Three candidates came and spoke to local contituents on the issues on Thursday, April 14.
About 20 people attended the forum, perhaps because of the last-minute nature of the event.
This might have contributed to the low number of participants on the politician’s side as well out of the seven candidates in the riding.
The three who came to the event were the incumbent NDP candidate Nathan Cullen, Christian Heritage Party candidate Rod Taylor and Conservative Party candidate Clay Harmon.
Cullen’s initial address spoke of the improving economics of the Fort and the positive renewal taking place here.
“Fort St. James to me feels like a place that’s representing what the future of the northwest actually looks like,” he said. “This is the renewal that some have been pushing for across the whole region for quite some time.”
Clay Harmon spoke of the warmth of the community as he came to town, saying it “looks like a very comfortable, warm place to live.”
He also gave the Conservatives credit for the economic recovery of the country and region thanks to the Canada Action Plan.
He also said a major piece of the recovery “lies in the strength of corporate Canada.”
Rod Taylor outlined some of his party’s priorities, keying in on “restoring traditional family values” and “protecting innocent human life,” as well as protecting the traditional definition of marriage, between one woman and one man and protecting freedom of speech and bringing back “common sense fiscal management of taxpayer dollars.” Being a “voice for the voiceless” is a major focus for his party, he said, and the party would bring in protection for the unborn.
Questions from the audience covered a broad range of topics, and while the candidates were close on some topics, their differences were definitely hightlighted by others.
While discussing their backgrounds, it was surprising how similar some of their perspectives came, with Nathan Cullen, from Smithers, sounding a bit conservative in his leanings, which he said can put him a bit “offside” from his party at times, but still calling for an end to subsidies for big business.
“Business is good at innovation and development,” he said. “And government should facilitate that, government shouldn’t do business.”
Rod Taylor is from Telkwa, and Clay Harmon is from Terrace.
When proportional representation was raised by one member of the public, both Cullen and Taylor explained their support for reforming the electoral system and Cullen called for fundamental Senate reform. Rod Taylor suggested his party would consider a box voters could tick on their taxes to decide which party to allocate their tax funding of political parties to.
Harmon, alternatively, did not talk about proportional representation as an option, but said Conservatives have taken “major” steps towards Senate reform.
While Stephen Harper has appointed a record number of new senators, Harmon said the new senators must sign agreements that if the rules change, they will be subject to an election.
On the controversial long-gun registry, all three candidates supported scrapping the registry.
Canada’s global role and image was raised, specifically legislation defeated in the House which would have forced Canadian mining companies to be more accountable for their actions in other countries.
Taylor answered by questioning Canada’s role in Libya, saying “I think we need to be careful about becoming the cowboy of the world.”
he also mentioned his party’s opposition to corporate tax cuts, saying the companies needed to maintain a level of “civility” internationally like they would at home.
Clay Harmon defended the Conservative government’s policies by saying how raw log exports have helped to keep some jobs and infrastructure during the downturn. He supported the idea of the international marketplace as the determining factor.
Nathan Cullen, on the other hand, called the current Conservative position more “warlike.” Cullen pointed out “we now have a total of 14 Canadians wearing the blue helmet of the UN as peacekeepers.”
He then discussed two bills killed by the Conservative senate which would have followed through on an agreement to send life-saving drugs to Africa and an environmental bill which would have asked companies for reports every five years outlining their environmental policies and improvements, but not mandating them.
“Our stature in the world has fallen,” he said.
When health care came up, it was Taylor and Harmon who came closest to agreeing, saying they support fast-tracking foreign doctors and giving incentives to new graduates to work in rural areas. Taylor would go further than the Conservative breaks on student loans, saying the Christian Heritage Party would offer to pay full tuition for medical students who committed to a certain term in rural areas after graduation.
Cullen disagreed, saying letting poor countries train up doctors and then stealing them away isn’t a susatinable option, and the doctors he has spoken to in the north don’t believe the incentives the Conservatives proposed will work, because doctors make enough after graduation they aren’t really worried about their student loan debt enough to live somewhere they wouldn’t want to already.
The candidates also discussed resource exports and refinement, Cullen calling for requiring companies to develop the resources to a certain level in Canada, and the development of an energy policy.
Taylor said he doesn’t support the Enbridge pipeline as it stands, and would like to see further raw resource processing taking place in Canada.
Harmon once again reiterated his stance on the marketplace and the customer dictating the product.
A nurse in the audience asked about the slippage of the health case system into a two-tiered system which erodes the public system by draining the resources of the public system, and what each party’s stance is on the changes in the system.
Cullen immediately raised the question of what happened to the Romanow Report and said he sees what is happening as “death by a thousand cuts,” even suggesting the Conservatives might have an agenda of “privatization through starvation” as people become more desperate they will be more willing to see a two-tiered system put into place. He also called for price controls on pharmaceuticals like the ones which have been put into place in Australia.
The Christian Heritage Party does believe “there is some room for competition” and would also cut funding to abortion clinics.
Harmon said health care is a provincial issue, but defended the Conservative record of supporting health care.
The forum was hosted by the Chamber of Commerce.