North Island-Powell River federal election candidates participate in public forum

Town hall-style meeting features seven options for North Island-Powell River voters

All seven candidates running for election in the North Island-Powell River district participated in a town hall meeting at Evergreen Theatre on Wednesday, October 9.

Powell River Chamber of Commerce organized the two-hour-long event, and Dan De Vita moderated the questions. The evening began with two-minute opening statements from each candidate in random order.

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The Liberal Party’s Peter Schwarzhoff went first, urging voters to renew Justin Trudeau’s mandate, rather than, as Schwarzhoff put it, “going backwards.”

Marxist-Leninist Party candidate Carla Neal followed, promising to champion a “people’s platform” based on recognizing education, health and housing as human rights.

Independent Glen Staples then made his case for basing policies on his own “conscience,” rather than the dictates of party bureaucrats.

The NDP’s Rachel Blaney went next, telling the audience she was honoured to have represented the riding since 2015, and that she hoped to continue fighting for social equality and climate justice on behalf of the community.

Conservative candidate Shelley Downey then pitched her party’s plan to lower taxes, which she said would help Canadians “get ahead.”

The Green Party’s Mark de Bruijn stressed his party’s plan to take decisive actions to “save civilization” from human-caused global warming.

In sharp contrast, the People's Party candidate Brian Rundle used his opening remarks to express skepticism about climate science, prompting a mix of jeers and cheers from the audience.

Then followed the open microphone portion, which gave members of the public the chance to ask questions addressed to all candidates, rather than individuals.

Trina Isakson, an undecided voter, asked candidates about actions they have taken to build mutual understanding in a polarized political landscape.

Schwarzhoff cited his experience moderating a local discussion group, which he said dealt with a range of controversial topics from a non-partisan point of view.

Neal, meanwhile, said she regularly interacts with people who are otherwise socially neglected and alienated.

Staples said the question addressed “one of the core problems” of modern parliamentary politics, before stating that politicians should seek out more ways to work together.

Blaney, meanwhile, cited her work in the House of Commons on legislation for medical assistance in dying, which involved “powerful and sad” conversations with proponents from both sides of the issue.

Downey, a town councillor in Port McNeill, said she has experience in local government finding consensus amid “heated discussions.”

de Bruijn spoke to the importance of overcoming “strife and division,” and said such work begins with “the individual.”

Rundle, meanwhile, said divisions can be overcome by being properly informed on important issues: “the truth is out there,” he added.

Another question, asked by resident Don Edwards, addressed two local hot-button issues: capping gas prices and stopping raw log exports.

Neal said raw log exports should have ended “a long time ago,” and that her party would impose tougher regulations on oil companies to prevent “price gouging.”

Staples agreed about the importance of halting raw log exports, but said he “wouldn’t do anything” about gas prices, because of his belief in the “free market.”

Blaney said she believed in “fair trade, not free trade,” and that she has worked with federal ministries to push for a “fair gasoline watchdog.”

Downey said the raw log exports issue is a provincial matter that she didn’t “have a simple answer to,” and also urged residents to take up the issue of high gas prices with local and provincial governments.

de Bruijn said both issues stem back to the way that “capitalism has become globalized,” and argued that gas should be replaced by electrification.

Rundle warned of an impending “new world order” that would make gas prices even higher than they are now.

Schwarzhoff said communities should support their local sawmills in order to stop raw log exports, and agreed with Blaney that measures to improve the transparency of oil companies are needed to address high gas prices.

Other questions addressed the national debt, action on climate change, making local businesses more sustainable, party whips, reconciliation with first nations and the dangers of increased oil tanker traffic.

Candidates Staples and Rundle left the meeting early at 8 pm to catch a ferry back to Comox. Other candidates mingled with attendees after the event.

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