One of the most unusual election events of 2015 was sponsored by the Mir Centre for Peace and the Citizens for Climate Action, on September 16th at Nelson United Church, and attended by about 150 people.
This forum was not a collection of pre-disclosed obvious questions and canned answers, but a participatory discussion process with candidate responses generated by the flow of the conversation, guided by Randy Jackson, a Mir representative and Laura Sacks, a Citizens for Climate spokesperson, and moderated by David Boyd of Nelson
Conservative candidate David Wilks did not attend, nor did Libertarian Christina Yahn, but the three candidates who did attend — Green Party’s Bill Green, Liberal Don Johnston, and New Democrat Wayne Stetski — proved to be insightful, and well-informed on the issues.
Many of the questions were generated by small group discussions among the whole assembly — a noisy, messy process that resulted in a range of themes from food and water security to sanctuary for climate refugees, national and world poverty, millennium development goals, co-operative policy making structures for effective government, First Nations treaties security and reconciliation, greenhouse gas emissions standards and the Paris Conference on Climate in December, Canada’s role as a developed nation in an unstable world, military presence versus peacemaker, free trade treaties, renewable energy, transition plans for a green economy, proportional representation, the role of the MP as representative for the region, and more.
Many of these topics do not get meaningful media coverage because they are too complicated for snappy sound bites, but the people attending this forum were bold enough to bring them up for discussion, and the candidates turned out to be thoughtful, responsive, and inspired by the freedom to develop and test out their ideas in such a setting.
There were moments of clash between candidates on some the topics, especially around carbon tax and cap and trade, financial and incentives for green innovation.
One controversial suggestion was to bring in the Tobin Tax, a .01 percent tax on all bank transactions. Money would go into a poverty elimination plan. Bank of Canada could implement this as a pilot project to see if it could make a difference to poverty in Canada, and, if so, the World Bank might be persuaded to adopt it.
The meeting was full of ideas leading in diverse directions, but it remained civic and respectful. Sometimes party line-thinking was displayed, but it was not indulged, and listeners and candidates themselves would not hesitate to dismiss simplistic talking points.
The event was a very intense two-and-a-half hours long, but at the end participants were not exhausted, but excited. To develop a depth of policy suggestions, the meeting should have been a two-and-a-half day or week-long conference — part of the training for all candidates seeking national elected office. If prospective MPs were to learn how to interact with their constituents in such a lively, open and non-partisan way, democracy and policy-making would be the better for it.
The three candidates had their own conversation when the discussion breakout occurred. The big question that they posed back to the assembly was: “What would you like Canada to be known for?”