Climate change, Indigenous reconciliation and industry development were hot topics of debate during the Skeena-Bulkley Valley all-candidates forum in Terrace on Oct. 17.
Six of the eight candidates vying to replace NDP MP Nathan Cullen joined together at the REM Lee Theatre, including NDP Taylor Bachrach, Christian Heritage Party (CHP) Rod Taylor, Conservative Claire Rattée, Liberal Dave Birdi, Green Party Mike Sawyer and People’s Party (PPC) Jody Craven.
Neither of the two independent candidates, Merv Ritchie and Danny Nunes, were at the debate. Nunes, dressed as horror movie villain Michael Myers instead of his ‘Dan the Bear’ costume, had originally planned to attend but declined after refusing to take off his mask for the debate. Ritchie was also away and unable to make the debate. However, both candidates did chime in on social media during the forum.
The debate in Terrace was the last for the eight candidates, giving them the opportunity to make one final push to elevate their vision for Skeena-Bulkley Valley.
During their opening statements, some candidates went on the attack to discredit their opponents, while others used the opportunity to highlight what they believed to be the most important issues for the riding.
NDP candidate Taylor Bachrach noted the rich diversity of Skeena-Bulkley Valley residents who “see the world in all kinds of different ways, as you’re going to learn this evening.”
“The job of the MP is to bring us together across all of this diversity, to bring us together around our shared values, and to bring the voice of this place to Ottawa to try to make a difference,” Bachrach said. “It’s an awesome responsibility, and I want you to know it is not one I take lightly.”
CHP Rod Taylor opened with a brief history of his family’s experience living in the riding, working in the lumber industry and eventual leadership of the party. He described the other party candidates as “socialists,” calling the CHP “Canada’s only federal party committed to the protection of innocent human life of all stages, and committed to the defence of the traditional family.”
Conservative candidate Claire Rattée went over her experience working as a small business owner with her tattoo parlour in Kitimat, previous political experience, and facing her own struggles dealing with homelessness and addiction.
“By the grace of God I am now eight years clean, and I know how special this place is… because I know what it’s done for me, and how much I’ve been able to achieve here,” Rattée said.
Liberal candidate Dave Birdi highlighted the importance of attracting more jobs to the region. “I have over 30 years of hands-on experience in business, political as well with 10 years on council, my work with the industry — that’s what I’m bringing to the table.”
Green Party Mike Sawyer said the climate crisis as the most paramount issue for Skeena-Bulkley Valley. “If you even believe half of the science, we only have 12 years to turn this ship around or we run the risk of uncontrollable climate change.”
People’s Party candidate Jody Craven said relieving the struggling forestry industry, healthcare, cell coverage on Hwy 16 and scrapping the “useless” carbon tax are all initiatives he would lobby to the federal government if elected. “I’m not about band-aids, I’m about solutions,” Craven said.
The media panel consisting of the Terrace Standard, Bell Media and CFNR posed prepared questions for the candidates during the first half of the debate, with questions from the audience taking up the second half. Questions focussed on a variety of topics, including climate change, forestry, Indigenous reconciliation, LGBTQ+ rights and abortion.
At times there were heated exchanges between candidates as fluorescent rebuttal cards littered the floor.
When asked if he would oppose the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline, Bachrach said it’s important to work together with all Northwest communities to make sure the LNG Canada project maximizes local benefits while minimizing the risks. He did note there are outstanding concerns with the Wetʼsuwetʼen, whose hereditary chiefs have not provided consent for the pipeline to run through their traditional territory.
Sawyer and Craven argued Bachrach didn’t answer the question on whether he is opposed to the pipeline or not. Bachrach responded by saying he supports Indigenous communities to assert their title, and believes more needs to be done from Coastal GasLink to address the hereditary chiefs’ concerns.
Craven rebutted saying non-government organizations were paid to protest the pipeline’s construction, and they should be “out of our country, and go to jail — simple as that.”
When asked about whether Rattée agrees with Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer’s stance on reviving the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, she said she would not be in support of reopening the project, given the overwhelming opposition seen in a public plebiscite.
Taylor rebutted by noting a key piece in preventing the Northern Gateway pipeline was an effort to bring a legislated oil tanker moratorium on B.C.’s coast to prevent potential oil spills. “I’m very disappointed that the Conservative Party and the Conservative candidate support lifting that moratorium.”
When it comes to relieving the ailing forestry industry, Birdi was asked about his thoughts on the federal government’s response to a letter co-signed by 22 northern B.C. mayors asking the government to step in. He said the Liberal government has allocated millions of dollars to help with transition, while offering moving more products to overseas markets.
Craven also said relieving the forestry industry is the most important issue for Skeena-Bulkley Valley. During an audience question and answer period, Craven said he believes cutting all foreign funding would balance the budget in two years. “That’s billions of dollars we could invest back in Canada.”
Sawyer was asked whether he thought the Green Party’s aggressive platform to combat climate change would be feasible without severe economic impacts.
“They are, the problem is we have to look at the question of short term pain for long term gain, or short term gain for long term loss,” Sawyer said. “Most of the money will be coming from reallocating the money from existing fiscal policies like tax exemptions and subsidies that we give to the oil and gas industry.”
Bachrach said the most important project all Skeena-Bulkley Valley residents should be involved in, is the effort to combat the effects of climate change on behalf of future generations. Sawyer shot back by saying the NDP’s plan is not serious enough to be successful.
With the Green Party’s push to encourage drivers to switch to electric vehicles, Sawyer was asked if he owned one.
“No I don’t,” he said. “I drive an energy efficient hydrocarbon vehicle, and when I replace that vehicle I would like to buy an electric vehicle.”
Bachrach was asked by a Nisga’a member what his plan was to install clean water, sewer and proper housing infrastructure for Indigenous communities. He responded by saying if successful, he will make sure the NDP government invests the right amount of funding to mitigate the severity of the issues.
“We need the communities to be closely involved with the roll out of that, and we need to expedite things,” Bachrach said, noting his party’s pledge to build 500,000 homes across Canada. “Give us a chance, and we’re going to show you.”
Rattée rebutted by saying the riding has had 15 years of NDP representation but “those issues have not been addressed yet.” Sawyer said the $17 billion allocated to achieve the 500,000 new homes is underscoring the true costs of construction, which he said works out to $135 billion.
An audience member asked Birdi whether he would challenge Justin Trudeau’s request for a judicial review in the decision to compensate First Nations children harmed by the on-reserve child welfare system, and under-funded child and family services.
Birdi argued the Liberal government has done more than any other government, but he has heard calls for change.
LGBTQ+ AND ABORTION
Taylor was asked what he meant when he called for an end abortion and gender reassignment surgery. He said the party would end funding for those services because “there are people waiting for hips and hearts, and other things that are genuinely healthcare. The ending of pre-born life is not healthcare, that’s contrary actually.”
Craven was asked about his position on LGBTQ+ recognition rights. While he said the PPC prioritizes freedom of speech, but they’re about equality of representation too.
“If they’re going to have a rainbow crosswalk, they might as well have a soccer crosswalk, a football crosswalk.”
Taylor said the LGBTQ+’s “growing list of demands” have influenced school districts and classrooms, and the CHP is opposed to the “imposition of gender ideology of school children,” resulting in some ‘boos’ from the audience.
Reaction and questions from the audience also challenged Taylor further to explain his views with abortion in cases of rape and medical emergencies. He argued the real issue is for men to take responsibility and treat women “the way they deserve to be treated,” calling for more efforts to “end rape.”
When asked if Bachrach was troubled by the comments made around LGBTQ+ rights and abortion, he said he was troubled, “and I think a lot of people in this room are as well.”
If elected, Bachrach said he would bring a universal pharmacare plan to Ottawa, improving healthcare access for rural, remote and Indigenous communities.
Birdi said the Liberal government has already committed $11 billion to a new healthcare system, and is working toward making healthcare more accessible for all Canadians.
When asked about plans to make childcare more affordable, Rattée said the Conservative party’s platform is about making life more affordable for everyday Canadians. “With things like the universal tax credit, the average family could be saving $850 a year,” she said.
Bachrach said he was concerned the Conservative platform includes $6 billion in tax cuts, the greatest benefits of which “go to the people in society who need help the least, Canadian’s making over $250,000 a year.” Rattée argued their policies will represent lower-income families the most.
Bachrach was asked if federal funding would be allocated to build new hospitals in the northwest. He said while new hospitals are primarily a provincial responsibility, there is a key opportunity for the federal government to step in to build hospitals in Indigenous communities to address gaps in service.