There were some barbs thrown, but none of the candidates walked away wounded from a relatively congenial all-candidates meeting hosted by the Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce Thursday evening.
It was standing room only for the event, even after a break was called half-way through to add more chairs for the audience, which was dominated by seniors, with only a small group of teen or twenty-something voters in attendance.
Unlike a previous forum in Vernon where Conservative candidate Mel Arnold got an earful, the crowd was more polite, likely in part because the format did not allow for open questions from the audience. While the candidates did not see the questions before the forum, questions had to be submitted from the public in advance.
Liberal Candidate Cindy Derkaz addressed this issue, saying she felt the forum was like a job interview and she wanted people to be able to ask her questions directly.
“I’ll stay and answer any question,” she said, “I’ll answer your questions in the parking lot if I have to.”
The questions covered a wide range of topics from support for seniors, to alternative energy, to the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.
While the Green’s Chris George, NDP candidate Jacqui Gingras and Derkaz were able to outline their visions for change, Arnold, with the Conservatives as the incumbent party, had to defend his party’s record and point out the benefits of sticking with the status quo.
His oft-repeated message was about the Conservatives’ record on the economy and “keeping more money in your pocket.” He also warned the crowd about some of the other parties’ platforms on climate change and social programs.
“A carbon plan would take money out of your pocket, and put them towards supporting a bureaucracy. How many of those dollars do you think would actually go to taking carbon out of the air?”
He noted Canada produces only two per cent of the global emissions, however this was immediately challenged by Gingras, who called Arnold’s claim that Canadians are really not contributing that much to climate change “outrageous.”
“We have 0.49 per cent of the population, so per capita, Canadians are some of the most flagrant emitters of greenhouse gasses,” she said, noting Canadians need to hear real scientific evidence, not spin-doctored claims.
Strong reaction also came from the crowd before the candidates even began to answer about their vision for the CBC.
While George, Derkaz and Gingras all pledged support for the all-Canadian broadcaster, Arnold said he wanted to see the CBC continue in a more self-sustaining fashion, “not relying on your pockets.”
Another buzz was stirred during a question about the Conservatives restricting the ability of government scientists to discuss their research.
Arnold told the crowd that government muzzling is a myth, which generated an outbreak of disbelief from the contingents supporting the other three parties. The other candidates came out on the side of increased free speech without retribution and enhanced openness of the democratic process.
George pointed out that any research or information generated by government-supported scientists, census-takers or other efforts belongs to the taxpayers and they should have unfettered access to it.
“You have paid for that with your tax dollars. It should be accessible to all Canadians.”
This was echoed by other candidates.
“I’d like you to think about why this question even has to be asked,” Gingras told the audience.
Interestingly many of the noticeable Liberal and NDP supporters gravitated to the left side of the room, while the right side had a stronger Conservative contingent, almost mimicking the political spectrum.
The meeting ended promptly as scheduled, but one audience member stood up in an attempt to make a statement. As the format did not allow for audience participation, moderator and president of the Salmon Arm Chamber Matt Koivisto politely interjected, instead thanking the candidates and the audience for their time and interest.
***Please note this story has been changed online from the original version to correct an error.
The quote: “I’d like you to think about why this question even has to be asked,” was attributed to Chris George, when it was actually said by Jacqui Gingras. We apologize for the error.