|The candidates, moderator and media panel prepare for debate night in Prince Rupert|
(The photo above and those below have been taken from last night's CityWest broadcast)
Wednesday night found all five candidates for the October 19th federal election in Prince Rupert, taking seats at the Lester Centre as part of the latest leg of tour of the Northwest. All five were in attendance at the invitation of the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce as participants in the Prince Rupert election forum organized by the Chamber.
|Herding the candidates and media panel|
at the Prince Rupert election forum
fell to Lucas Anders from EZ Rock
on Wednesday evening
Understandably he was perhaps a little nervous at the prospect of following in the footsteps of the local legend when it comes to political events, and while he had a few rough spots along the night, he worked hard to keep the candidates on time and the questions coming to them in an orderly fashion.
As for the format for the evening, it was fairly familiar, some opening remarks, a Question and Answer session and then the farewells from the candidates.
For the most part the opening comments pretty well went according to how most would expect, however, the Q & A period and the closing comments did provide for some interesting exchanges and observations.
Below is our North Coast Review of the evening, though not a complete overview of the nights commentary on the evening, we hope that it does provide some sense of the dynamic of the event through as the forum moved through the night.
As for many of the statements and observations on party policies outlined by the candidates through the evening, as always, we suggest that readers take to the various party platform options to seek out more detail and compare for content.
The Opening statements provided the opportunity for the candidates to refine those points that they believe are key to their campaign, a three minute or so free advertisement of sorts as to what they hope to achieve should they be fortunate enough to win the support of the voters on election day.
|Donald Spratt of the CHP|
|Brad Layton of the Liberal Party|
|Tyler Nesbitt of the Conservative Party|
|NDP candidate Nathan Cullen|
|Jeannie Parnell from the Green Party|
Following a fifteen minute break we were introduced to the media panel for the night consisting of Carolina de Ryk and George Baker of the CBC's Daybreak North program and Gene Law from CFNR Radio. They would carry the remainder of the election forum by reading out questions from the audience and perhaps it seemed, one or two of their own creation.
|Carolina de Ryk, Gene Law and George Baker made up|
the media panel for Wednesday's election forum
George Baker provided for the first of the evenings questions asking for the thoughts of the candidates on the recently concluded Trans Pacific Partnership trade talks.
Mr. Spratt noted that we still didn't really know what was in the agreement, though did note that he was in favour of freer trade and that as long as we don't lose our national sovereignty over it he was in favour of it.
Ms. Parnell noted that the negotiations had been conducted in secret so our knowledge was limited, but expressed concerns over the possibility of potential legal aspects related to the ability for corporations to sue over environmental law and that the Green Party is opposed to the trade agreement.
Mr. Nesbitt provided the Conservative's view of the Trade agreement, noting the government's past trade agreements since taking office, calling the TPP a monumental deal that would be a beneficial one for British Columbia, noting that it would be good for the forestry and fishing industries and would provide for export markets around the world, noting that many of those exports go through the Port of Prince Rupert.
Mr. Layton noted that the deal would have to be ratified by the next government following the election, he noted that so far all we know about the agreement has been learned through leaked documents, he observed how the Liberal party was in favour of trade, but until we actually see what has been given away to gain what, he can't oppose or endorse it.
Mr. Cullen focused on the secrecy of the agreement, noting that the Prime Minister had signed the deal just weeks before the election date, and to not tell anyone about it gives him some concern, suggesting that he's not inclined to accept just trust me on the topic.
(editors note: though to be fair to the Government, it should be pointed out that the world of Trade agreements perhaps is not dependant on the timeline of a Canadian election.)
Mr. Cullen wrapped up his thoughts on the TPP by noting that someone is probably going to pay the price, reinforcing his theme of not wanting to trust the Prime Minister.
Question Number Two from Carolina de Ryk was directed towards Nathan Cullen who was asked if elected, would he or his party support the Eagle Spirit Energy Pipeline project which would see oil delivered to Lax Kw'alaams for export.
Mr. Cullen observed that he still had some questions related to that issue, noting that they had taken a different approach than the Northern Gateway proposal, with Eagle Spirit having lined up some support in First nations communities and he had yet to see a route or a proposal as to what it is. He then turned towards the theme of concern at how the Conservative government had changed the approach to environmental assessment, which he described as not very democratic, he highlighted what he called the gutting of the fisheries act and the how they have gutted the ability to scientifically review the proposals. Stating his desire to see any decisions on environmental issues related to the proposed developments in the province to be based on science and not politics
The Third Question on the evening came from CFNR's Gene Law and was directed towards Tyler Nesbitt and focused on why the Prime Minister had not yet called an inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and if he supports an inquiry.
Prior to addressing that issue, Mr. Nesbitt outlined some of his family history, noting that he had three First Nations women in his family on his wife's side and discussing his formative years growing up in Prince Rupert. He observed that he had read a number of the studies that have already been completed on the subject of the missing women and how action is important on the issue. He outlined how the key is prevention and addressing family violence and creating an awareness campaigns, to improve the data that is available. He said he would push for increases on funding that would address some of those situations.
Mr. Spratt from the CHP offered up an interesting approach to the rebuttal process on the topic of Missing women, using the opportunity to provide a commentary and recount his time while standing outside of an abortuary in Vancouver, and how police cruisers would go around the block to watch him and those attending the facility with him, seeming to suggest that they would have been better used in looking for and arresting the killers of the missing women.
George Baker provided Question Number Four addressed to Nathan Cullen, which focused on what steps the NDP would take to provide for treatment for the Mentally Ill.
Mr. Cullen suggested that in the public health system this was perhaps the greatest failure, calling attention to some of the stereotypes and stigmas that still are part of the treatment of the mentally ill. He recounted a situation from Terrace of a former Canadian Forces veteran who was suffering from PTSD and how Canada had failed those that had served in Afghanistan.
Mr. Layton offered up some thoughts on the topic on how the issue needs to be brought to he mainstream and a need to deal with it, noting how there has been a lengthy trend of cutting back on supports for those that need help. He outlined that the Liberals would increase funding and increase it moving forward.
Mr. Nesbitt said that it was about time that the issue be dealt with and how mental illness extends to such things as panic disorders and other issues, on veterans he noted that funding for vets has been increased by the Conservatives and that there has been an expansion of services for veterans and their families. Stating that drawing attention and providing assistance to our soldiers when they come home is something that he wants to fight for.
Ms. Parnell outlined the Green Party's position on mental health, offering a strategy which embraces holistic health and to increase funding. On the topic of PTSD she noted that many Aboriginal people have suffered from PTSD from residential schools and colonization and through truth and Reconciliation there have been 94 recommendations put forward for a mental health strategy. She commented that the first thing that Stephen Harper did when he came to power was to cut funding from aboriginal funding and the status of women, outlining how the Green party would like to re-establish that funding and address mental health in all rural and urban areas.
Mr. Spratt offered up the theme of how part of the issue was related to the root of the spiritual decline in the country which has led to the decline of the family, which has led to some mental illness. Suggesting that no government can deal with the issue until they get to the root of the problem.
Carolina de Ryk provided question number Five, directed to Tyler Nesbitt, observing on the plans of the Conservative Government to introduce a Barbaric Cultural Practices hotline through the RCMP, she asked Mr. Nesbitt what does the party define as a barbaric cultural practice.
He offered up that while we treat all cultures objectively, we have a duty to be moral at the same time and how such practices as female genital mutilation and forced marriages are something that are Canadian values and this forced marriages and under age marriages of girls are a reality and when people are subjected to those situations its important for them to have a safe place to reach out to people. Suggesting that its being turned into a wedge issue and social issue by some and he took issue with how some people are addressing the issue.
The Sixth Question of the evening came from CFNR's Gene Law who had a question for Nathan Cullen and Tyler Nesbitt related to the recent Coroner's inquest in Prince Rupert and the need for support for parents of autistic children and what the candidates would do to address that issue.
Mr. Cullen led off the conversation, noting that it was tied into the general lack of support for our health services in the country and how the Federal Government didn't negotiate a new accord and had simply told the provinces to suck it up. He highlighted how there is a need for proper funding to provide the services required. Mr. Cullen then turned back to the Barbaric Cultural Practices question, noting how it is part of the distraction politics of the day, tying the discussion into the niqab debate currently going on, suggesting that it is nothing more than dog whistle politics at the last minute designed to save the Government's backside.
Mr. Nesbitt addressed the autistic question first, suggesting how mental health was a huge issue for the Conservatives, he then addressed a few of Mr. Cullen's comments previous, recounting the Conservatives contributions to the provinces as far as funding. On the topic of the niqab, he observed that at the moment that when you are going to join the Canadian family it is appropriate that you should show your face and calling attention to the recent court case he noted that the Government has the right to appeal any judicial rulings, stating that the Conservatives treat men and women equally noting that he doesn't believe it's dog whistle politics but a case of being entitled to our culture.
George Baker kept to the Health theme for question Seven, asking the candidates their thoughts on how to resolve the soon to expire health Accord.
Mr. Spratt was selected to answer first, and was a bit confused as to what the topic was about, observing for Mr. Baker that he didn't know what he was talking about, after an explanation that it was the funding agreement between Federal and provincial governments, the CHP candidate then observed as to the amount of money that the province spends on its health care and how the costs will be going up as the population ages. He then made a point on abortion and suggested that those that had been aborted could have been paying into the system to help support it.
Ms. Parnell reviewed the Green party plans to restore all of the funding to the health care system taken out previously as well as to take a holistic approach to health care in the country.
Mr. Nesbitt reviewed some of his previous points on health issues from previous questions and stressed the need to take those renegotiation discussions in collaboration with the provinces and that there should be a sustainable and a balanced approach towards health care.
According to Mr. Layton the Liberals would negotiate a new agreement on funding and would meet with the provinces and territories to discuss and strengthen health care. He outlined plans for better home care and financial support for family care, he noted how Canadians are proud of their health care it's part of being Canadian, we like our public health care and need a Prime Minister that is going to take the steps to ensure that it remains strong and the envy of people around the world.
Mr. Cullen called health care part of the New Democrats DNA, he recalled the early days of introducing health care in Canada and how now it has become part of our identity. He noted the approach that the Federal government has taken with the provincial governments and how the Prime Minister does not meet with the Premiers when it comes to these negotiations, which is why relations seem so difficult between the provinces and the Federal government. Among the various offerings from the NDP platform he outlined the NDP's commitment to rural health care as part of their platform.
Question Eight came from Carolina de Ryk, who calling attention the Liberals support for the recommendations on the Fraser River fishery, asked the Liberal candidate what steps he would take to protect the Skeena fishery.
Mr. Layton provided his observations on how there is a need for change in the way the government approaches the fishery and noted that if something is being done for those on the Fraser, the same should be done in the North.
The issue of Aboriginal title and if proven, on the Veto rights over projects on their land became the focus of Question Nine, as Gene Law asked for the thoughts of all the candidates on the topic.
Mr. Cullen outlined the background to a working group called the Boreal Leadership initiative that has examined the issue and offered up the concept of free, prior and informed consent for First Nations people when it comes to development projects. He observed that agreements with First Nations is as essential as any economic conditions to move projects forward and that in his opinion the Conservative approach has been one of name calling and not reconciliation.
For the Liberal view on the issue, Mr. Layton outlined the commitment of leader Justin Trudeau to nation to nation engagement with First Nations, to make sure that the voices of Indigenous people are heard. He too alluded to the concept of Conflict and Litigation as the method of choice for the Conservatives when it comes to relations with First Nations, suggesting that its time for a change that will build a true partnership.
Mr. Nesbitt agreed how First Nations should fully be able to exercise that right and that should be respected. He carried on with the theme of respect and how that is what he uses as his starting point on these discussions . He noted how Businesses understand the need for prior informed consent as they make their plans for development in the region, he stressed that what is needed is Clarity, he pointed to the Conservative's policy book available online, noting that some other parties had taken theirs down from the internet, outlining how the Conservative document stresses the desire to see First Nations to gain control of their own destiny. He said that's the Conservative position and his position.
Ms. Parnell outlined how the Green Party believes that the First Nations do have aboriginal rights and titles and do have say over what goes over their territory, pointing to their long running standing as stewards of the land. And that the Green Party believes in that stewardship through natural land use practices, she observed that the Canadian Government has come a long way over the last twenty years, but that we still have a long ways to go.
Mr. Spratt said that the issue of aboriginal title depends on how it is finally defined, noting that it can't be absolute for anyone either federal or local. He observed that the Federal government has that jurisdiction over transportation for a good reason, noting that there is a need for consultation and reconciliation and open honest debate on the future, but in the end someone has to make a decision in the country to break any deadlocks. Adding that you can't have one community, out of dozens across the country have veto powers over the economic and transportation needs of the country and that's why the Federal government has that jurisdiction, but that the government needs to be fair.
The final question of the evening fell to George Baker to pose, providing for the most expansive and at times heated exchanges on the topic of How will you ensure that Lelu Island and Flora Banks will not be harmed by LNG development.
Mr. Spratt observed that he's not from here and had never been there, but understood it was close to the city, he noted that human life always comes first so whatever and wherever it is built has to be in a safe place and in a location that if it blows up won't kill a lot of people. He outlined that he believes it needs to be environmentally safe as well, calling on his experience in the lower mainland and how facilities there have been operating safely for years. He did note that there is a big export market available for LNG that the country should take advantage of, but highlighted the need for the Federal government to make sure that our environment and safety is protected.
Ms. Parnell outlined how it goes back to aboriginal rights and title and noted the relationship between Lelu Island and the Tsimshian people who are stewards of that land, with a particular focus on the spawning grounds for fish. She observed on a recent letter of support from Elizabeth May on the need to protect the island and the spawning grounds and how she is in agreement with that.
Mr. Nesbitt made note of the recent moves of Lax Kw'alaams to seek aboriginal rights and title over that area, and how they are fully empowered to do so. He then outlined his support to see an LNG industry grow in the region, and noted that any proposed projects will have to meet a range of environmental and First Nations agreements. As someone who was born and raised in the community he wants to see an LNG export industry in this community. Highlighting the benefits that it could bring to the community and to First Nations he also noted that on the theme of climate change, he believes that sending a product that burns half the green house gases that coal does would be of great impact to the goals of reducing the impact on the climate and that there is no better way than ensuring that an LNG industry is in place in the region. He noted that First Nations communities along the line, with the exception of Lax Kw'alaams have signed benefits agreements to this and clearly recognize the benefits that the industry is going to bring to their communities. Finishing with the declaration that we need to build an LNG export industry in the Northwest and he's one who supports that.
Mr. Layton said that the Liberal party does support economic development but that they can have strong environment protection as well, noting some of his concerns when it comes to how LNG terminals operate and after discussing the topic with area residents he has even more questions now. On Lelu Island he noted that he had concerns when it comes to site selection, noting that there were five possible sites mentioned on a short list and he hasn't been able to find out what the other four might have been. He stressed the Liberal goals of improving the economy but also the need to protect both the environment and the future of our children by not damaging the salmon, stressing that we need to do this right.
Mr. Cullen opened his review with a review of the challenge of Lelu Island as a site for any development owing to the significance of the eel grass on Flora Bank and its impact on salmon smolts, which he described as culturally significant to First Nations and important to the fishing industry. He outlined some of his concerns from past meetings with the company and others and how the companies did participate in his forum sessions held earlier this year across the riding, which he says went very well. He observed that the company has modified its design though still has work to do with the standards for the Lax Kw'alaams community and there is still opportunities for the company to correct its course and get this done.
Mr. Cullen's comments resulted in what became an avalanche of rebuttal commentary on the theme of LNG led off first by Mr. Nesbitt who challenged some of the NDP MP's comments.
In his rebuttal, Nesbitt offered up his observation that Mr. Cullen is the only one to come out against the project, noting for the audience how that goes against many of the Mayors across the region who want to see the project go forward. He outlined how he believes Cullen has prejudged and disrespected the work that has been done on the proposed development. Mr. Nesbitt in particular noted the design of the suspension bridge that addresses some of the issues of Flora Bank, adding that Mr. Cullen hasn't seen the science, or any of the reports on the issue yet, suggesting that if he thinks he's smarter than many of those groups on the issue he begs to differ. Observing that the only job creation proposal that he's made so far has been the hiring of lawyers to help sue the government, he wrapped up his rebuttal by adding one final comment that if you want to kill LNG, vote NDP.
Those thoughts brought out a rebuttal card from Mr. Cullen, who described the comments from Mr. Nesbitt as an unfortunate exchange, signifying some past comments on the need for more respect and that the comments were a demonstration of a lack there of. To the issue of Lelu Island he observed that any impact benefit agreement with a Chief and Council does not represent any First nation support of things, suggesting that the government does this all the time, in a divide and conquer strategy. He further observed that in order to have full reconciliation on First Nations rights and title you have to deal with the First Nations as a whole in order to create the certainty desired. He also observed that it is fair to raise questions about projects and that you shouldn't be vilified as anti this or anti that, noting that posing questions suggests intelligence and is the job of an MP and he doesn't apologize for that.
Mr. Layton also joined in on the conversation through his rebuttal card, offering up the thought that some of the exchange between Mr. Cullen and Mr. Nesbitt highlights how citizens have lost faith in the environmental assessment process. Suggesting that it could be very good, but it's secretive and hard for Canadians to get information from it. Adding that we need to restore that faith and how any decisions should be transparent and that decisions need to be evidence based and from scientists that are not muzzled. Ensuring that any decisions are not by way of goals designed to get oil to market. He stressed his support for industry and LNG, but also that he wants to trust those decisions that we are making are based on evidence.
Ms. Parnell used her final rebuttal card to address the issue of the need for an inquiry into the Missing and Murdered women and wether it is being addressed on the Federal level.
From that point, events moved on to the final comments portion of forum, with the candidates providing their final points for the audience to take home with them and to the ballot box on October 19th.
Ms. Parnell led off that portion of the night, first with her thanks to the organizers, channel ten and the media panel, in particular noting her support and appreciation of the CBC observing that the Green Party would restore full funding to the broadcaster. She returned to her main themes of the night of addressing a number of First Nations concerns, including the need to improve conditions on the reserves across the region particularly when it comes to the basic needs and the need for a national housing strategy. She offered up some caution related to LNG development and what kind of impacts it could have when it comes to housing and homelessness in communities across the region.
Nathan Cullen echoed Ms. Parnell's support and admiration for the CBC and noted that he now knows what George Baker looks like when he blushes. He took up the theme of Ms. Parnell's final rebuttal question on the Missing and Murdered Women's inquiry question, he noted that the issue has been raised repeatedly in Ottawa and the Prime Minister had observed at Christmas that it was not on his radar. Mr. Cullen also observed how the government had found money to put in place a commission on missing fish in the Fraser river but seemingly won't consider one for missing or murdered women. He then noted that there is a lot of serious work to do in Ottawa and how Prince Rupert has been through some difficult years through the loss of the mill and job losses in the fishery, yet remains one of the most resilient communities he has known. Calling for more investments such as those at the container port and the airport and some of these other projects, stressing how Prince Rupert can be a gateway to the world. He urged residents to go to the polls on October 19th and how this election matters with BC's voice one that will determine the next government. He closed by asking voters to select a government that works with us and not one that fights against us and to elect a government that finally respects Canadians and our values.
Mr. Nesbitt opened up his concluding comments with a theme of being able to disagree on issues, while still holding to the belief in respect calling the differences on that theme between the candidates as important. Observing that he teaches his children to judge people not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character and how they treat and speak to others. He then reviewed an incident from the previous night in Terrace, where he had come to Mr. Cullen's defence on a comment related to his time spent in the riding, but when a member of the audience referred to Mr. Nesbitt as a racist, Mr. Cullen according to Mr. Nesbitt, called her comments as courageous. Mr. Nesbitt suggested that its the kind of divisive rhetoric that the people of the Northwest are sick of, with residents tired of politicians pitting one group against another to help win an election, adding that he was offended by Mr. Cullen's response during that part of the Terrace debate.
(editors note: on the theme of the Terrace debate, those in the audience in Prince Rupert were of course at a disadvantage, unable to verify the course of events as outlined by the candidate)
To close Mr. Nesbitt asked voters to come through his social media to analyze his character and contrast that to his opponents. He finished with a call for change in Skeena-Bulkley Valley, observing that the riding needs to change the person representing the riding because we can do better than that and the residents of the riding deserve better.
Mr. Layton noted that much of the attention had been focused on Mr. Cullen and Mr. Nesbitt on the evening, putting forward in a quick review of many of the Liberal party policies on a range of issues, advising the audience that all of them are available for review on the party's website. Among a few of the items he touched on were initiatives related to infrastructure, protection and an ability to restore credibility in environmental matters, build relations with Indigenous communities, put in place an inquiry into the missing and murdered women, address housing issues and education concerns, address taxation issues and increase retirement security.
The final contribution for the final comments came from Donald Spratt, who in a gesture of debate based reconciliation on the stage, forgave the moderator who on the way to bringing the night to a conclusion almost overlooked Mr. Spratt's final opportunity to speak on the night.
As he started his closing comments he directed his thoughts towards the theme of debate, the exchange of ideas, as well as on democracy and freedoms. Towards that concept, he highlighted some passages and wisdom from the past to make his point. Starting with the introduction of the Bill of Rights to Parliament from John Diefenbaker in 1960 and what it means to be a Free Canadian. As a follow up to that point, he returned to the desire of the CHP to defend and preserve that heritage that the said has made Canada a prosperous nation in the first place. Bringing his presentation to a close with a number of quotes from the pages of Voltaire and William Penn and how it reflects to the rule of natural law for Canada.
To close the night, the moderator provided some notes on the local election process and access to information from the Elections Office on 1st Avenue, as well as to remind the audience that voting day takes place October 19th at the Civic Centre.
With that notification in mind, it reminds us of the interest that City Council showed towards the Federal election at Monday night's Council session.
Perhaps to provide for another opportunity for residents to take in the debate, members of Council might approach the management of the city owned CityWest to ask them to allow for the posting of the debate to the City's YouTube page over these final days leading up to election day.
If possible, it could provide for a most useful resource for those in the community who may not have been able to make it to Wednesday's event, or wish to look back at some of the main talking points. As well, a replay of the video presentation would provide some of the atmosphere among the crowd at the Lester Centre as the candidates delivered their points.
As for a challenging production such as an election forum, congratulations should be offered to the Chamber of Commerce and its sponsors for putting on a rather successful evening.
As well some thanks should be directed to the moderator, media panel and the candidates to taking the time to give residents of the region a chance to learn more about those that are looking to represent them after October 19th.
You can follow up on more of the background to the 2015 election campaign from our archive page here.