Sunshine Coast voters got their first chance to hear from the seven candidates in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country over the weekend during the first of what will be a busy few days of all-candidates forums.
The Oct. 5 forum at Harmony Hall was hosted by the Gibsons Chamber of Commerce and the Gibsons Seniors Society.
Liberal Patrick Weiler, Conservative Gabrielle Loren, Green Dana Taylor, New Democrat Judith Wilson, Doug Bebb of the People’s Party, Gordon Jeffrey of the Rhinoceros Party and independent Terry Grimwood tackled questions on the environment, affordability, accountability and having a constituency office on the Sunshine Coast.
Taylor and Wilson also brought up strategic voting, which had been both advocated and criticized in 2015, and is starting to get talked about again as this campaign winds down to voting day.
In an attack on the Liberals, Taylor asked, “Is it not the height of hypocrisy that the candidate representing the party that in 2015 begged you to vote strategically in order to keep the Harper Conservatives out, promising the last election conducted by first past the post, is now once again trying to manipulate the election to win by a method they promised wouldn’t exist in 2019?”
Wilson said, “I’m sorry that we don’t have proportional representation right now so that those of you who would love to vote Green can all vote Green and get together, and all of you who are historically New Democrats would do the same thing and we would have a different kind of government. But here we are. You’re going to have to make a choice about what you want to see in this government to come.”
Wilson and Taylor also criticized each other’s parties on the issue of accountability after a question about being accountable to constituents and holding their leaders accountable for broken promises.
Taylor said as part of an un-whipped caucus a Green MP would be more accountable to their constituents, while Wilson said that meant Green MPs couldn’t be counted on to act on anything in the platform they were putting forward while she would be “sticking to the platform document I’m running on.”
Loren, who characterized this as a “change election,” said people expect accountability from MPs and the government as a whole.
“When it comes to the leader, other than bashing him over the head if he doesn’t do something, I really have no idea how I would do that,” she said to some laughs from the crowd. “But that’s the problem that we have, is that leaders are not held accountable … unless you have MPs that are willing to stand up and say, ‘Excuse me, that was wrong, you didn’t do something you said you were going to.’ You actually have to make a stink about it. I think that’s what our job is.”
Weiler said of local MPs, “We need to represent the views you raise… This is not an easy riding to do it in. This is a huge riding. It’s one of the biggest and most diverse ridings in all of Canada so it’s going to take a really concerted effort.”
Bebb said being a candidate for a new, relatively small party means he’s already directly accountable because “the number on my signs goes right to my cell phone.”
He also touted the PPC leader’s position on private member’s bills. “Maxime [Bernier] has promised that we will have an expanded program of private member’s bills so I could introduce bills on behalf of the constituents, even if they ran contrary to the party’s desire.”
Grimwood, who’s on the ballot as an independent but is leader of the not yet recognized party Canada Fresh, didn’t offer a specific answer to the accountability question, but mentioned in a later answer that “With Canada Fresh I’m the leader, so I’m a bit of a benevolent dictator.”
Jeffrey, who opened the meeting by saying that while the Rhinos are known as a parody party, “the more I get engaged in the system and process the more enraged I’ve become and the more seriously I’ve been taking it,” got one of the bigger rounds of applause of the afternoon when he addressed accountability as part of his closing statement.
“You can rest assured I’ll be keeping track of their performance and sending regular emails. If ignored I will send letters. If still ignored I will send make phone calls. I will go down to their office when they’re not hiding in Ottawa. Whatever it takes, there will be accountability… There’s a new sheriff in town – his name is Gordon Jeffrey.”
The candidates also all said they would open a constituency office on the Sunshine Coast, although Bebb and Jeffrey said they haven’t yet looking into the rules around MP offices.
“If it’s possible I’ll certainly do it,” Bebb said.
Grimwood was also non-committal, but noted that he was a naval architect and sailboat designer, and said, “I promise that I’ll take you sailing.”
Wilson and Taylor were definitive about opening a local office.
“We used to always have two constituency offices and that was changed after the last election,” said Loren, referring to Liberal MP Pam Goldsmith-Jones’ decision not to have an office on this side of Howe Sound, although she had locally-based staff. “I think it’s a matter of do we really want two and if the answer is yes then that’s what we should do.”
Weiler said he would commit to having “something on the Sunshine Coast.”
“I think the Sunshine Coast, but also some parts of the Sea to Sky Corridor, they sometimes see themselves as being ignored in this riding and it just being about West Vancouver and if I’m elected I’m going to do everything I can to make sure there’s equal attention paid throughout the riding so local issues are actually being addressed and people have someone to go talk to make sure that they are.”
There are three more all-candidates forums this week: Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. at Chatelech Secondary, sponsored by the Sechelt Chamber of Commerce; Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Roberts Creek Hall, sponsored by Voice Lab; and Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. sponsored by Alliance4Democracy and the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association.