Chris George

Candidates tackle local, national issues at Sicamous forum

Non-debate formant doesn't prevent candidates from criticizing their competitor's parties.

A diverse, topical mix of local and national issues were tackled by the North Shuswap Okanagan riding’s electoral hopefuls during an all-candidates forum held in Sicamous Monday night.

Organized by the Sicamous chamber, the forum offered Eagle Valley residents an opportunity to hear the candidates – Conservative Mel Arnold, Liberal Cindy Derkaz, Green Chris George and the NDP’s Jacqui Gingras – respond to pre-written questions in a non-debate format. That, however, didn’t stop the contenders from taking shots at their competitors’ parties.

The gauntlet was dropped with opening remarks and Arnold’s touting of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he said opens a partnership with 11 other countries and some 800 million new customers, in turn creating a stronger economy for Canada and more jobs.

“That trade agreement will open up those doors to expand markets, not just for our dairy producers and our fruit producers, but for our manufacturers, for our innovative technology people that can actually now trade across those borders… by expanding our markets, those are what’s going to enable an area like this to grow and expand,” Arnold later explained when asked how to improve the local economy.

On that topic, Gingras was critical of trade deals conducted in secret, stating the NDP would cut the small business tax by two per cent, work to protect local agriculture establish a national childcare program. Derkaz touted the need for investment and infrastructure, noting the Liberals will run a deficit to do this, and put the money in the hands of local governments who she said are best suited to decide where spending is needed. She also supported affordable housing and creating more opportunities for agriculture. George said the Greens too would support infrastructure spending, committing one per cent of GST to it and, like the Liberals, assuring the money would go to local government. He also championed youth employment with the Greens establishing a Community and Environment Service Corps.

Asked for their vision of the CBC, George, Derkaz and Gingras each championed restoration of funding to the national broadcaster, and establishing a management board that’s at arm’s length from government. Arnold, however, argued the CBC needs to become more self-sustaining so that it’s not reliant on government funding, and is “accountable to their viewers and their advertisers.”

“The programming and the advertising needs to be upgraded to today’s world standards,” said Arnold.

Asked whether or not they would support the dredging of the Sicamous channel, Arnold was first to reply, noting how both his experience as a conservationist and marine business operator equips him well to consider a balanced approach, using science from Fisheries and Oceans Canada to mitigate changes to fish habitat while dredging the channel. This response was met with criticism from the other candidates, who chastised the federal government’s cutting jobs and “muzzling” federal scientists and trashing libraries of valuable data.

“If we don’t have good evidence, we can’t have good decisions,” commented Derkaz.

The last question of the evening had the candidates providing comment on the Tories controversial anti-terror legislation Bill C-51. Gingras said the bill infringes on Canadian’s rights and freedoms and that it needs to be repealed.

“We already have the laws necessary to protect us,” said Gingras. “It’s an illusion, a false choice, that we need to take away our rights and freedoms in order to protect us.”

Gingras questioned why the Liberals didn’t join the NDP and the Greens in voting against it. Arnold explained the bill would enable law enforcement agencies to share information, noting judicial approval would still be required to conduct surveillance.

“The fear-mongering that’s going on over Bill C-51 is simply not true,” said Arnold. “A case has been made that this is required. We’ve seen that terrorist acts will happen in Canada. We’ve seen the threat is growing.”

George said he read the act, and “by the time I got to the criminal code amendments that are going to allow five-day’s detention without charge, secret trials never to be made public, with anonymous witnesses, I knew this wasn’t Canada.”

Derkaz noted she’s a member of the BC Civil Liberties Association and said she’s extremely concerned with Bill C-51, adding it goes way too far. As to Gingras’ concerns, she said the bill was going to pass anyway under a Harper majority. She said a Liberal government would amend the bill, getting rid of onerous provisions and putting in parliamentary oversight, balancing national security with civil liberties.