Although constituents, masked and seated in High Beam Dreams, were ready for the Gibsons all-candidates meeting to begin on Sept. 1, four of the six candidates present were outside, deciding not to go ahead with the in-person event.
The four candidates included the NDP’s Avi Lewis, Mike Simpson for the Greens, incumbent Liberal MP Patrick Weiler, and former Conservative MP John Weston.
Inside, independent candidate Terry Grimwood and Doug Bebb of the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) waited. On stage, Bebb was surrounded by plexiglass that separated him from the table where the rest of the candidates were supposed to sit.
Finally, the decision was announced to postpone the event to later that evening and hold it online rather than in person. Each candidate was allotted three minutes outside the venue to give their introductions to those who were present.
Moderator Keith VanBrabant, and candidates Grimwood and Bebb remained at High Beam Dreams for the event.
During his opening remarks when the meeting resumed on Zoom, Lewis said, “Tonight’s event was upset by a shared concern among the majority of the candidates that the public wasn’t properly informed of the choice by one of the candidates to run on a platform of rejecting public health orders and of being proudly anti-vaccination.
“People have a right to decide what they put in their body, but they also have a responsibility when they’re running for public [office] to keep others safe,” Lewis said, thanking the organizers for doing their best and coming up with a solution.
Bebb said the PPC is neither pro- nor anti-vax, but pro-choice. During his response about housing, Bebb said the four candidates “fled the scene, claiming they did not feel safe despite a rigorous adherence to COVID protocols by the Gibsons Chamber of Commerce.”
Executive director Chris Nicholls told Coast Reporter that the Gibsons and District Chamber of Commerce originally decided to organize an in-person debate based on comments from community members, who wanted the opportunity to meet and hear from candidates.
An online option was included for those who could not attend in person or felt uncomfortable doing so.
Although health protocols such as mask requirements, sanitization stations and social distancing were in place, concerns arose when some of the candidates found out one of the candidates was unvaccinated.
Nicholls said there were also concerns that protesters who had been outside Sechelt Hospital earlier that day were planning to move the protest to the debate in Gibsons. One man waving a flag stood in the parking lot, occasionally raising his voice as the candidates gave their three-minute introductions.
In Weiler’s introduction outside High Beam Dreams, the incumbent thanked organizers and apologized to those who were present, adding that as a representative, he needed to model safe behaviour.
Simpson expressed his frustration, having travelled from Ontario that day. (At a previous event, he’d said he had to attend a family emergency.) He went on to say that everyone has to make their own personal decisions.
“If I feel uncomfortable walking into a building, where I know there’s somebody who’s not vaccinated, who is willingly not vaccinated, and they are mingling with 50 people ... I have a right as a person to withdraw and just say I’m not comfortable,” Simpson said.