Election 2015: Revelstoke all-candidates debate a civil affair

Revelstoke debate attended by four major party candidates running for election in Kootenay-Columbia.

The four major party candidates in Kootenay-Columbia attended the Revelstoke election debate on Monday. From left: Conservative David Wilks

The Revelstoke election debate was a civil affair on Monday, with each candidate for election in Kootenay-Columbia making their own case for election, and few attacks on each other or other parties.

Conservative candidate David Wilks, NDP candidate Wayne Stetski, Liberal candidate Don Johnston and Green Party candidate Bill Green participated in the forum at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre. Libertarian candidate Christina Yahn was unable to attend.

The candidates took turns introducing themselves, and then answered nine questions that were solicited and curated by the media coalition that organized the debate. Former mayor Geoff Battersby served as moderator.

Only about 150 people attended the forum; it was a mostly ABC (anyone but Conservative) crowd who applauded each response no matter who it came from.

A few main themes emerged. Wilks had the task of defending his record in front of a polite, but unfriendly audience. He did best when he was able to talk about the initiatives he helped support by bringing in Federal funding to the riding. Those included money for rural high-speed Internet, $300 million in spending on national parks, and funding for the Big Eddy Waterworks. He said he worked hard to meet with local community and First Nation leaders, and then bring back resources from Ottawa to help their needs.

Wilks’ three opponents chimed on similar themes. They all said they were running because they didn’t like the direction Canada was heading under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. They all said Canada needed to invest in sustainable energy and address climate change. They all promised to bring in proportional representation. Their main goal was to convince undecided and non-partisan voters they were the best candidate to represent the riding in Ottawa.

Stetski presented himself as the only candidate with the potential to defeat Wilks. A vote for the Liberal Party or Green Party is a vote for the Conservatives, he said in his closing remarks.

Meanwhile, Green and Johnston did their best to convince people otherwise, with Green touting his party’s progressive platform and Johnston saying he would be a strong voice for rural issues in Ottawa.

The candidates were questioned on a variety of issues, starting with climate change. They were also asked about child care, seniors’ pensions & old age security, the national parks, poverty reduction, the digital economy, healthcare, how they would vote in Parliament, and promoting democracy.

No questions were received from the public on jobs and the economy, which have been the dominant themes of the national election campaign.

For most responses, each candidate touted their respective party’s platform. The most bizarre response was when Wilks responded to a question about address poverty by saying that a solution was to allow food banks and soup kitchens to give out expired groceries that may not have gone bad.

A few questions gave the candidates the opportunity to go off their party talking points.

One asked how candidates would act if forced to choose between voting in support of their party, or in support of their constituents.

Wilks gave perhaps the most honest response when he said he would always vote with the party on confidence motions. He elicited a roar from the audience when he said that not doing so could result in becoming an independent MP and/or the fall of the government. He also pointed out that he voted against his own governing party on private member’s bills more than all but one other MP.

Meanwhile, the other candidates said they would vote with their constituents no matter what.

The candidates were also asked what they would do to improve the perception of politics and politicians in Ottawa. Green said it was a matter of electing credible and sincere candidates to Parliament. Stetski said the tone of Parliament needed to change, and that it should be about supporting good ideas, no matter which party puts them forward. Johnston said the power of the Speaker of the House needed to be tightened to improve Parliament.

Wilks said he was “astounded” at the partisan politics when he arrived in Ottawa in 2011. He said he wouldn’t televise question period, where the worst partisanship takes place, but he encouraged people to pay attention to Parliamentary committee work, where the bulk of the work gets done in a civilized manner.

In closing remarks, Wilks said the role of the MP was to have to listen to community leaders across the riding and bring back resources from Ottawa to fix the deficiencies in the riding.

“We need to do that by continuing to balance the budget, continuing to ensure we have low taxes, and continuing to ensure that families are able to have as low a tax climate as they can,” he said. “That is the role of the Conservative government – to lower taxes, create jobs and to make sure every family has much money in their pocket as possible.”

Johnston asked voters to look at the Liberal platform and said, “We need to re-engage as a country.

“It begins by opening up to a spirit of cooperation, communication and working together, because this country can be better than it is right now, and that’s what this election is all about,” he said.

Stetski reached out to Green and Liberal supporters by saying they could feel proud of their party, but this time they should vote NDP if they wanted to defeat the Conservatives. “In this riding, the only party positioned to ensure that Stephen Harper doesn’t get to destroy our values is the NDP,” he said.

Green had the final word, and retorts for both Wilks and Stetski. He elicited a laugh when he noted the polls that had Stetski in the lead had a huge margin of error. Then he noted that if people kept voting like they did in the past, what’s the point of elections? Finally, he responded to Wilks and said, “The key role of government is not to maximize the money in our pockets, it’s to make sure everybody has some money in their pockets.”

That remark got the biggest applause of the night.

Stay tuned for reaction to the debate

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