In a close-to-capacity Canfor theatre at the University of Northern British Columbia, some 350 voters were treated to a lively, yet civil debate Wednesday night when candidates seeking to become the next MP in Cariboo-Prince George set out their positions on a wide range of issues.
Incumbent Conservative Todd Doherty and challengers Liberal Tracy Calogheros, New Democrat Heather Sapergia, Green Mackenzie Kerr and People’s Party Jing Lan Yang provided answers on how to tackle climate change, life for Indigenous people, resource development, health care, spending and taxation and international relations over the course of an hour.
In her opening statement, Calogheros took the initiative, saying dealing with climate change and addressing Indigenous issues are the two most important issues in this election.
“It’s how we’re going to get through the next 100 years and how we’re going to do it together,” she said. She also took a swipe at the current trend of divisive politics. “Blind partisanship is worldwide and it’s breaking us apart and it’s stopping us from hearing the great ideas in every party and every part of the world,” she said.
Doherty, for his part, emphasized his track record as an MP and made note of his private members bill in support of emergency responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
On climate change, candidates reeled off a stream of programs and policies their parties would pursue with more than one talking about incentives to retrofit homes and businesses to make them more energy efficient.
Doherty talked about the a green investment fund to encourage more work on carbon-capture technology and make Canada a world leader in the field.
Calogheros recalled watching the forest fires near Francois Lake two summers ago and said she was happy to see the Liberals stand for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, supported by “deep and real” investments in research into green technology.
Businesses that achieve net zero will see their taxes cut in half, she added, and predicted the measure would bring more investment into Canada.
Sapergia said climate change has led to the loss of thousands of jobs in the forest sector and that the NDP would create 300,000 new clean energy jobs, “so people like these forest workers can transition into a job that is a clean energy job.”
The NDP would redirect subsidies for oil and gas into green technology, she added.
With the help of a 20-point plan, Kerr said the Greens would shoot for a 60-per-cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, saying it’s the only target that would limit the world’s temperature from rising more than 1.5 C.
Yang said the People’s Party is committed to taking a scientific approach to protecting the environment and emphasized further developing clean technology. She also raised doubts about the effectiveness of a tax on carbon. When addressing the issues facing Indigenous people,
Doherty made perhaps the boldest statements of the night when he said “reconciliation has become a buzzword.”
He prefaced the comment by saying it’s a complex issue on which both the Conservatives and Liberals have stumbled in trying tackle.
And Doherty went on to say reconciliation is not about pitting First Nations against each other, it’s about finding a path forward.
“If you ask five or six First Nations, they all have different interpretations of that. And I think it’s irresponsible of us to stand up here and say ‘we’re going to do this’ and ‘we’re going to develop First Nations policy’ when we don’t have First Nations with us to develop First Nations policy.”
He said finding true reconciliation is a matter of getting the “right people around the table” so we can move forward and mitigate many of the stumbles that this previous government and the previous governments before us."
Calogheros, Sapergia and Kerr expressed degrees of support for the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Missing and Murdered Women Inquiry and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Both Kerr and Yang said they would scrap the Indian Act but for different reasons. Kerr called colonial and racist while Yang said the People’s Party would do so in the name of “making everyone equal” and introducing private property rights on reserves.
In closing comments, Calogheros called on voters who voted NDP or Green in the last to cast a vote for her and the Liberals. Had that occurred in 2015, Calogheros would have won.
“The fact of the matter is, this riding has changed, and we need a new, progressive voice in Ottawa.”
The forum was step up from the opening act when just three of the five candidates running in Prince George-Peace River-Rocky Mountain attended. Candidates in Cariboo-Prince George were more clearly spoken and much more on top of the issues and where their parties stand on them.