The audience was ready to go at a question and answer session held for Kootenay-Columbia candidates in the upcoming federal election.
The event held at David Thompson Secondary School saw three of the five candidates spend more than two hours answering questions from audience members. Betty Aitchison (Liberal Party of Canada), Brent Bush (Independent) and Mark Shmigelsky (New Democratic Party) were on hand while David Wilks (Conservative Party of Canada) and Bill Green (Green Party of Canada) could not attend. Green sent a letter with apologies for his absence.
The fact that Wilks was not in attendance after earlier reports that he was going to attend the forum was noted by the candidates who were there and by one person in the audience who called out “Where’s Wilks?” before the evening had kicked off.
“We moved mountains in our schedules to have him here. This is wrong,” said Shmigelsky in regards to Wilks not being at the event. He went on to say that for democracy to work people need to show up and that he was very disappointed that Wilks had not been able to come to the evening.
Some of the topics of concern brought up focused on where peacekeeping, northern claims, democracy and where Canada stands globally.
The Conservative party was presented by Bush as a “small government.” He explained that the Conservatives in his opinion use tax breaks to large corporations with the idea that money will then trickle down to the rest of Canadian residents. In his opinion Bush said he did not think this economic plan worked.
Shmigelsky responded after Bush and said that there are many progressive people in the area who do not feel like they have a home. He went on to invite them into the NDP where discussion on which way Canada should go is welcomed.
Aitchison followed up and said in her opinion it was time to have taxes that benefit everyone from the rich to the poor and added that the Conservatives were not “horrible but they were close.”
A question regarding the importance of the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) as part of the country’s identity was also posed. The question was being asked due to how much influence a government in power could hold over what the CBC could openly say without fear of losing money from its budget.
All candidates said they believe the CBC has a great importance to the country.
“The CBC tells our stories…our stories are rich and great. If we do not have a national broadcaster we could lose it all,” Shmigelsky said.
Aitchison said that she had been educated by the CBC and said that one thing she noticed about the CBC was that you do not see as much negative advertising as is found on other stations like Fox News.
Then it was on to Canada’s role in the global community with an emphasis on Canada being a country that can help poorer countries with generic drugs for illness.
Bush said that governments in the past and particularly the Conservative government were not willing to extend generic drug laws that would allow producers to make more generic drugs to bring down costs.
“I am supportive of Canada to be able to allow generic drug manufacturers to do this. However the Harper government will not even do that for Canadians,” he said.
Another question was asked by saying “War? Peace? Canada’s role?”
Bush said that the Harper government had changed the mission for Canada’s role in Afghanistan with no debate in parliament that will keep soldiers overseas in a different capacity.
“If you do not think that we will be heavily involved with the war then you are wrong,” Bush said.
Shmigelsky started off by saying that Canada had lost its way. He stressed that he was very proud of the Canadian men and women who serve in the country’s military.
“Canada needs to play that role where we are peacekeepers and when there is a role we go in,” he said.
Shmigelsky went on to point to places where peacekeepers had not gone in to help even though genocide has happened and questions whether or not these decisions were being made based on things such as oil.
“We have to play a role on the world stage and be a part of the United Nations,” he added.
Aitchison explained that she had many questions about the way the Conservative government is using billions of dollars in tax payer money to pay for planes.
“Planes that are unmanned really do not contain a lot of heart,” she said.
She added that Canada needs to do more for the veterans once they come home from conflict zones.
One question was asked about how Canada was going to protect the Northwest passage in a time when many countries are becoming more interested in rights in the north.
Shmigelsky felt it was important for Canada to reinvest in the shipbuilding industry in Canada.
“If you are going to patrol the largest shoreline in the world then that is something we need,” he said. When pushed about spending and having planes as part of their budget Shmigelsky said the NDP were looking into the idea but wanted to be sure they would have planes that included engines.
Aitchison said she was concerned over any plan which would include the United States having their hands on Canada’s north.
Bush sees the issue of the north revolving around many countries wanting a potential oil landfall in the northern part of Canada.
“Countries are racing to the northern part of the world for oil. That is the huge prize…I certainly believe Canada deserves sovereignty over the area. What we really need to be worried about there is the potential for catastrophic oils spills,” Bush said.
In regards to the idea of oil drilling off the west coast of Canada all of the candidates in attendance said they were not in favour of this idea.
Candidates were also asked about their stand on drugs and drug laws that were described as having no effect by a member of the audience.
Aitchison felt the key to fighting drug use was in education for families. She also said that there were many great people out there who are working hard to be leaders and educate. She added that one of the major issues in this category revolved around the use of alcohol.
Bush remarked that prevention is a good thing but added that some people are going to want marijuana.
“Prohibition raises the price of the product. It leads to organized crime where groups make a lot of money…If you stop the war on drugs and allow people to have a small amount of marijuana for personal use then you take the costs out and organized crime can go on to something else,” he said.
Shmigelsky said that times have changed and that younger people today are well ahead of where he was at their age due to the great programs in schools.
In the end all candidates thanked those who attended and encouraged everyone to vote on May 2.