Hundreds packed the White Rock Community Centre Tuesday evening to hear from the seven federal candidates who are vying to fill the South Surrey-White Rock seat left vacant by the resignation of former MP Dianne Watts.
With the byelection just days away, eager voters lined up early – organizers say some arrived an hour ahead of the scheduled 7 p.m. start – to hear Larry Colero (Green); Kerry-Lynne Findlay (Conservative); Gordie Hogg (Liberal); Michael Huenefeld (Progressive Canadian); Jonathan Silveira (NDP); Rod Taylor (Christian Heritage Party) and Donald Wilson (Libertarian).
The interest prompted South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce officials to start the meeting early. Candidate introductions got underway 10 minutes ahead of time; a total of 14 pre-selected questions were posed over the course of the debate, moderated by Peace Arch News columnist Frank Bucholtz.
Topics ranged from relocation of the waterfront train tracks and the upcoming legalization of recreational marijuana, to why some candidates have “parachuted” from other ridings; the recently announced national housing strategy; and, if candidates would support amendments to Canada’s Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, to protect workers from losing pensions when businesses close down.
While the “parachute” question did not reference specific candidates, noting only that “two of three” had been defeated in previous elections, four candidates – Wilson, Huenefeld, Taylor and Findlay – responded.
Wilson, a New Westminster resident, said he “saw an opportunity to get the (Libertarian) message out… I’m not going to be aware of local issues, but the federal mandate affects us all.”
Taylor, a northern B.C. resident who is national leader of the CHP, said he wanted to bring the “universal principles” of his party to the riding, noting that, if elected, he and his wife would move to the community “in a heartbeat.”
Findlay – prefacing her response with, “I don’t know if I’m one of the people” – said her roots in the community date back to the ’80s. That history, she said, includes seven years visiting her father in extended care at Peace Arch Hospital, three nights at her brother’s side in palliative care and being a young widow with two kids living in Amblegreene.
“We’ve been here for a while. We love it. I know this community,” said Findlay, who, earlier in the day, told PAN she moved to White Rock “in the summer.”
Huenefeld, noting he lives in Vancouver, said it shouldn’t matter where candidates live.
“We are all Canadians, we are all British Columbians. What unites us is greater than geographical differences,” he said.
Regarding the new housing strategy, Hogg described it as “the first time we’ve seen a new and positive strategy for housing.” Findlay questioned what was being done now, noting the strategy won’t be fully in place until 2028; Colero said it doesn’t address demand; Silveira said it will create an entire generation of “equityless” Canadians; Taylor said it “takes more than four walls and a roof” to address homelessness; and Wilson rejected it outright, describing the notion that government can fix the problem with taxes, fees and policies as “a fallacy from top to bottom.”
Throughout the debate, a number of candidates took opportunities to criticize the governing Liberals, citing broken promises, inaction and bad decisions.
Taylor described the move to legalize recreational marijuana as “a terrible idea for this government,” criticizing a component that he and Findlay said will enable children as young as age 12 to carry up to five grams.
“You have to wonder what he’s been smoking,” Taylor said of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to laughter.
Hogg rejected the 12-year-old reference, noting the age limit in B.C. is to be 19.
“Kids on the street have access to it right now, ” Hogg said.
Hogg and Colero agreed government control would reduce crime and the number of drug deaths; Colero questioned if all drugs should be legalized.
Candidates were largely in agreement that amendments were needed to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. Wilson, however, said proposed legislation is “interfering with contractual agreements.”
“We’re casually talking about using force to rearrange those arrangements,” Wilson said. “We don’t need forced restrictions, we need new ideas.”
Candidates were asked if there should be a minister dedicated to seniors.
Huenefeld said he would support a ministry for gender equality, as well as for arts and culture, but questioned if more bureaucracy would benefit seniors. Findlay called it an “extremely important” issue. Hogg pointed to the existing seniors advocate, a position he said was created to help gain insight and respond to issues facing seniors.
Comments Findlay made last weekend to a TV news crew regarding refugees “just walking over from the United States,” and the “reintegration of ISIS fighters” into Canada, with a plan that includes reading poetry, inspired a question regarding just how many such refugees and fighters had entered Canada.
She said “at least” 60 ISIS fighters had returned to Canada, and reiterated her stance that the reintegration is “a really, really serious issue.” To applause, she described the ease of refugees walking across the border as “not acceptable.”
Hogg expressed confidence in the expertise of those dealing with the issues, including CSIS and the RCMP, but noted resources and co-ordination are lacking. Poetry-reading, he added, was “part of a whole range of things” planned in the reintegration process.
Huenefeld said he disagreed with the Conservatives’ “fear-based approach”; Taylor said CHP supports legal immigration and “people we can help and who want to help Canada.”
On the question of the waterfront train tracks – which included if there was support for converting the area into a park – Wilson said he was “unfamiliar with the details”; Hogg, Colero and Findlay supported relocation; Silveira said talks of a new expressway, with White Rock the first point of entry, could be “a real economic opportunity for small business in White Rock.”
Other question topics included autism treatment, how to increase government revenues without raising taxes, veterans’ pensions and if it was more important to close tax holes or go after the “super-rich.”
Many in the crowd were visibly there in support of the Liberal and Conservative candidates, adorned with campaign buttons and responding to their candidates’ answers with enthusiastic applause.
All seven candidates received varied responses to their answers, from light to raucous applause, and from goodhearted laughter to chortles of disbelief.
Constituents will mark their choice for the riding’s next MP on Monday (Dec. 11).
According to Elections Canada, 6,457 voters in the riding have already marked their ballots, in advance polling that took place Dec. 1-4.
The number is just over half the 12,154 votes cast in advance polls for the 2015 election.
In four ridings across the country holding a byelection Dec. 11, South Surrey-White Rock accounted for nearly half of a total 13,762 votes cast in advance polls.
Highlights of Tuesday’s all-candidates meeting are online at www.cpac.ca (go to 1:34:10) Thursday evening as part of Cable Public Affairs Channel’s PrimeTime Politics show.