It was a seemingly tough night for member of Parliament John Weston, who held a town hall meeting in Sechelt April 10 only to be bombarded with criticism — including three separate calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
That night the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country MP turned aside demands for the resignations of Harper and Defence Minister Peter MacKay while battling a chorus of heckles from the hostile Sechelt audience.
“I warned my staff that people that come to a meeting like this tend to be unhappy and motivated by their unhappiness,” Weston said. “What we did hear (are) people who I would say are characterized by extreme positions. It’s one thing or the other; it’s black or white.”
Weston began the evening by giving a roughly 20-minute speech on the accomplishments of his offices and the federal Conservative government.
Taking centre stage at the meeting was the recently announced 2012 budget, one that has been characterized by a wide array of spending cuts.
Weston described the budget as an exercise in the elimination of government waste, a budget that the Conservative party believes can bolster Canada’s prosperity through job creation, “moderate restraint” in expenditures and balanced resource extraction.
He described raising the old age security (OAS) eligibility from 65 to 67, a concern for many Canadians, as “fairly modest.”
“These are by no means Draconian or dramatic changes,” said Weston. “We’re laying the ground work for a healthy, prosperous Canada in the long-term.”
But the audience was less than convinced, taking the MP to task over the F35 fighter jet purchase, prisons, OAS, cost of living and oil sands development.
After his welcome speech was done, residents lined up at the microphone to offer Weston a hectic combination of demands, questions and general chastisements.
The first speaker addressed the cost of the F35 program and to a resounding applause, asked Weston if he would demand the resignations of Harper and MacKay upon his return to Ottawa.
Weston then defended MacKay, reminding those in attendance that the $25 billion cost put forward by Canada’s auditor general included the cost of things like maintenance, fuel and training.
“What Minister MacKay quoted on was the amount of the actual acquisition. In fact there isn’t much dispute over that,” Weston said, speaking over a noticeably unsettled audience. “We need to replace the fighter jets, that’s absolutely clear. Any party would agree that we do need to have a defence force.”
A woman who followed then targeted OAS eligibility and asked Weston if he was aware of the number of part-time or casual labourers that could be affected by the change. She called on him and the government to find the savings elsewhere.
“We have at least several years to adjust to the new eligibility age number one, number two, I would ask you, what would you do with a ballooning cost of $70 billion?” he asked.
The woman’s response to “make the taxes more equitable,” was met with supportive applause.
The night followed a pattern, with voters lamenting federal policies, calling on Weston to take action and presenting him with several petitions. Weston in turn defended his government’s actions, sometimes going on the offensive himself.
“We hear it in the House constantly these statements about new prisons,” Weston said to a resident who begged the question of why more prisons should be built in lieu of falling crime rates. “There’s not been one new prison built by the Conservative government.”
Following the public portion of the event, Weston responded to questions about his availability on the Sunshine Coast compared to the West Vancouver portion of his riding.
“We have public meetings on a regular basis, coffee shops. I wasn’t in the riding last weekend but the previous three weekends in a row I was here,” he said.
Weston claimed to make the same preparations for meetings on the Coast as he would for a trip to West Van, or other areas in the large riding.
“I’m there to listen and to serve. I don’t have all the answers and you saw I took notes to make sure I’m better prepared each time I come back,” he said.