drew one of the loudest crowd reactions: “It is widely acknowledged that today’s veterans have been shabbily treated with respect to veterans of the Second World War. If elected, what will your government do?”
Arnold said while there may be some veterans who have received shabby treatment, he disagrees with the wide-ranging description. He said the Conservatives are responding to the needs expressed by a non-partisan committee on veterans.
Gingras drew laughter when she said, “We’re clearly talking to different veterans,” noting those she’s spoken to are facing profound difficulties.
She said people need to stop believing that bombing is a way to achieve peace. The loudest applause came when she stated: “If we’re going to initiate that conflict, we need to provide appropriate care for our veterans when they return home.”
Derkaz said the Liberals will re-establish life-long pensions for veterans. “We’re not going to just pay out lump sums.”
More loud applause erupted when she noted that the government can spend $125 million on an election but can’t keep nine offices serving veterans open.
“There’s something profoundly wrong.”
George said a number of specifics have been changed for veterans over the past 15 years and veterans deserve better treatment when they return.
“Greens think this is fundamentally wrong.”
One question asked the candidates about Bill C-51, which it said had sparked many concerns about Canadians’ rights and freedoms.
Gingras said the NDP would repeal the Draconian law. She said four previous prime ministers and Supreme Court judges, among others, have spoken against it and asked why Trudeau didn’t vote against it.
George spoke next.
“At the first reading of this bill, Elizabeth May voted against it. She didn’t put her finger in the air to see which way the political wind was blowing.”
He pointed out he is not a Supreme Court judge, but he can read – and he read that people could be held in detention for five days without charge, and that secret trials without witnesses could be held.
“We have very much forgotten who we are. We are Canadians and we are not afraid,” he said to an eruption of loud applause.
Arnold said one key duty of the prime minister is to keep Canadians safe.
“That was the intent,” he said, adding that prior to the bill, if enforcement agencies knew of a threat they couldn’t share it with each other.
“There’s a lot of misbelief about C-51 – the main reason it was brought in was to keep Canadians safe.”
His response was met with some applause and the first two ‘boos’ of the evening.
Derkaz said the bill was going to be rammed through the house with the majority Harper government, so the Liberals went to work to amend it.
“We proposed 22 amendments. The NDP voted against everyone,” she said, adding that rights to protest were maintained and the number of agencies that can share information went from unlimited to 17.
“If the Liberals are elected, we are committed to amending that bill.”