The three candidates present at the debate

All-candidates forum lacks spark with front-runner absent

It’s a good thing they called it a forum and not a debate – because there was little of the latter at the Kootenay-Columbia all-candidates forum in Revelstoke Tuesday night.

Three candidates attended the forum – Mark Shmigelsky of the New Democratic Party, Bill Green of the Green Party and independent candidate Brent Bush. Missing were Liberal candidate Betty Aitchison (who did send in an introducing statement) and Conservative David Wilks, who is regarded as the favourite to win the riding.

Thirty minutes after the national leader’s debate ended, the forum began, with about 50 people in attendance, many of whom were wearing NDP badges. Brydon Roe, president of the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce, acted as moderator.

With Wilks absent – he said he already committed to be elsewhere when the invitation came – the forum lacked any sense of antagonism and there wasn’t too much to separate the three candidates.

Bush led things off, speaking about his interest in politics since attending Simon Fraser University in the 1980s.

“Myself, I have social democratic values but there were just some things I could not fit inside the NDP box and stay comfortably within that,” he said. “I believe in strong public health care system, access to post-secondary education, and a strong forestry sector.”

His main push though was that he would work to re-negotiate the Columbia River Treaty, which is open to re-negotiation in 2014, and expand it to include the impacts of climate change.

Green stressed his connections with Revelstoke in his work as an aquatic biologist. He also used the forum to point out the broadness of the Green Party platform.

“It lays out a comprehensive set of policies from justice to international trade to foreign relations,” he said. “We are much more than just a pro-green party.”

Shmigelsky, who is the strongest challenger to Wilks, he said he was running for his family.

“I don’t understand what is happening to our country, I don’t like what is happening to our country,” he said. “We’re heading down a slippery slope. We have the first government in the history of Canada, in the history of the Commonwealth to be found in contempt of parliament and all around the world they’re pointing fingers at Canada and can’t believe they’re not outraged by that fact.”

Shmigelsky stressed his achievements as mayor of Invermere and, “In terms of our platform we’re looking at going to Ottawa and fixing what’s broken.”

Lastly, Roe read a statement from Aitchison about her community work in Kimberley and her long-time involvement with the Liberal Party.

“I’ve been a Liberal since my teens,” she wrote. “I felt then and I feel now even more strongly than ever, the Liberal Party is the party that best represents the values that make us Canadian.”

After that, the floor was opened to questions, which ranged from issues such as support for community services, electoral reform, Senate reform, tax policy and infrastructure – particularly the Trans-Canada Highway.

On many questions, there wasn’t too much to separate the candidates. On electoral reform, they all agreed more needed to be done to engage people in the politics, with Green proposing the move to a proportional representation system.

Responding to a question by Jill Zacharias, the vice-chair of Community Futures, they all agreed services needed to be restored to local communities.

On the Trans-Canada Highway both Angela Waterson and Peter Bernacki spoke passionately on the need to fix it. All three candidates agreed that investment was needed – though Green was the most honest, saying he saw little that could be done to prevent avalanche closures through Rogers Pass and that the focus should be to keep the highway open through Eagle Pass.

“My first take is there isn’t a solution to the east and the other part of the solution is engage helicopter services for emergencies,” he said.

One of the most poignant questions came from 13-year-old Raine Carnegie, who asked how today’s youth would be able to afford to live in the future with rising food, gas and housing costs.

“I can’t give you an answer you want to hear, that things are going to be OK,” replied Brent Bush. “Get an education, the best you possibly can, whatever way you can do it – hopefully you won’t have to pay with student loans. Better yourself and work as hard as you can but I guess Canadians are going to be forced to make some tough decisions very soon.”

Shmigelsky said it was a matter of making choices on corporate taxes, which the NDP proposes to raise to 19.5 per cent, while reducing the small business tax to 9 per cent.

Green answered by saying that we needed to move away from hydro-carbon-based economy to a green economy.

“Lets make the transition to a green economy that doesn’t rely on high hydro-carbon influences because fundamentally that’s what’s driving inflation,” he said.

It was Shmigelsky, with his 15 years of experience in municipal politics in Invermere, that was the most polished of the three candidates. In response to most questions, he re-iterated the fact that he would listen to all constituents and work his hardest to represent them in Ottawa.

Bush differentiated himself in that regard, saying that his independent status meant that he couldn’t be whipped into voting against his constituents wishes. He also said that in a minority government, he could be in a position to leverage his support for the government in exchange for support on priority issues.

Meanwhile, Green spent as much time talking about his party’s economic policies as he did their environmental policies.

“Let’s reduce the taxes on things that are good like income and increase the taxes on things that cause harm and help us make that shift to a low-hydro-carbon energy economy,” he said.

Afterwards, attendees expressed satisfaction at hearing from the three candidates but it couldn’t help be noted that frontrunner David Wilks was not present and something was lacking.