Provincial legislative hopefuls were grilled at the all candidates meeting this week in Grand Forks amid cheers and heckles depending on the comments.
In one of the first opportunities to face-off against each other Mischa Popoff (BC Conservative), Linda Larson (BC Liberal), Sam Hancheroff (BC New Democratic Party) and the independent Doug Pederson fielded questions from media and audience members over the two-and-a-half hour meeting at Grand Forks Senior Secondary auditorium. The Green candidate John Kwasnica was unable to be at the Grand Forks meeting, but did participate the next day in Midway.
But the mud-slinging and heckling throughout the evening didn’t take place between candidates as the audience took every opportunity to express their thoughts on responses to questions.
After a particularly pointed comment from Popoff about B.C. citizens paying high taxes just to fund bureaucratic high wages and pensions, a local teacher took offence.
“You said there is no money left in the province (addressed to Popoff), correct. There’s no money left in my pockets either and I’m one of those highly paid teachers who’s expecting a 'really big' pension,” an audience member who didn’t identify herself sarcastically commented. “Not as big as the MLAs are going to get, and I also pay much more than they do… So far you’ve slammed every single party and you’ve slammed a lot of questioners up here, but I haven’t heard anything concrete from you on how you’re going to run this province.”
Keen audience participants lined up at the microphones, at one point 16 deep, to get a chance to pose challenging questions about topics ranging from legalization of marijuana, health care, support for rural B.C. communities, education, child poverty to infrastructure financing for cities.
Running on a platform focused on lowering waste in government spending and facing the reality that there is not a never-ending pool of money at the provincial table, Popoff maintained his views throughout the meeting despite commentary from the crowd.
“Just today I heard Christy Clark announce she’s going to freeze the carbon tax. I’ve got a better idea, let’s get rid of it. We already pay half tax to heat your home and drive your car. Does that prevent you from driving your car? What is another four or five percent going to do to curb our behaviour?” Popoff questioned. “It’s a sin tax… They need to raise money through all these taxes to pay for public service salaries, benefits and pensions.”
Following much of her party’s platform in her responses to questions, Larson also took some time to highlight her experience in local government.
“As a former business owner I know what it’s like to be successful and to fail. The Liberals were the first in Canada to recognize the importance of small business to the economy and created the first small business ministry and permanent round table in 2005,” Larson commented. “I want a stable financial environment for the future for my grandchildren. I do not want to leave debt… as taxpayers we expect our local governments to be fiscally responsible, to cut back on employees and not to increase the size of government. We should expect the same from the provincial government.”
The independent Pederson, free from party lines, toted his main agenda as being that of the people he represents through transparent, open government.
“I am here to fight for the people of the Boundary-Similkameen district. With my computer background I could easily put on mini-referendums where everybody that’s registered could vote on any issue possible,” Pederson explained. “It would be easy to cover anything that I do on video or audio and all my emails would be available. Vote independent because you’ll get someone who’ll really fight for you.”
Hancheroff targeted the need to bolster forest industries to keep communities afloat, job creation and education throughout the night.
“Opportunities have to be available to every region which means a real commitment to more good paying jobs and a strong forestry industry,” said Hancheroff. “That means improving forestry health, that means reducing raw log exports, and creating more value added jobs right here… That means support for forestry workers and communities like Grand Forks to adapt to the changes caused by the pine beetle.”
Hot buttons were pushed when the issue of the environment, oil pipelines, student loans and child care were raised, angering the crowd. Popoff, mimicking a Tommy Douglas style politician, came out swinging by bluntly stating that there’s no money to keep the government bureaucracies afloat and that he would be a hypocrite to promise money where there is none.
“If you want this province to become like Quebec and have $7 a day daycare, instead of $10 a day, if you want that just keep doing what we’re doing – alternating between NDP and Liberal – and we’ll be a have not province before you know it and then Saskatchewan and Ontario can pay for all those things that you want,” said Popoff. “We’re broke. And that’s my answer.”
Other candidates took more middle ground approaches to the issues. Larson committed that the Liberals would not tax those who create jobs in the province to find additional money and that there are no easy solutions about how to fund needed education, or other services. Larson reiterated that the Liberals have not approved any pipelines, falling back on saying certain requirements have not been met by the oil companies.
Pederson suggested that waste can be found within the system that would free funding to be used to support what his constituents deemed important, while Hancheroff was more bold promising reduced costs for child care, increased corporate taxation and little tolerance for pipelines.
In their last kick at the can for the night, each candidate topped off their comments with a last statement.
Popoff was clear that he is opposed to taxation, including taxes buried in rate increases from utilities companies, and that the people of B.C. are the province’s biggest resource. As such, no environmental concern should top the need for people to make a living.
Pederson encouraged people to vote for an independent dedicated to fighting for the people he represents.
Giving a glimpse into her background as a city councillor and small business owner, Larson focused her closing on demonstrating her personal skills and suitability for the job.
Last, Hancheroff encouraged everyone to vote for a change in government improved skills training and education, and resource management that keeps jobs in the province.
The 80 plus attendees at the night’s event felt it well worth their time to have come out to hear from the local candidates, some saying it was better than watching TV.
The provincial election takes place on Tuesday, May 14 across B.C.