Close to 200 people crowded into the gym at Lochside elementary school Tuesday night to hear from the candidates in Saanich-Gulf Islands.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May drew the loudest applause from the audience at the forum put on by the Cordova Bay, Blenkinsop Valley and Broadmead Area community associations, but she also drew a few pointed barbs from her challengers.
The NDP’s Alicia Cormier pointed to her party’s commitment to protecting the environment, saying it’s “something the Greens can’t do because they can’t form government.”
Robert Boyd of the Conservatives attacked May’s pledge to work with a Liberal or NDP government, where he said she could work to implement “her dangerous economic policies.”
The Conservative candidate didn’t come away from the debate unscathed, as the three other candidates all took shots at the policies of the Stephen Harper government.
On a question about striking a balance between a peacekeeping and combat role, Liberal Tim Kane said there is no balance now.
“Stephen Harper is all about combat. This isn’t the Canada I know.”
May accused the Conservatives of “stirring up fear for personal electoral gain.”
Boyd said you can’t keep the peace until you make the peace.
“If we don’t stamp out the problem we are going to be seeing this over and over again.”
With many of the night’s questioned focused on the environment, May reaffirmed her commitment that the Kinder Morgan pipeline was a “non-starter from the get-go,” while Cormier said the NDP doesn’t support any of the four pipeline proposals on the table.
Kane said Canada needs to get its resources to market, as hundreds of thousands of jobs are dependent on it. “The real problem is the Conservatives have dismantled the environmental process,” he said.
The candidates for the Greens, NDP and Liberals all promised to restore the cuts to the CBC, which Kane called “the jewel in the crown of our culture.” Cormier said the CBC defines our country, while May called for changes to the governing structure of the public broadcaster. She said the board is now made up of Conservative appointees, adding “I think they have an eye to destroying the CBC.”
Boyd said he supports public broadcasting but also believes the CBC receives adequate funding.
On a question about the homeless, Boys said the issue is more of a responsibility of municipal and provincial governments. He did suggest Ottawa could do more by taking a look at issues involving mental health and drug addiction. “We can take a lot more criminals off the street.”
The other candidates jumped on that response.
“Let’s put homeless people in jail and now they’re not homeless,” said Kane. “That’s not the solution, and neither is having a tent city in Topaz Park.”
Cormier pointed to her experience in municipal government, which she says doesn’t have the funds to deal with the issue and yet is feeling the brunt of the pressure.
“The homeless are not criminals. Many people are just one paycheque away from being homeless.”
Boyd was questioned on the TPP trade deal and whether it’s a good idea to negotiate the deal in the midst of an election campaign.
“The work of government doesn’t stop just because an election is taking place,” he said, adding the details would become known when it comes to Parliament to be voted on.
May pointed to the free trade deal between Canada and South Korea, saying “No Robert, not every trade deal has a vote in Parliament.” The Green Party leader then looked towards Boyd and said, “Don’t shake your head at me, I really know this stuff.”
All the candidates seemed receptive to a question about lowering the voting age.
“We should lower the voting age to get more younger people voting,” said May, adding if people started voting at 16 while they were in school, it is more likely they would continue voting at 18 and 20.
Kane said he liked the idea, but because it’s not part of the Liberal platform couldn’t comment further.
Cormier said she would like to hear more from the public on the issue, adding that as a mother she had her doubts “whether 16 is the right age.”
Boyd said there are many ways for youth to get involved in the electoral system now, adding he became involved at the age of 14.
“I would like to see that when people turn 18 that they are automatically registered.”
A question directed at the Liberal and NDP candidates displayed a stark contrast on the issue of whipped votes.
“The Liberal policy is we will not have whipped votes again. We will vote as our constituents think we should.”
Cormier said a whipped vote shows accountability and keeping a commitment made to the voters on the policies supported at election time.
“How would you poll 40,000 people in a riding to know how to vote?” she asked.