Candidates vying for the opportunity to serve as Nelson-Creston’s MLA packed the Prestige Lakeside Hotel Tuesday night for a forum hosted by the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce.
Over 175 people were on hand for the first candidate forum of this election putting NDP incumbent Michelle Mungall, Liberal’s Greg Garbula and Sjeng Derkx representing the Greens to the test.
With the audience getting a chance to question their candidates, the first query of the night had to do with legalization of marijuana to which Derkx took the most pro-pot stance. He noted growing up in Holland where youths smoke less pot and use fewer harder drugs due to a system that focuses on harm reduction rather than penalization.
“I think it’s a program that works,” he said.
The environment also played prominently among the crowd who asked about oil and gas development and plans for the Jumbo Glacier resort. While both the NDP and Green party candidates pledged to keep “Jumbo Wild,” the Liberal’s Garbula was heckled as he responded to the hotbed issue. Saying the issue is too complex for a simple for or against stance, he did question how another resort would impact tourism with too much product and not enough people already a problem.
With regards to fracking, “we will stop all new development,” said Derkx coming out most opposed to the controversial drilling method. Mungall said fracking would be subject to the environmental assessment process and said that the NDP is against the Enbridge pipeline.
The Chamber’s Tom Thomson moderated the evening that also featured several questions from a media panel that included Glenn Hicks from 103.5 The Bridge and The Nelson Star’s Bob Hall.
Bringing his own style questioning to the forum, Hicks amused as he put Garbula on the spot about his party’s claims the “sky will fall” should the NDP form the next government while his party isn’t fiscally doing any better.
Garbula claimed his party has helped the province fare well despite a downturn in the global economy.
“They’ve managed the finances of the province quite well,” he said.
Derkx pointed to the NDP debt from the 1990s and suggested the province cannot keep heading in the same direction, “running deficits like these two have done,” he said. While Mungall dismissed the days of old claiming “when I meet people on the doorstep, they’re talking about today.”
Hall brought his history covering politics in Nelson to the table as he challenged Mungall asking her why she’d not stopped by Mayor John Dooley’s office once in her term in office. He witnessed former Mayor Gary Exner and MLA Corky Evans establish a solid relationship despite being politically opposite.
Mungall argued her letters of invitation to political figures throughout the riding had only been accepted by RDCK director Ramona Faust. Derkx pointed out that it’s not sufficient to say “my door is open” and Garbula gave a who’s who of the leaders throughout the riding he’s met with since starting his political campaign.
“I didn’t mean to name drop,” he joked.
Hicks also took the candidates to task defending their party leader, saying the Greens in particular have a leader too quiet between elections.
Derkx pointed out Jane Sterk has 29 per cent popularity and said she issues press releases to the media but “mainstream press isn’t interested in what the Greens have to say between elections,” he said.
Hall asked the panel how they’d handle adversity as the tough decisions don’t always make the public happy. The last Liberal in power in Nelson-Creston, Blair Suffredine ran into trouble and took a “duck and cover” approach dealing with constituents, said Hall looking to the latest Liberal on the ballot for answers.
“Blair was in a bad position because they were cleaning up from 10 years of bad government,” said Garbula. “Rural areas were put in a bad position.”
Mungall said she has never been one to “duck and cover,” in government “you have to be able to face the music every day,” she said.
Derkx said, “if you make a decision and you are honest about it, people may not like it but they might understand.”
Health, education and the economy also figured strongly among the folks lined up to question candidates. Concerns were raised about child poverty and young families struggling to earn a decent living.
Mungall said her party plans to target the top two per cent income earners to put money into creating better equality in the province. She also cited the NDP’s $210 million BC Families Bonus program as a way to fight poverty.
Garbula said his government is working toward solutions, that the Liberal platform was “not going to solve all the problems, but it’s a strong plan,” he said.
Derkx said throwing around numbers in the millions isn’t the Green Party way.
“Throwing out promises just leads to more cynicism about politics,” he said.
The forum is the first of several that will take place in Nelson leading up to the May 14 election date. Next up is an education-focused event taking place on May 8 at Nelson Board Office on Johnstone Road.