About 120 people came out to the community centre on Monday for an all-candidates forum where four competing candidates provided their vision for the province.
Norm Macdonald, the two-term incumbent MLA, showed a confidence reflected in the fact that he and the NDP are expect to win the election, while his biggest opponent, Liberal Doug Clovechok, defended his party’s governing record calling them the “new BC Liberals” who are different from the group that introduced the HST in attempt to rally support.
Meanwhile, Earl Olsen of the Conservatives and Laurel Ralston of the Green Party looked to portray themselves as capable alternatives to the two major parties.
“You have a standard from 2009 on that is simply not acceptable and I think most of us understand it’s a government that’s on its way out,” Macdonald said in his opening remarks, where he accused the Liberals of fudging the books and running an $800 million deficit. “What I want to do here with you is to be very clear on exactly what I will do presuming there is an NDP government. I want to be very clear on the specifics. What we’re going to do and how we’re going to pay for it.”
Clovechok countered, accusing the NDP of not releasing a platform and not saying how they would pay for their plans, all the while touting the successes of the Liberal government under Premier Christy Clark.
“We’re in a place right now where there’s such a bright future ahead of us,” Clovechok said. “Although you may hear my opponent paint the BC Liberals as some demonic type of identity, we’ve done some amazing things and I hope to outline those amazing things for you tonight, and how much Revelstoke, even though you didn’t have an MLA in government, has benefitted.”
Olsen, meanwhile, touted his party’s platform of low taxes and balanced budgets that would lead to a strong economy. “They all want to raise taxes,” he said. “I don’t believe we want to raise taxes. I certainly don’t believe we want to pay more taxes and I don’t believe we want our kids to pay more taxes.”
Ralston, the last candidate to enter the race, related the Green Party’s platform, and its focus on participatory government and sustainability.
“We need to look at the systemic problems, we need to find efficiencies in the whole system and figure out how to do all of what we’re doing really efficiently,” she said. “It’s a principle of minimizing waste not only at the environmental level but also at the operational level.”
The forum had an open format, where the public was free to ask questions from the floor. Questions covered topics from taxation, to health care, to the Trans-Canada Highway.
Macdonald, who has been the MLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke since 2005, demonstrated his experience sparring in the legislature, both attacking the Liberal record and at promoting his own party’s proposals. He refrained from making any big promises or guarantees that weren’t already laid out by his party.
“In terms of guarantees I think you always want to be careful around what you guarantee,” he said, responding to a question about bringing back chemotherapy treatments to Revelstoke, adding: “The commitment to health care, the commitment to rural health care is something that the NDP has always been there and has always been more trustworthy on this issue.”
Clovechok, meanwhile, cited his ability to help out community groups, even though he wasn’t the MLA. He touted the BC Jobs Plan several times and said the NDP was all about taxing people. “One of things that struck as I was sitting there is this is a train back to the future,” he said, after Macdonald laid out the NDP’s revenue plan. “I heard taxes, I heard taxes, I heard taxes.”
He touted the Liberals’ commitment to spend more than $600 million on improving the Trans-Canada Highway and his party’s plan to develop liquefied natural gas, saying it would bring in $1 trillion in revenue over the next 20 years and provide and rival the oil sands in Alberta in importance. “We’re going to pay the debt down so our kids and grandkids can be debt free in 15 years,” he said.
“Natural gas is incredibly volatile,” responded Macdonald, referring to the market for it. “For someone to talk about trillions of dollars coming in 20 years when you can’t get a projection right over three months doesn’t present an honest picture.”
Olsen struck a populist tone, promising lower taxes while also promising improved rural health care, twinning the Trans-Canada Highway, and encouraging responsible resource development – both in terms of forestry and natural gas.
“I truly believe if we don’t use the resources we have we have no way to grow our economy,” he said. “We need to get those resources moving and we need to use them.”
In a surprising note, Ralston said her party likely wouldn’t favour twinning the Trans-Canada but instead would look at getting cares off the road and encourage rail travel. She also said the party sees natural gas as a volatile resource and that the government should focus on ways to reduce its use.
“Where we see there are opportunities is for research and investing in technologies and ways to reduce mining impacts,” she said. “Really trying to do it with an absolute minimal impact and reduce our independence on it so we don’t need it as much.”
On forestry, every candidate struck a similar tone on the need to grow the industry and take care of the lands. Macdonald accused the Liberals of cutting the forest service and said the NDP would restore funding and renew investments in land management. “We have to look after the land and we simply haven’t done that as well as we can. And the government is uniquely responsible for that,” he said.
Clovechok responded, citing the re-opening of mills in Canal Flats and Radium, and the success of Downie Timber, as signs of strengths in the industry. “The forestry industry is healthy, it’s growing,” he said. “We as the BC Liberal party have a plan for it.”
Ralston got a chance to showcase one her party’s main planks when the candidates were asked about the cost burdens being placed on local government. She said the Green Party had a vision of government that was more decentralized, with strong municipal and regional governments.
“We feel that is our job to support them and make sure they are able to do their jobs,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to light natural gas. Indeed, the candidates were speaking about liquefied natural gas. We also clarified a remark by Norm Macdonald on LNG. When he said LNG was volatile, he was referring to the market for it, not the gas itself.