Residents from all over Kamloops had a chance to meet local candidates and learn about their policies at last weekend’s Kamloops Farmers’ Market. Put on by the local chapter of the Council of Canadians, the event wasn’t as much a debate as it was a forum. Organizer and Council of Canadians member Anita Strong explained it as “a chance to come meet candidates and see what their parties are about.”
Multiple social action groups were in attendance, as well, including Stop Ajax Mine, Vote Health Care and Save Door-to-Door Mail campaigns.
At 10 a.m. Council of Canadians member and recurrent moderator Bruce Campbell called all candidates to the microphone to introduce themselves. As the candidates sat down, the crowd could not help but notice an empty seat. On it was a sign reading “Cathy McLeod.”
Council of Canadians member and moderator Bruce Campbell explained said that “Cathy McLeod was invited to attend, but did not respond to [their] requests.”
The forum was structured to allow those in the audience to write down questions to ask the candidates. The questions would then be mixed up and selected at random. Each candidate would have up to two minutes to answer each question.
Matt Greenwood (Green Party of Canada) was the first to speak. Although he admitted that there are “less reasons to vote Green in this riding than in others,” that didn’t stop him from reaching out to undecided conservative voters. Appealing to their sense of traditionalism, Greenwood explained how Stephen Harper has sold out traditional conservative values in terms of democracy, veteran support, privacy and sovereignty.
Next up was Steve Powrie (Liberal Party of Canada). Comparing the Conservative party to the U.S. Republicans, Powrie argued that the current state of Canadian politics has been diluted with rhetoric, false promises and attack ads. He finished by reaffirming his stance on what Trudeau’s Canada would look like, saying “those who choose to protest against pipelines are not radical fundamentalists, but are expressing their democratic right to dissent. And a woman who chooses to wear a hijab, is not a jihadi warrior, but someone practicing their right to religious freedom.”
Last to introduce himself was Bill Sundhu (NDP). Once he got to the microphone, Sundhu immediately took the opportunity to question McLeod’s accountability as MP. Explaining how her absence was an insult to local constituents, Sundhu garnered much support from the crowd when he promised that he would be a representative the people of Kamloops could trust and count on to do what is right. Calling his party “the agents of change,” he asked voters from all parties to do the right thing in the upcoming election and remove Harper, believing that his party is the right party to do so.
The audience was not easy on the candidates when it came to questions, and everything from public health care and the combat mission in Syria, to social housing and the Trans-Pacific Partnership was on the table.
For the most part, all three candidates present showed solidarity on issues in the face of the Harper government. All agreed to stop the continual privatization of healthcare and PharmaCare systems. Powrie called for more co-operation between the provinces and the Federal government and Sundhu wanted to focus more on prevention and long-term care within communities.
Candidates also tackled student issues like the rising student debt and tuition costs. Sundhu told the audience that “the gift of knowledge is a basic human right” and promised that the NDP would make tuition “much more affordable,” and would pay for it by “eliminating income splitting and closing tax loopholes in order to provide revenue to fund our programs.”
Greenwood said his party would add trade apprenticeship programs and paid internships available to Canadians, stating that Canada is one of the most over-educated countries in the world and that “employers want work experience, not university degrees.”
Powrie promised that the Liberals would lower tuition and student debt nationwide as well. Although he did not elaborate how exactly, he did say that funding skills training programs would be one of the first things they would do if elected.
Although there were many other issues on which all three parties were in agreement, such as ending the bombing campaign against ISIS, implementing a national childcare service and stopping cuts to both Canada Post and the CBC, a few issues gave way to heated discussion between the candidates as they tried to pull voters over to their side.
Powrie was the only one to admit that, if elected, the Liberals would run a minor deficit. Sundhu on the other hand, said that if the NDP takes power they will be able to run a surplus through raising corporate tax rates, stopping tax fraud and eliminating income splitting.
Another area of major division was the topic of environmentally sustainable energy. Both Sundhu and Greenwood promised to evolve Canada’s economy towards clean, renewable energy by raising subsidies on oil and gas companies and taxing carbon “at the well.” Powrie was more careful here and said that the Liberals have yet to set targets, noting that co-operation between provinces is a necessary first step in order to achieve an appropriate and economically sound approach.
Despite their differences in some areas of thought, all candidates ended the debate by calling on Canadians to elect a government who represents them fairly on the world stage and is transparent and co-operative in their policy. Although the idea of a coalition was floated around, neither Sundhu nor Powrie really bought into it. Only Greenwood strongly voiced his support for a coalition, or in the very least, better co-operation, in order to defeat the Harper government.