It was a relatively tame discussion and airing of issues between Kootenay-Columbia federal candidates during a virtual debate forum on Thursday (Sept. 9).
Hosted by the Cranbrook and Kimberley chambers of commerce in partnership with JCI Kootenays, the forum lasted two hours as all five candidates wrestled with eight prepared questions that were pitched and answered in randomized order.
Topics up for debate include improving food security, plans to transition from oil and gas to a green economy, supporting diversity, addressing labour shortages, reconciliation with Indigenous nations, supporting the tourism industry through COVID-19 and addressing federal spending and debt.
Each candidate gave an introduction and closing statement, as pre-selected questions were delivered from Christine Hoechsmann, the president of the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce board.
Those running for the right to represent the Kootenay-Columbia region include Rana Nelson (Green Party), Robin Goldsbury (Liberal Party), Wayne Stetski (NDP), Rob Morrison (Conservative Party) and Sarah Bennett (People’s Party).
There wasn’t much fireworks over the course of the debate, and, in fact, some issues had near-universal consensus, particularly on Indigenous-related matters.
Many of the issues were interconnected; for example, during a question on labour shortages, a lack of affordable housing was raised and identified by all candidates, as well as a need to address temporary foreign worker programs.
COVID-19 response and pandemic recovery also tied into much of the discussions, whether it involved continuing or cutting government support spending, the present and future impacts of that spending and efforts to stimulate economic growth, and topics that also branched off into inter-connected social issues such as affordable daycare and housing.
Goldsbury, who owns a restaurant in the West Kootenays, provided stark personal examples of how the current labour shortage is hitting the hospitality and tourism industries. Over the summer months, her business operated at 55 per cent staffing capacity, she said.
“It is a big problem and it is something that we must locally have someone championing for us,” Goldsbury said.
The NDP, Green, Conservatives and Liberal candidates suggested tweaks to the Temporary Foreign Workers program, or implementing a seasonal workers program, similar to agricultural workers during the harvest period.
Issues like housing and childcare can be barriers contributing to labour shortage issues, especially when the cost of both are so high.
“We absolutely need to focus on both of those to get more people into our communities and working in our communities that already live there,” said Stetski, who touted his involvement with the Cranbrook Multicultural Society while suggesting that temporary foreign workers who get jobs in Canada should be given the option for a fast-track to citizenship.
Morrison also advocated for using rapid testing to reopen the border, in order to support tourism businesses such as guiders and outfitters that haven’t been able to accept international clientele during the pandemic.
Cutting COVID-19 supports, new spending and lowering the corporate tax rate from 15 to 10 per cent would help with economic growth coming out of the pandemic, according to Bennett.
Climate change and party responses to a recent report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were also discussed.
Again, most parties acknowledged the importance of greenhouse gas emissions and developing green technologies. However, Bennett said the People’s Party viewpoint is that the climate change debate has been taken over by “people who support big government.”
“This is being used as a way to control our economy and way of life,” Bennett said.
Morrison noted his support of developing a Kootenay-based electric train as well as taxing emitters and using that revenue to develop green technology, while Stetski said that conversations with workers in the oil and gas industry, as well as colleges and trades schools, are needed to determine the best way to transition to a greener economy.
Nelson was blunt in her assessment of the IPCC report.
“We need to stop the subsidies to oil and gas and move it over to clean energy and recognize that it is indeed our human caused emissions that are warming up the planet,” Nelson said.
Goldsbury added that oil and gas companies are the biggest investors in green technology, making a personal reference to her brother, who left the oil and gas industry and now works at a carbon-capture facility in Squamish.
All candidates acknowledged the historical government role in the treatment of Indigenous Peoples, and four candidates with the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Greens pledged action on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, while the PPC plan seeks an alternative legal framework to the Indian Act.
Only Stetski and Nelson gave Indigenous land acknowledgements during their introductory statements.
On a similar question on government action to provide clean drinking water to Indigenous communities, all candidates were similarly unified, noting that government needs to take action rather than commissioning more reports.
“Quite honestly, the fact that many Indigenous communities still lack safe drinking water is a national shame,” said Morrison. “It’s a shame there’s no drinking water. Clean water is essential to human health and well being and making meaningful progress is a priority for any government.”
Currently, the federal government has 51 long-term drinking water advisories in effect in 32 communities. Goldsbury touted the Liberals’ investments of $4 billion into 535 water infrastructure projects since 2015, according to the party platform.
Both Goldsbury and Nelson noted the need to address systemic or historic racism within bureaucratic structures, while Stetski referenced the discovery of unmarked graves at residential school sites across Canada, noting advice he was given by a Ktunaxa elder to educate ourselves, educate friends and neighbours and make sure the residential school legacy is taught in the classrooms.
Morrison also added that reintroducing salmon into the Columbia River would serve as a direct reconcilatory act that would complement efforts already underway by the Shuswap Indian Band.
The only real flashpoint of the debate came during the discussion over diversity, where there was some back and forth over a bill banning conversion therapy that made it’s way through the House of Commons but never became law.
Morrison said he voted in support of first and second reading of the bill, but voted against the third reading because of legislative “flaws” contained within the bill that would not lead to convictions on criminal charges.
“I am 100 per cent against conversion therapy and I wanted the bill to go to our justice committee, which it never did,” Morrison said. “So the justice committee did not have a chance to review it, it went to the Senate and the bill died.”
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