Anyone questioning the state of democracy in Victoria need only have dropped by the New Horizons building in James Bay on Wednesday.
The lineup stretched halfway down the 200-block of Menzies St. for the first official all-candidates meeting in the federal byelection race.
About a dozen of the 200 people turned away at the door gathered around open windows to hear the four major candidates answer a hodgepodge of audience questions for two-and-a-half hours.
In attendance were Donald Galloway (Green), Dale Gann (Conservative), Murray Rankin (NDP) and Paul Summerville (Liberal).
Art Lowe of the Libertarian Party and Philip Ney of the Christian Heritage Party were absent, although all candidates were extended an invitation, said organizer and moderator Marg Gardiner.
After opening remarks, Gardiner launched into the first hot-button issue of the election: the Capital Region’s $783-million secondary sewage treatment project.
“It’s unacceptable to pour raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca,” Gann said. “When this community said it was a priority, our government stepped up to the plate and brought their third (of the funding).”
The NDP also supports secondary sewage treatment, although Rankin said he believes savings can still be found in the current project.
“It’s time to get on with it,” Rankin said.
Summerville, the only candidate outright opposed to the current project, said the decision to implement secondary sewage treatment is “based on image, not science.”
He compared the underground pipe system that would connect Clover Point, a wastewater treatment plant at Macaulay Point and a biosolids centre at Hartland landfill to a “mini-Enbridge pipeline in our own backyard.”
Galloway took a measured approach to sewage treatment considerations, saying any decisions need to be based on scientific fact. He does believe the current plan is not the right plan.
China trade agreement draws ire
The most emotional moment of the night came when candidates were asked about the recently inked Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement.
The agreement has been criticized for its 31-year contract that allows Chinese investment in Canadian companies, and for its secret arbitration process in the event of international lawsuits.
Gann was booed by several audience members when he said the agreement equally protects Canadian rights.
“This is the most dangerous agreement that has been signed by a Canadian government,” Galloway said to applause.
Summerville said he believes the Harper government “panicked” by signing the agreement.
Rankin agreed the agreement was not reciprocal and said “we must find a way to stop this.”
The candidates also discussed cruise ship and inner harbour traffic, women’s rights, education and the need for a national housing strategy.
Candidates consider cannabis
The MP-hopefuls were also asked about the successful vote earlier this week to legalize marijuana possession in the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado.
In what was either a moment of inspiration or panic, Conservative Party candidate Dale Gann asked the 200-plus room of attendees how many of them supported legalizing marijuana.
About 95 per cent of the audience raised their hands.
“Personally, as a father, I don’t want my kid sitting around smoking marijuana,” Gann responded. “But as your representative, I’m supposed to carry that to Ottawa.”
NDP candidate Murray Rankin said current laws result in a “waste of human potential, when so many young people have criminal records for small amounts of marijuana.”
Rankin said the NDP would immediately amend the Criminal Code to allow for possession of small amounts of weed. He added there needs to be an “adult conversation” about taxation and regulation of the substance.
Liberal candidate Paul Summerville highlighted the potential revenue that could make its way into government hands with proper taxation and regulation. He said the war on drugs is a failed attempt and that science matters when it comes to public policy.
“It’s estimated B.C. would raise $2 billion from the taxation of marijuana,” he said. “Instead of handing it over to criminals, let’s hand it over to government.”
Donald Galloway of the Green Party said the focus shouldn’t be on “making money off drugs and drug use.”
Instead, regulation should focus on public health policies that educate and promote healthy living.
“It is a health problem that is smoked like tobacco,” he said of marijuana, adding there needs to be a rethink of federal drug policy.
The candidates will meet again Nov. 15 at 8 a.m. at the Ambrosia Catering and Event Centre for a meeting hosted by the Victoria Real Estate Board to discuss affordable housing.
Interested attendees are asked to register in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Voting day is Nov. 26, with advance voting taking place Nov. 16, 17 and 19.
For more voting information, visit elections.ca.