Civil debate at All Candidates Forum

Invermere residents got a chance to hear and see Columbia River-Revelstoke candidates up close and personal during the All Candidates Forum

The all-candidates forum for the provincial election was held at D.T.S.S. theatre April 27.

Invermere residents got a chance to hear and see Columbia River-Revelstoke candidates up close and personal during the All Candidates Forum held at David Thompson Secondary School (DTSS) last week, with candidates answering questions submitted by residents, and outlining opinions on a range of topics stretching from the seasonality of the valley’s economy, and balancing resource extraction with tourism, to recreation access management plans.

The candidates’ responses, during the Thursday, April 27th event, contained few major surprises for audience members, and interaction between them remained respectful throughout the event, although it became lively at a few points.

During discussion focused on education, B.C. Liberal candidate Doug Clovechok, a former teacher, referenced the Liberal government’s long running court battle with the B.C. Teachers Federation (the provincial teachers’ union), saying “if I was standing there in 2002, when that decision was made, as an educator, I would’ve been speaking against it. But I wasn’t.”

“Doug is saying that if he was there, he would’ve spoken against it. But he would’ve voted for it,” shot back independent candidate Duncan MacLeod, who is also a teacher.

“That is the problem with this,” continued MacLeod, waving a sheet a paper outlining his independent platform and his distaste for partisan party politics a gesture and theme he returned to repeatedly throughout the night.

The other independent candidate, Justin Hooles, had a similar thread running through his answers, at one point telling the audience that “voting records show that in the last four year B.C. Liberal MLAs have voted against their party three times. The NDP zero. They are representing the party, not the people.”

When the candidates traded verbal jabs, it was most often with Clovechok, who represents the party that has led B.C. with successive majority government since May 2001. Clovechok did not shy away from saying his party is not perfect, but questioned what government is, contrasted his party’s record on the economy and job creation with that of the NDP-led government of the 1990s, and touted Liberal measures such as the B.C. Home Partnership program.

On many issues candidates were in agreement in general terms, but divided on the specifics.

All, for instance, espoused in one form or another, the importance of more jobs in the Columbia Valley, but Clovechok said “it is important to focus on what (sectors) we already have. It’s important we grow from that”; Green candidate Samson Boyer said “we need to look toward a new economy”; NDP candidate Gerry Taft said “it’s not just about creating jobs, it’s about creating careers. It’s quality, not quantity”; MacLeod emphasizing “the need for meaningful growth”; and Hooles saying the tech sector presents a great opportunity.

In another example, all agreed the Columbia Valley needs a Recreation Access Management Plan (RAMP), especially given that one exists down around Lake Koocanusa and another exists up Golden.

“There is a gap, it needs to be filled,” said Clovechok. “I will lead the process.”

Taft quickly fired back that efforts in the valley had been underway years ago for just such a plan, but “they were cut down by the Christy Clark government. They were shot down by Doug Clovechok. There’s no point in putting people together to hash it out if it’s not a statutory plan. I do not believe what’s being promised tonight (by Clovechok).”

Most of verbal volleys, such as they were, tended to be between Taft and Clovechok, with the two occasionally veering off topic to do so. Taft worked in a reference to Jumbo Wild while answering a question on balancing tourism and resource extraction, asking “Doug what’s your position on Jumbo, I’m confused.”

“Your confusion is accepted,” Clovechok told him.

Later, Clovechok, while speaking to seasonal economic fluctuations in the valley, slipped in a slam of B.C. NDP leader John Horgan for being hypocritical for taking funding from the United Steelworkers Union, which Clovechok pointed out is not even Canadian, and which he said played a big role in the recently announced softwood lumber tariffs.

Taft retorted that the NDP has little choice, given the large corporate donation pouring in for the Liberals, before the moderator cut the two off, reminding them they had drifted far from the original question.

Boyer, for his part, jumped in with criticism too on a few occasions, referencing his own past to critique the B.C. Liberals on education, outlining how he had been going to Martin Morigeau Elementary School in Canal Flats and had extra support to help with a learning disability, before funding cuts resulted in losing that support. The ultimate result was that Boyer’s parents opted for homeschooling instead. He also drew on his experience working a lifeguard and snowboard instructor to outline the need for what the B.C. Green term a basic income, and for affordable housing.

On one questions, however, “how will you work to represent and advocate for all citizens in the Columbia Valley, particularly those who experience barriers, whether personal, cultural, economic or physical?” all the candidates seemed off-topic with their answers, giving responses that centered on metaphorical access to elected officials, rather than on barriers such as might be experience by people in wheelchairs, or personal mobility devices, or barriers faced by ethnic minorities. At one point the moderator re-read the question in an effort to make it more clear, albeit to no effect.

Approximately 150-200 people attended the forum, an on occasion the audience broke into scattered applause for the various candidates, despite being asked not to by the moderator.