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Climate change, economy and reconciliation take centre stage at Oct. 15 All-Candidates Forum

Six of the eight candidates were in attendance at the Smithers event

The topics of climate change and Indigenous reconciliation took centre stage at a Bulkley Valley All-Candidates Forum Oct. 15 in Smithers at the Della Herman Theatre (DHT).

Six of the eight candidates vying for the title of Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP were in attendance, including (in alphabetical order): Taylor Bachrach (New Democrat), Dave Birdi (Liberal), Jody Craven (People’s Party), Claire Rattée (Conservative), Mike Sawyer (Green) and Rod Taylor (Christian Heritage).

Independent candidates Danny Nunes and Merv Ritchie were not in attendance, however the latter did provide his thoughts on the Facebook livestream of the event.

During their opening statements the candidates provided different visions for the region, woven together by the common theme of finding a plan that works for the constituents of Skeena-Bulkley Valley and providing strong representation in Parliament.

READ MORE: The most important issue for each of the Skeena-Bulkey Valley candidates in their own words

Mike Sawyer with the Green Party of Canada (GPC) began by saying he isn’t a typical political candidate.

“I’m not up here to tell you I can make Smithers great again, as you all know it already is great. I can’t give you jobs, I can’t lower your taxes [and] I can’t give you a better mortgage rate.”

He continued by focusing on what he said he considers the major issue of this election: climate change.

“If we believe even half the science we are needing to turn this ship around in relatively short order.”

Sawyer added he doesn’t feel the current government’s climate plans will meet the 2030 Paris targets.

“My concern is that most of the other political parties, while they may talk the language of an emergency, I suspect that they are mostly the status quo.”

Next up was Rod Taylor of the Christian Heritage Party (CHP), who said the CHP is the only party committed to the protection of life “at all stages” and the defence of the traditional family and “natural marriage between a man and a woman.”

“As the socialist parties in Ottawa — the NDP the Liberals and the Greens — have become more aggressive in their demands and more committed to policies that are bankrupting our economy it falls to people with common sense and sound judgement to push back and to define once again the issues that really matter.”

Taylor said the core values of the party are life, family and freedom.

“Right to life is the first and most basic human right and it cannot be violated without the loss of our dignity and our moral compass. The family unit is the building block of our society, it’s the source of the next generation and the training ground for the responsible and productive citizens of tomorrow.”

Jody Craven of the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) said the party is the fastest growing in Canadian history.

He said two issues close to him are preserving freedom of speech and helping Northern B.C.’s currently-floundering forestry industry.

“People are in survival mode in the forestry industry,” he said.

Craven also touted the party’s economic and environmental policies.

“Our party will scrap the carbon tax, I know you guys like the carbon tax.”

READ MORE: In their own words: The candidates weigh in on the economy

Claire Rattée of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) noted her experience as a small business owner.

“I’m a tattoo artist by trade and I have owned and operated the largest studio in Northern B.C. for the last eight years.”

Beyond her career, which Rattée said has given her lots of experience about the value of smart fiscal management, she noted she was elected as a councillor to the District of Kitimat.

She said the experience taught her how to work with all levels of government, as well as industry and business.

Rattée also noted her own history with substance abuse and said she feels it played a role in her ability to connect with many of the problems people are facing in the riding.

“I think that because I’ve faced these things, I understand in a unique way some of the struggles here that many people here face, whether it’s homelessness or substance abuse, whether its lack of employment or education opportunities.

“I’m running to represent Skeena-Bulkley Valley to Ottawa and not the other way around.”

New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Taylor Bachrach began his speech by acknowleding the unceded territory of the Wet’suwet’en in his opening remarks.

He went on to thank the Town and said he has thoroughly enjoyed serving Smithers as its mayor.

Bachrach went on a leave of absence as the Town’s mayor to focus on his campaign beginning at the end of August.

“You have all taught me so much about community, and about leadership and about politics.”

Bachrach said this election is about a simple choice.

“It’s a choice of who you can count up to show up and who you can count on to stand up, who you can count up to show up in communities large and small, Indigenous and non-Indigenous all across the 330,000 square kilometres of this riding from Atlin to Bella Coola.”

“I’m not going to make grandiose promises about what I’ll deliver as part of this election. But I will promise you this: if you give me your support on [Oct. 21] and make me your next MP I’m going to show up and I’m going to stand up.”

Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) candidate Dave Birdi was last to give his opening remarks.

He said that a number of lumber mills shutting down in his hometown of Fort. St James is one of the major factors in his decision to run.

“[Over] 30 years in business experience, that’s what I want to implement in this riding,” he said.

Birdi also spoke about another issue he felt was important: a lack of internet and cell coverage across the riding.

“In this day and age it’s not just a luxury; it’s important for the family, it’s important for safety.”

During the question round, questions provided by the public in advance focussed mainly on climate change, Indigenous reconciliation and economic development in the region.

A question to Rattée about how seriously she takes the climate crisis inspired a back-and-forth between her and Bachrach on their respective parties’ environmental plans.

Rattée said she takes the issue very seriously.

“I think that’s why … I speak a lot about our climate, our environment and the environmental policy that my party has put forward.

“I think that it’s an issue that is important to all Canadians.”

But Rattée also noted she supports liquified natural gas (LNG) because she feels it will help reduce global GHG emissions by getting Asian countries that use coal onto natural gas.

Bachrach had a different view of the CPC’s plan.

“So to call the Conservative plan on climate serious is an extreme stretch of the imagination,” he said, while reading various quotes from the national media made by those who have reviewed the plan.

“Here’s what John Iveson from the National Post said: ‘it’s designed to give the impression of solidity to a fake, precarious construction.’

“Andrew Leach from the University of Alberta said ‘what’s missing is policies that are likely to lead to actual emission reductions.’”

Bachrach also quoted a Macleans article in which Mark Jaccard called the plan “a throwback to an earlier era in which climate-insincere politicians tried to trick climate-concerned citizens into believing that they were taking action.”

Bachrach said Jaccard had done his own modeling which showed emissions under the CPC plan would increase.

“So how this is addressing climate change is beyond me.”

Rattée shot back.

“When you look at the NDP’s environmental plan basically there’s not much of a plan there.”

She said the party would lead to more economic hardship in the region.

“They have a section on creation of jobs but the only thing they say in there is they’re going to increase EI funding and employment resources — because they know that under their plan you would all be out of a job.”

Rattée then brought up Bachrach’s time as communications director for the Sierra Club, a U.S.-based environmental organization whose website says it is “inspiring generations to defend nature and confront climate change, so families, communities and the natural world can prosper together.”

“Last year [the Sierra Club] said that the emissions in B.C. were higher in 2015 than in 2010 and they’ve risen in four of the last five years. B.C.’s latest emissions data marks years of failure to reduce emissions by more than a token amount.

“So if carbon pricing really works, then why have we had a carbon tax in B.C. for 15 years and an environmental group that [Bachrach] was a part of said that it didn’t work?” asked Rattee.

Sawyer also jumped into the conversation.

He noted what he sees as a general hypocrisy in the NDP’s environmental plan.

“It will not be able to achieve even the IPCC targets for emissions.” he said.

Sawyer said the Green Party’s environmental plan is the only one which can achieve IPCC targets and effectively address climate change.

“The only plan that’s on the table that actually achieves what the scientists have said we have to achieve is the Green Party’s.”

Another topic that was frequently brought up was Indigenous reconciliation, with one question asking the candidates what the term reconciliation means to them.

Bachrach said it meant acknowledging that the Government of Canada had done some terrible things to Indigenous people throughout its history.

In response, Birdi said the current Liberal government had done more for Indigenous people than any other government, noting that actions speak louder than words.

Sawyer called the NDP hypocritical, noting Jagmeet Singh supports both LNG and reconciliation.

“If you truly supported reconciliation you would not approve a pipeline or have industry until you had the consent of those First Nations that are being affected,” he said, adding he feels the schism between elected band governments and hereditary chiefs is mostly the fault of the Canadian government.

“I want to reject the NDP position as hypocritical because they cant truly believe in reconciliation if they support the LNG industry.”

During a round of questions from the floor, a young girl asked the candidates what they would do about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).

“So far there have been no questions about the case of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls so my question is, for any candidate who would like to respond, how would you, if elected, stand up for the rights of Indigenous women and girls?”

Birdi pointed to his previous experience working with Indigenous communities and said he felt increasing cell service along highways was important.

“All across this region there is inadquete service,” Birdi said.

Bachrach said his party would implement all of the recommendations from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

“I’ve read through the recommendations, many of them point to strategies to end the discrimination that exists within our government services, within our justice system and ensuring that Indigenous women and girls throughout our region are safe and that we are tackling the underlying root causes.

“My hope is that working together we can make a positive change.”

Craven also said he thought it was important to add cellphone coverage along the highway.

“There’s no reason that we can’t do that nowadays … it’s not a solution but it’s a piece of the puzzle,” he said.

Rattée said she feels another piece is that often rural communities such as Skeena-Bulkley Valley are forgotten by the government.

“For some reason they will spend billions of dollars on transit services in places like Vancouver and Toronto.” she said.

“Many of the people that live in some of the smaller communities that make up our riding have to travel to get groceries and things of this nature.”

Rattée said when these people can’t drive sometimes they often resort to hitchhiking.

She promised to advocate in Ottawa for more funding for transit services throughout the region.

Sawyer said he believes in bringing into law specific rights for Indigenous people that reflect UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People).

He also said a big part of the solution is going to Indigenous communities and asking them what they want.

Taylor said that he knows many people who have personally been affected by MMIWG tragedies.

“We have a violent society and somehow we have allowed our young people to grow up with a sense of purposelessness and enjoying the concept of violence,” he said.

“That’s a tragedy in itself.”

Bachrach called Rattée out in his response to the question.

“I spent five years calling on the provincial government to invest in better transit along the Highway of Tears and five years working with other local government leaders to make that happen, working with First Nations to make it happen. And my conservative opponent was part of a local government during that time and I’m just wondering where her voice was?”

Rattée fired back.

“My voice was there and I was advocating for those things,” she said. “I would like to point out that I take extreme offence to the fact that the NDP and the Green candidate both insinuate that the only people who have gone missing from this are poor.

“I don’t know if any of you have met with any of those families or any of the survivors but it wasn’t just poor people that go missing.”

Independent candidate Merv Ritchie said in the Facebook livestream for the event he feels reconciliation means respecting Indigenous leadership structures.

“To me, Indigenous reconciliation means assisting and facilitating the hereditary structure, that which the British forbid and destroyed. Reconciliation does not mean continuing on the way we have been.”

In response to a question about improving economic conditions in the region, Craven and Rattée both made comments about foreign influence in Canadian environmental organizations.

Craven said he feels environmental NGOs are a big problem in the country.

“We’re talking about American paid protestors,” Craven said.

“I’m not an American paid protestor,” a woman from the crowd yelled.

“They’re interrupting our natural resources, right? They should go to jail,” said Craven to a mixture of gasps and applause from the crowd.

Craven said, above all, it’s important to get LNG to the Asian market.

The candidates gave their closing remarks and stayed at the theatre for a while to mingle with attendees and hand out election materials.

The Interior News reached out to Danny Nunes, who is also running as an independent candidate. Nunes said he did not come to the event because he is trying to run a low-carbon campaign and take advantage of the fact he can reach a large amount of viewers through social media.

“In 1991, I Beat BattleToads for the Nintendo Entertainment System and did not use a Game Genie. Hardest video game ever made. This makes me the most superior candidate in the election by far,” he said.

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