If Conservative candidate Patrick Hunt had many supporters in the packed all-candidate’s meeting, they couldn’t be heard over a hostile chorus last week at Oak Bay High.
Contempt boiled over to booing on a handful of occasions, revealing attendees impatience with the federal government’s response to the issues of coalitions, contempt of parliament and crime.
“Our jails are overcrowded now,” Hunt said, in response to a question about how spending more money on jails will build a better Canada.
“Building more jails is the humane thing to do,” Hunt explained to groans and jeers.
“I had my car broken into, $2,300 worth of damage. He (the criminal) was given 30 days. That was the third time he was convicted,” Hunt continued, struggling to be heard.
“I don’t know how many cars he has broken into, but at some point you have to say, ‘Wait a minute, this guy can’t be rehabilitated.’”
Other party candidates provided variations of a starkly different approach to crime.
“We think the balance should be on prevention,” said New Democrat Party incumbent Denise Savoie, listing early learning interventions.
“What the Greens would do is focus on rehabilitation and supervised reintegration,” said Green candidate Jared Giesbrecht.
The Liberal policy is tough on the causes of crime, added candidate Christopher Causton.
“Twenty per cent (of prisioners) have mental health issues … so we have to go back to that question of mental health and rethink how we are going to deal with mental health,” said Causton to a burst of applause.
Unlike other South Island ridings, Victoria has been solidly left of centre since 1988. (Previously, the Progressive Conservatives held the riding for 16 years.) Savoie has represented Victoria since 2006, and won by a wide margin in the last election.
During the debate, she emphasized her track record in the House of Commons.
Some people, however, voiced uncertainty over electing a representative not part of the ruling party.
“Have any (of the bills you’ve presented) ever become law?” asked one woman. Another man asked: “Why would my son, my daughter and I vote NDP when you’re going to be back in opposition rather than another candidate that could bring the government and be a force for positioning investment in a community?”
As an example of her success, Savoie listed her campaign against tanker traffic, resulting in a ban rather than informal moratorium on the industry.
As to investment in the community, she said she helped secure the single largest infrastructure grant in Victoria’s history by working outside party lines — $21 million for the Johnson Street Bridge.
The event was held in the Oak Bay High auditorium and attracted a packed house of more than 600 people. Those with questions directed them to their candidate of choice.
Issues ranged all over the map, from centralizing naval fleet command in Halifax as once proposed by the Conservatives (“I thought that was a bit of a joke,” Causton responded. “The world is moving to the west – why move administration to the east?”) to mental health and addictions (“The federal government doesn’t deliver health care in Canada, it’s the provinces that do that,” answered Hunt).
Debate moderator Gregor Craigie of CBC opened up a question on anti-poverty strategy to all candidates.
While Causton, Hunt and Savoie got sidetracked by trading barbs over coalitions, Giesbrecht laid out the Green platform backed with specifics.
“The Green Party has a substantial plan for a national social housing policy … and it means significant investment in Victoria of approximately $13 million a year,” he said. “It also needs to include the Guaranteed Income Supplement … We need to increase that and we’re suggesting by 25 per cent.”
Giesbrecht’s closing remarks ended the session. “You may have noticed, as I’ve noticed, that I’m of a different generation than the other candidates,” said the 31 year old. “I think that works to my advantage because what this is about for me, and the reason I’m running, is because I want to be looking forward for our country.”