Creston Valley residents got a firsthand glimpse of four of the five Kootenay Columbia federal election candidates at Prince Charles Theatre on April 15 in a forum sponsored and co-ordinated by the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Conservative David Wilks, New Democrat Mark Shmigelsky, independent Brent Bush and the Green Party’s William Green faced a crowd of less than 100 after spending more than an hour with Prince Charles Senior Secondary students. Liberal candidate Betty Aitchison did not attend.
At the instruction of moderator Alex Nilsson, each candidate was given three minutes to introduce himself before questions were invited from the floor.
“I suggest that you need to decide who is most experienced and best equipped to represent you and your values in Ottawa,” said Wilks, a retired RCMP officer and current mayor of Sparwood. “I will be emphasizing the urgency of electing a member of Parliament who will sit in the Conservative government caucus to represent Creston.
“Everyone recognizes Jim Abbott’s dedication for 17 years, taking Creston concerns to Ottawa. But in his last five years he really got things done in Kootenay-Columbia because he was in the government caucus with weekly access to the prime minister and cabinet ministers.”
Shmigelsky, a millworker at the Tembec mill in Canal Flats, is the former mayor of Invermere. He also served as a Regional District of East Kootenay director, the hospital district and has been active in social housing.
“In the last five years life for Canadians has become more and more expensive,” he said. “And there has been no sign of an increase in Canadian pensions.
“The NDP would raise corporate taxes to 2008 levels, which would still leave them below what U.S. corporations are paying.
“I am committed to look at the priorities in your community and work with you to find solutions.”
Bush is a Canada Post employee who ran under the NDP banner in the 2004 and 2006 federal elections. He served on Kimberley’s town council and has been a director of the food bank and a housing committee.
“I have social democratic values and believe in taking care of people,” he said, adding that he supported ending Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.
Bush said he became disillusioned with the NDP under Jack Layton, who does not always permit his MPs to vote freely. He also spoke about the need to begin preparations to renegotiate the Columbia River Treaty between Canada and the US. The 10-year negotiation process starts in 2014.
“Water is the one thing that really connects all of us,” he said.
A biologist and geologist, Green has extensive experience in fisheries and resource management and has worked in Canada and Papua New Guinea. In 1994, he moved with his wife and their four children to the East Kootenay to become the founding director of the Canadian Columbia River Intertribal Fisheries Commission.
“The Green Party is not just about the environment,” he said. “We have a vision for the economy, social well-being and the environment —w e are not just focused on the next election.”
“Three keys I want to focus on are a smart economy, strong communities and true democracy. In a smart green economy, green jobs are not pie in the sky — they are a reality.”
A smart economy would require changes to taxation and incentives, he said, adding that a comprehensive agriculture and food policy is critical for the nation.
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Following is a sampling of questions asked from the floor and the candidates’ responses:
Candidates were invited to comment on illicit drug policies.
Green: The prohibition of possession of marijuana creates more harm than good. Marijuana possession should be legalized and regulated, with production restricted to small family farms, not corporate operations.
Bush: Marijuana should be decriminalized and allowed to be grown for personal use to remove the profit motive and reduce organized crime’s involvement. Resources should be applied to dealing with harder drugs.
Wilks: As a former RCMP with three years experience as an undercover officer, I believe that marijuana must remain prohibited. Legalizing its use will not stop organized crime. I am completely against legalization.
Shmigelsky: It is not a black and white issue. I support the decriminalization of possessing small amounts of marijuana to free up police resources. We can’t legalize harder drugs.
Where do you stand on funding for the arts and especially CBC?
Green: Stable base funding for the CBC is in the Green Party budget.
Bush: I want to maintain and strengthen the CBC, which has already had serious cuts. Many Canadians rely on CBC for their news.
Wilks: I don’t know what the Conservative policy is but the CBC is important and should be funded.
Shmigelsky: I can tell you (Wilks) what your party platform is on the CBC. I support funding that is long term and stable. Funding for heritage building and cultural programs should continue.
Will you support increased privatization of medicare?
Shmigelsky: I believe in the Canada Health Act, which Harper says should be scrapped. Everyone, including corporations, needs to pay their fair share.
Wilks: Conservatives have increased transfers to provinces by $30 billion since we’ve been the government. Those transfers will increase by six per cent.
Bush: Our public health care is the envy of almost every country in the world. Privatization opens up legal challenges under NAFTA and the incremental increase in private health care is a slippery slope.
Green: Check our policy online. Six per cent increases in federal transfer payments are not sustainable. The challenge is how to retain health care in a fair and equitable way.