Election 2015: Q&A with the Kootenay-Columbia candidates, part 1

Election 2015: Q&A with the Kootenay-Columbia candidates, part 1

In the first instalment of a series, we ask what the most pressing issue is and how candidates feel about proportional representation.

Each week until the Oct. 19 federal election, the Nelson Star will bring you responses to a series of questions posed to the five candidates in the Kootenay-Columbia riding. The questions were compiled by Black Press editors throughout the riding. This week’s questions are:

1. What do you consider to be the biggest issue, or need, in this riding?

2. Does your party plan to introduce some form of proportional representation? If so, when and how?

WAYNE STETSKI, New Democratic Party

1. From a democratic standpoint, the biggest issue in Kootenay Columbia is electing a member of parliament who will be a strong voice for the people of this area, who will deal with your issues in a respectful and timely way, and to have a government that shares your values.

I have spent my entire working life in public service. I understand your values, your daily challenges, and how government choices can have a significant impact on your lives.

My priorities are to help create jobs and to support families with a $15-a-day per child daycare program. I am committed to ensuring that universal health care continues, improving income for seniors, and treating our veterans with respect.

In order to accomplish this we need to elect a new government—a government committed to putting you first. In this riding, the NDP is the only choice to stop Stephen Harper and his reckless agenda for Canada.

2. An NDP government will bring in proportional representation. I am committed to making this election the last election to use the first-past-the-post voting system. No longer will a party with only 38 per cent of the vote be able to form a majority, and, as a result, act with no regard for the 62 per cent who did not vote for them.

Bringing in proportional representation will result in a more diverse and representative parliament. And it will ensure that every vote counts. In this election, voters have to consider voting strategically to ensure Stephen Harper does not form another majority.

This is why I’m asking voters in Kootenay Columbia to vote together for the NDP to stop Stephen Harper. My promise to traditional Green and Liberal voters in this area is that once the NDP brings in proportional representation you will never have to vote strategically again.

DON JOHNSTON, Liberal Party

1. The biggest issue or need in this riding is the need for strong representation in Ottawa and the need to begin working together as a region on the issues that affect rural regions. Close to 80 per cent of Canadians live in urban communities and rural issues are not highly visible on the national agenda.

We need to have an MP who understand those issues and who can work across sectors and regions within the riding to begin to raise the profile of those issues and to build a new approach to working together.

We need to remember that the primary responsibility of a member of parliament is to represent the riding in Ottawa. We need an MP who understands that, who has the skills and experience to do that effectively and who will be accountable to voters in the riding. I will hold annual accountability meetings in every community in the riding.

2. As part of a national engagement process, we will ensure that electoral reform measures — such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting — are fully and fairly considered by a special all-party parliamentary committee. Within 18 months of forming government we will bring forward legislation to enact electoral reform.

Our plan for a fair and open government moves far beyond electoral reform to include democratic parliamentary committees, free votes, strengthening Elections Canada, an independent Senate, and voter training for high school students. It is a sweeping agenda for real change that better reflects the values of Canadians.

Unfortunately this government’s lack of respect for parliament is matched by a lack of respect for MPs. Millions of Canadians thought they elected people to be their communities’ voice in Ottawa then watched those same people become Stephen Harper’s voice in their communities. That is something I can change right here.

CHRISTINA YAHN, Libertarian Party

1. I believe that an MP’s primary role is to listen to the constituents in their riding and bring those issues to parliament. Instead of telling everyone what I believe to be the greatest issue or need is, I want to hear from the people living and dealing with the issues and needs that directly affect them.

There will be a variety of answers to this question to reflect the myriad of issues in this riding, although I will offer my perspective on a primary issue below. It is my belief that if elected it would be my duty to act as an extension of the peoples’ voice.

My personal primary issue is food security. In 2014 a feasibility study revealed that the West Kootenay alone imported 95 per cent of its food and spent $224 million annually on consumption. Would not our local economy benefit if a larger portion of that money supported our local food producers?

Of that 95 per cent a good majority is imported from California, with droughts, fires and honeybee declines affecting pollination of major crops that leaves our area vulnerable in terms of food security.

We can avoid food shortages and price inflation through localizing food and buying local initiatives.

2. Libertarian Party leader Tim Moen endorses proportional representation being implemented in the Canadian electoral system. He encourages candidates to educate themselves on the variety of PR options available and align ourselves with voting on the system that best supports our individual views.

We would create a special joint standing committee formed equally of MPs and senators to examine reform options for House of Commons elections and Senate appointments.

The Libertarian Party would introduce and vote on a form of PR before the next election. I believe fair election reform needs to be introduced as soon as possible to properly restore democracy in Canada.

DAVID WILKS, Conservative Party

1. The main priorities for me in Kootenay-Columbia will continue to be infrastructure for both municipal and regional government and improvements to the Trans-Canada Highway.

The Build Canada Fund, a $53 billion investment over 10 years, will provide communities with the ability to work on infrastructure priorities. This year funding was approved for Nakusp, Revelstoke, Golden, Fernie, RDEK Area A and Creston.

I will continue to ensure that funding for the Trans-Canada Highway is constant and consistent, building on the nearly $300 million of improvements since 2011. This includes projects at Clan Williams, Donald Bridge twinning and improvements throughout the national parks.

2. Through referendum, citizens in the provinces of Ontario, BC and PEI have rejected proportional representation and have voted to keep the first-past-the-post system. The Conservative Party supports the current system of first-past-the-post.

BILL GREEN, Green Party

1. The most important issue in Kootenay-Columbia is creating a thriving economy in a healthy environment.

We need more local jobs that provide family-supporting incomes, especially for young people. Fostering small business and renewable energy, strengthening our agriculture sector, supporting sustainable forestry, responsible mining and tourism are essential for our long-term prosperity.

Investment in clean technology has been called the greatest business opportunity of this century. The Green Party will establish a green venture capital fund to aid small business start-ups and will reduce the corporate tax rate on small business.

Green Party policy supports community economic development with taxation and incentive programs aimed at municipal infrastructure renewal, energy-efficient home construction and renovation, and clean energy. Many building blocks are already in place here. Given the opportunity, the people of Kootenay-Columbia have the ingenuity, initiative, smarts and skills to build a resilient, diversified low-carbon economy.

2. Proportional representation is a Green Party priority. Green MPs will begin work immediately to legislate the end of first-past-the-post voting by establishing an all-party democratic voting commission that will: (1) review past research, (2) conduct a public consultation on the style of proportional representation best suited to Canada, and (3) make recommendations to parliament, including draft legislation, within 12 months.

Electoral reform is of critical importance if we want to reinvigorate our democracy. A Green government will further strengthen our democracy by reducing the power of the Prime Minister’s Office, and will never force its MPs to vote on party lines.