So much for fears about playoff hockey distracting from the federal election race.
A crowd estimated at 150 shrugged off the Canucks game Tuesday evening and filled every seat in the banquet room at the Hume Hotel for the local all-candidates meeting.
“Sometimes hockey games trump political speeches and all-candidate forums,” moderator Tom Thomson told the crowd. “That’s obviously not the case in Nelson. This is a fantastic turnout.”
Hill takes the brunt
Conservative Stephen Hill spent the most time in the spotlight, at one point noting “I seem to get all the questions and attention.”
Although he expected Nelson to be his most hostile crowd, afterward he said that wasn’t the case: “Absolutely not. I was surprised … It all depends who’s got the gumption to show up.”
Hill hammered at the issue of economic development and his plans for community venture projects like the one involving the Midway sawmill. He also said he obtained the order-in-council to transfer Nelson’s historic railway station to the city.
Answering a question about decriminalizing marijuana, Hill said he used to support legalization “until I started reading studies out of Harvard and the David Suzuki Foundation” on super-potent levels of THC in modern pot.
The other candidates all endorsed decriminalization or making medical marijuana more accessible.
“We have three marijuana parties and one non-marijuana party,” Hill said to a mixture of laughter and boos. “We will not be legalizing marijuana.”
Atamanenko defends record
Incumbent New Democrat Alex Atamanenko said after the meeting that Hill was less confrontational than at a high school forum the previous day.
“Maybe he’s learning that it’s backfiring. I don’t think people appreciate that,” Atamanenko said. “He’s chosen to attack me, and I’m not sure if it’s working for him.”
Atamanenko defended his economic record, saying he has worked quietly to preserve existing jobs.
He also cast doubt on Hill’s plan. “There’s a lot of people working on economic development in this area. I’m not sure it’s right to superimpose a plan created by one person.”
Lavell wants to be PM
Liberal Shan Lavell, who lives in Kelowna, originally hoped to run in an Okanagan riding and was asked several times about being a parachute candidate. She said if elected, she would move to the riding and “Nelson is high on my list.”
“I got a call asking whether I would run here and I jumped at it. I could move here in a heartbeat.”
Asked if she wasn’t a “glutton for punishment” for running in an area that hasn’t elected a Liberal in more than a century, she insisted she could “influence wealthy people and the powers that be … I can sell the economic case for investment in people and social justice.”
Lavell told the audience she has mused about one day holding the country’s top job.
“Yes, I have thought about being prime minister. I think I could do a better job than Stephen Harper.”
Greens set modest goals
The Green Party’s Bryan Hunt said if the Green Party is “super, super, super successful,” they may elect two MPs.
“If I’m one of them, it’s great news, because it won’t be just me in Ottawa, it will be a party of hundreds rallying behind to make this one riding work. That’s a lot of resources you’d be electing. I’m just the face.”
Hunt also dismissed a suggestion from Hill that he was merely “vacationing” in the riding, saying he was raised in Kaslo, and while he could have run in Calgary where he now lives, he considers this riding home.
Debates find common ground
A series of one-on-one debates, meanwhile, turned mostly into heated agreements.
All the candidates supported looking at proportional representation, although they suggested different means of achieving it.
Atamanenko received one of the biggest cheers of the night when he said he’d like the Greens represented in Parliament, and “the way we’re going to get that is if you elect enough of us [New Democrats] so we can introduce the proposed legislation.”
Hill said electoral reform was something “we definitely want to pursue” but believed it would be difficult with a minority government.
“In a majority government, it’s something we could definitely deal with,” he said, suggesting preferential balloting, mandatory voting, and tax credits and penalties as ways to encourage more people to turn out to the polls.
In one of the most unusual questions of the evening, Hill and Atamanenko were asked which part of each other’s platform they were willing to admit liking and embracing.
Hill was more effusive about Atamanenko than the other way around, saying they shared a desire to properly respect and fund the military.
He also lauded Atamanenko for his passion.
“His work on the agriculture portfolio has been phenomenal. He’s an honorable man. I’m a tough, hardnosed businessman. I’m the antithesis of Alex.”
Hill said it was “unfortunate” voters couldn’t send a team to go to Ottawa — “the person who’s nice and gets elected, and the other guy who’s the SOB in the backroom putting the deals together to negotiate multimillion dollar transactions to move companies back from the United States to Canada.”
Hill said he found it “commendable” for Atamanenko “to stand up and take the abuse he takes in the House, and the treatment he gets from me.”
Atamanenko, however, was stingier in his praise of Hill.
“To his credit, he worked collaboratively with others in Midway to bring about this project,” he said. However, he tempered that by adding it’s “strange” Hill takes credit for things singlehandedly.
He also delivered a backhand compliment by saying Hill has a harder time of things because of the party he represents.
“It’s tough being a candidate for a government in power that has created, in my opinion, havoc in many parts of this country,” Atamanenko said.
The public also asked questions on a wide range of topics, including the environment, wars in Libya and Afghanistan, bank subsidies, meat regulations, crime, climate change, and aboriginal issues.