Three weeks before election day, a debate between four candidates quickly heated up as they joined a virtual forum to discuss environmental issues, party platforms and personal views.
The Aug. 30 event was co-hosted by the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association and Alliance 4 Democracy. Moderator Jef Keighley was joined by Patrick Weiler, the incumbent and Liberal candidate, the Greens’ Mike Simpson, NDP’s Avi Lewis, and Doug Bebb for the People’s Party of Canada (PPC). At its height, 224 people tuned in on Zoom.
While answering the second question, about what candidates would do to protect old growth and restore deforested lands to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change impacts, Simpson told both Lewis and Weiler that they were “whipped” by their respective parties.
He was responding to Lewis’s comments on his personal view that “we can’t be cutting down one more elder of the forest,” except for cultural or ceremonial reasons, as Lewis called for the province’s Old Growth Strategic Review to be implemented immediately.
Addressing Lewis, Simpson said, “Your party is whipped and you’re gonna have to follow what they say. And same thing with Patrick. You guys are environmentally very keen and astute individuals. But at the end of the day, you’re gonna have to follow what your party says.
“Patrick, your party bought a pipeline. That’s something you have to face.”
Weiler disputed the comment, saying he had voted against the Liberals several times and that he would continue to do so to reflect his constituents.
“I’m actually not whipped in my party,” Weiler said. “The only things that are actually whipped for my party are ones that are campaign platform commitments and ones that are our confidence motions.”
Lewis also used a rebuttal to acknowledge while there are differences within the NDP, they will have respectful disagreements.
“I don’t think any party has a monopoly on wanting to respond to the climate emergency,” Lewis said.
“There are a lot of climate champions running for the NDP this time. We’re going to have a climate caucus after this election. And we are going to hold the Liberals’ feet to the fire if there’s a minority, or we’re going to run a real climate emergency response,” Lewis said.
Bebb was the only candidate of the four not to call climate change an emergency. Instead, he reiterated the PPC’s stance that while carbon dioxide emissions are increasing as a result of burning fuels, scientists have not reached a consensus of whether there is an emergency. The PPC would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, he said.
Towards the end of the debate, Simpson said he would support cooperation with other parties if they had a good idea, while holding them accountable.
Simpson said he considers the election a win for the Green Party, even if he is not elected, because of the discourse’s focus on climate change.
In his closing remarks, Weiler noted the absence of the Conservative candidate, John Weston.
“I think this is exactly playing into the Conservative party’s hands to have all the progressive parties fighting each other, and debating each other’s policies and not actually putting their plan forward,” Weiler said.
After the event, Weston’s campaign team told Coast Reporter that Weston had missed the meeting due to “other campaign responsibilities” and will attend a debate in each part of the riding.
The Aug. 30 debate will be available to watch on the SCCA’s YouTube channel. More candidates forums are scheduled for the Sunshine Coast, including a hybrid in-person and online event on Sept. 1.