Voters in Smithers got a good look last Wednesday at what Skeena-Bulkley Valley candidates had to offer ahead of the Oct. 19 federal election.
Candidates from the Conservative, Liberal, NDP and Christian Heritage parties took part in an all candidates forum hosted by the Smithers District Chamber of Commerce at the Della Herman Theatre. Green Party candidate Jeannie Parnell said she was not able to attend.
Questions from the Chamber, media and audience ranged widely: from the economy and environment, to gas prices and terrorism. Each candidate was asked a direct question, and others could jump in on any topic they wished with a limited number of rebuttals.
Resource development and the environment
How to develop resources in an environmentally responsible way came up several times.
NDP incumbent Nathan Cullen was asked what two industrial projects he would like to see take place.
“Out of the LNG [projects] right now, I think Shell has the best chance. It seems to have the most support, broadly speaking, for their LNG terminal in Kitimat.
“Petronas runs more afoul of the communities because of Lelu Island where what they seek to put their plan is right on the extremely sensitive salmon habitat zone,” answered Cullen.
He also saw a few mining projects as strong proposals.
“I think through all of this though, you need the proper and consistent application of our values: that the public has input, that we use the best science available … in evaluating the projects as they stand on their merit so the public can weigh the risk and benefit.”
Conservative candidate Tyler Nesbitt was asked about LNG projects, and said every one is assessed on its merits.
“I agree with Thomas Mulcair on what he said in the first Maclean’s debate. He was having an exchange with Elizabeth May, and he said opposing pipelines in advance is just as bad as supporting them in advance,” said Nesbitt.
“The ones that can satisfy environmental safety and First Nations agreements and all those conditions, those are the ones that have the most merit and those are the ones that will go ahead. The ones that don’t, won’t.”
Liberal candidate Brad Layton rebutted Nesbitt’s answer.
“It has become apparent that none of us trust or have confidence in the environmental assessments that are being done under the Conservative government. The scientists have been muzzled, they’ve been told not to put any information out unless it’s been cleared,” said Layton.
“How are we to trust that these things are being done right?”
Cullen said he was for adding value to Canadian oil by increasing refinery capacity. He proposed a bill in Parliament last fall to ban oil tanker traffic off B.C.’s north coast, and was asked about his stance on oil pipelines, which would have to go east or south if oil could not be shipped off the northwest coast.
“Northern Gateway brought this question home to us, which is what are the risks versus what are the benefits. And raw bitumen export over an 1,100 kilometre pipeline, and then put in 11,000 supertankers going down the Douglas Straight for 150 jobs give or take didn’t seem much like a good equation for us,” said Cullen.
“Adding value to that along the way is important. The bill doesn’t explicitly deny the passage of oil over the territory. When I talked about pipelines needing the approval and the … prior informed consent of people who live along the route, that just makes basic common sense to me because it’s us who take the risk.”
Nesbitt said Cullen’s support of resource projects did not add up.
“The NDP wants to do mining and LNG? But they’ve acted … in a hostile manner to these things from day one. When it comes to the gas, well how do you get the gas? Well we frack the gas, and lucky for us we do it better than anyone else. We’ve been doing it for 15 years, but if you listen to the leader of the [NDP] party, and the rank and file, and the core base of that party out of Quebec, they do not want these things to happen,” said Nesbitt.
“We’re the ones that say projects are assessed on their merits. We want to get to yes, not get to no.”
Cullen rebutted Nesbitt.
“So the question needs to be begged: how’s that going for you? Because they haven’t been able to get any of the projects either through the local communities or the courts because they keep getting court challenges. Stephen Harper spent tens of millions of dollars suing First Nations to the Supreme Court,” said Cullen.
On combating climate change, Christian Heritage Party’s Don Spratt was the outlier.
“I’m a global warming change denier. Our party doesn’t believe CO2 is a pollutant. We wouldn’t have any carbon taxes, no cap and trade. I think that’s just an international taxation,” said Spratt.
Nesbitt defended the government’s climate record, saying Canada has been the only country in the G7 to reduce emissions. He added the Conservatives plan is to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.
“Our approach is reasonable and it’s going to deliver results,” said Nesbitt.
“My challenge is there was a drop first because of the recession … and second because of actions of the provinces, which the Conservative federal government opposed every step of the way,” rebutted Cullen.
Terrorism and security
Bills C-51 and C-24, which cover surveillance and give the government the power to revoke citizenship from dual citizens, were also brought up several times.
Nesbitt said C-24 also speeds up the process for legal immigration applicants. Citizenship is only revoked under this law for terrorism and treason.
“We have a zero tolerance for people who wage war and terrorism against this country, and I think that’s what most Canadians would expect,” said Nesbitt.
Layton, whose daughter is a dual citizen, said he would rather keep those convicted of terrorism behind bars.
“Us sending a dangerous criminal outside of our country to where he can wage the same kind of things on other countries, other people, and on our country from afar is not something I would want,” said Layton.
With a three way race for top seat-getter in Parliament and the likelihood of a minority government, the proposition of a coalition government was brought up. The NDP’s position is that they may take part in one that does not include Conservatives. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau recently said he would not take part in a formal coalition, but Liberal candidate Layton left that door open.
“We may have a minority government, and we may have a coalition,” said Layton.
“To discuss that to the point to confuse voters right now … it’s not something politics right now needs. You need to vote who you want to represent you. At the end of the day, if there is a minority government we will sit and talk.”
Cullen said coalitions are a natural part of the Westminster model of governance Canada has, pointing to 2005 and 2008 when then Opposition leaders Stephen Harper and Stephane Dion signed letters with the NDP and Bloc stating they would form a coalition government if the minority government was defeated.
“I think it’s actually important to talk about in advance of the election so people can understand what will happen after the election,” said Cullen.