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Columbia River-Revelstoke candidates engage at Revelstoke forum

The community centre was standing-room only for Thursday
The community centre was standing-room only for Thursday's all-candidates forum.
— image credit: Alex Cooper, Revelstoke Review

The leading candidates defended their party platforms and exchanged shots, while three other candidates sought to get their voices heard at the Columbia River-Revelstoke all-candidates debate in Revelstoke on Thursday.

"In the 1990s, this province was dead last in everything. Today it's number one," said BC Liberal candidate Doug Clovechok during his closing remarks. "I can't believe this province would want to go backwards instead of going forwards, so think about that when you're voting."

His main opponent, NDP candidate Gerry Taft, had a response.

"B.C. is number one if you're wealthy and well connected, but everyone else is being left behind," he said. "You need an MLA that's going to work for you and not just spout off the party stuff."

Clovechok and Taft were the main show at the forum, but three other candidates shared the front of the room at the community centre, which was standing-room only.

Joining them were Green Party candidate Samson Boyer, and independent candidates Justin Hooles and Duncan MacLeod.

As if the usually the case, those representing parties advocated for their respective platforms, while the independents touted how they would do things differently.

Each candidate had three minutes to introduce themselves. After drawing straws, MacLeod went first, followed by Taft, Hooles, Boyer and Clovechok.

MacLeod said he wanted to challenge the partisan political system, which he said is broken "and it needs to be fixed as soon as possible." Abandoning partisan politics and using evidence-based solutions was a common theme in his answers.

Taft emphasized his 15 years as councillor and mayor in Invermere and experience owning a small business. In a constant theme of his answers, he said the BC Liberal government "doesn't seem interested in working for us, it only seems interested in representing the wealthy and well connected."

Hooles said, "When it comes to small communities and anything that's not an issue that doesn't affect everyone as a whole, I don't feel the parties do a good representing anybody," he said.

Boyer, who is only 18 and possibly the youngest candidate in the province, struggled the most, pausing frequently during his answers. He said the Green Party "can be the party of real change."

"We need to seek change and we're going to need change if we want to keep the young people in this region," he said.

Clovechok touted his work throughout the riding since losing the 2009 election and his party's economic performance. "I'm really proud to stand here tonight as a BC Liberal," he said. "We've accomplished something no other province has. We're the leading economy in this country. No other province comes close to us."

The candidates were asked nine questions that were submitted by members of the public and chosen by the media coalition that organized the debate.

Here are the questions, followed by a short summary each candidate's responses:

1. If elected, how will you ensure that you maintain a meaningful connection with your voters? How will you maintain a relationship that reflects representation of the issues that your constituents deem to be the most important on a local, regional and provincial level, and not simply reflect the party line?

MacLeod said the issue is partisan politics and that government should leverage people and technology to make decisions. Taft said he would follow former MLA Norm Macdonald's lead in how to connect with people and said he was comfortable talking to people due to his experience in local government. Hooles said he would create an online forum for people to discuss ideas and learn how to access government grants and programs. Boyer said MLAs should put constituents ahead of parties. Clovechok said he would set up advisory boards in each community to look at issues and hold him accountable.

2. The Federal government intends to legalize marijuana by July 2018, yet it is allowing provincial governments control over how it is used and sold. How do you think B.C. should regulate the future sale and use of marijuana once it is legalized?

Taft said the government should consult with municipalities before setting any rules, and use any tax revenue to fund local services. Hooles said new shops should be set up that sell marijuana to create jobs. Boyer said tax revenue should go toward drug education and addiction treatment. Clovechok said the BC Liberals' key priority was to keep marijuana out of the hands of children. MacLeod said he was in favour of legalization but that many questions, like testing for driving under the influence, needed to be answered first.

3. Southern mountain caribou are listed as threatened under the federal species at risk act, and scientists have recommended their status be changed to endangered. What are your views on the management of mountain caribou?

Most candidates used this question to speak more broadly about wildlife management. Hooles said he wanted to see diverse representation in the BC Liberals proposed wildlife management committee. Boyer said he wanted to see more funding to support wildlife and more Conservation Officers in the riding. Clovechok said the BC Liberals committed to spending $5 million on a new wildlife management committee. MacLeod said the problem was politics and that people weren't focused on a solution. Taft said the government would have to look at habitat protection and Crown land management.

4. What's your position on the future of the softwood lumber agreement with the United States?

Boyer said the province needed to stop allowing raw log exports. Clovechok said the government was already working on the issue and that Premier Christy Clark was "ready for a scrap with Mr. Trump." MacLeod said all parties need to work together to get the best deal. Taft accused Clark of ignoring the issue until this year, and that lumber should be used to create jobs in B.C. and not exported. Hooles said the government needed to prepare for less forestry revenues, but also find ways to use wood in B.C.

5. How do you see healthcare evolving to meet the increasing needs of an aging population?

Clovechok said the province needed a strong economy to afford a strong healthcare system and called B.C.'s one of the best in the world. MacLeod disagreed with that, saying B.C. could learn from elsewhere. Taft said the NDP would eliminate the MSP and do more to support people in residential care. Hooles said he wanted to see a pharmacare program and that he wasn't on board with getting rid of the MSP if it meant higher income taxes. Boyer said the Green Party would reduce the costs of prescription drugs and would add more long-term care beds.

6. B.C. is the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction plan. Is your party ready to adopt a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with legislated targets and timelines? What are the highest priority actions your government will take to address the root causes of poverty in B.C.?

MacLeod said this was one of his biggest motivators for running and that, "I don't know how those that can effect change with regards to the most vulnerable in our society do not do it." Taft said the NDP tried five times to launch a poverty reduction plan but were shot down by the Liberals. The NDP would increase income assistance and do more to tackle homelessness and child poverty. Hooles said he would support the NDP's $10/day daycare plan and would increase welfare. Boyer said the Green Party would look at a guaranteed basic income and would fund 4,000 affordable housing units per year. Clovechock said the BC Liberals were focused on getting people jobs, and highlighted the governments Single Parents Initiative, which works to get people off welfare and into the workforce.

7. Revelstoke is developing a rat problem. In Alberta, the government has implemented a rat control and implementation program since 1950. Do you think that your government, if elected, should initiate a provincial Rat Control and Education Program, following Alberta's lead?

On this, the candidates were pretty much unanimous – the province should work with local government to resolve the issue.

8. Projects such as the LNG terminal and BC Hydro's Site C generating station pose tricky questions for governments. Do you think that governments can sensibly balance their potential environmental costs against the employment and economic benefits that stem from their construction?

Hooles said LNG was an amazing opportunity that B.C. should be ready to take advantage of, but that there should be less focus on fossil fuels in the future. Boyer said Site C was too expensive and not needed, and LNG "is one step back when we should be taking two steps forward." Clovechok said B.C. was starting to see LNG development and that the environment would be well protected in the event of pipeline spills or other issues. MacLeod called Site C "absolutely crazy" and said the province should look at other opportunities. Taft said the Liberals had failed to come through on promises of 100,000 LNG jobs and a debt-free B.C. and the focus should be on small business and local jobs.

9. Last winter, B.C. Hydro's low threshold two-tier pricing system penalized people who heat using electricity as they were faced with unreasonably high electricity bills. Do you see this as a problem and if so what would your party plan to do about it?

Boyer called BC Hydro's rates "the Liberals extra tax" but failed to expand on his answer. Clovechok noted that B.C. has the third lowest electricity rates in Canada and that infrastructure investments were needed. MacLeod related the issue to the high cost of living in B.C. Taft said the NDP would freeze rates for a few years and that the BC Liberals made mistakes by tying BC Hydro to expensive IPP contracts. Hooles said the government should stop taking a dividend from BC Hydro.

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