Independent candidate Brian Thiesen responds to a question during the Kelowna-West all-candidates meeting in Westbank Monday night. Independent candidate Brian Thiesen responds to a question during the Kelowna-West all-candidates meeting in Westbank Monday night.

Clark’s absence the “elephant in the room”

Premier Christy Clark’s no-show at all-candidates meeting in West Kelowna is noticed

B.C. Premier Christy Clark may not have been at the Kelowna-West all-candidates meeting in Westbank Monday night, but that didn’t mean she was not part of it.

In asking the first question of the night, moderator Chris Walker of CBC radio told the audience at the Westbank Lions Community Hall, “the elephant in the room is who’s not in the room.”

He then asked the four candidates on hand—the NDP’s Shelley Cook, Robert Mellalieu of the B.C Green Party, independent candidate Brian Thiesen and Kelowna-Mission B.C. Liberal candidate Steve Thomson, who was filling in for Clark, what responsibility a candidate had to attend events such as the meeting they were at.

Thomson defended Clark, saying as party leader she has a responsibility to travel the province during the campaign, and read a brief statement from her reiterating the B.C. Liberals record on infrastructure spending in the riding over the last four years,

She won the riding in 2013 in a byelection after leading her party to a surprise general election win but she lost her own Vancouver-area seat.

Clark is expected to take part in a Kelowna-West all-candidates radio debate slated for Wednesday and was in the Okanagan on Tuesday with stops in Princeton, Osoyoos, Oliver, Penticton and Kelowna.

While Mellalieu acknowledged Clark’s provincial party responsibilities, he accused her of not being part of the community because of her absences as MLA.

“You have to show up,” he said.

A few people in the audience yelled out “no-show,” but were quickly quieted down.

Once that issue was addressed, the candidates moved on to a host of other issues including healthcare, mental health and addictions, infrastructure, economic growth, marijuana and a second crossing of Okanagan Lake.

While Mellalieu said the focus of on-going studies into the Highway 97 corridor through the Central Okanagan should be on moving people rather than moving cars, Cook flat out rejected the idea of a second bridge over Okanagan Lake and the required route to get to it on the Westside because she said it would “destroy what we love, parks and waterways.”

Thiesen said he is also opposed to building a second crossing.

Thompson, however, was non-committal, pointing to the Highway 97 corridor study, saying public consultation needs to take place.

But he said moving people, goods and services is critical and noted a key finding of the study so far, is that more than 90 per cent of all the traffic that uses the existing bridge is local, not through traffic heading out of the immediate area.

Another large B.C. infrastructure issue also garnered a lot of attention Monday night—construction of the Site C dam in northern B.C.

While there were anti-Site C project protesters outside the community hall prior to the meeting, inside, Cook, Mellalieu and Thiesen all slammed the multi-billion project as detrimental to the environment and not needed. Thomson defended it.

Thiesen repeatedly said that the hydroelectric power the dam will generate is not required and the money being used to pay for the project would be better spent on other, more pressing needs, like healthcare and education. And he worked in the fact that he felt B.C. Hydro rates are too high into many of his answers during the evening.

When it came to the current fentanyl crisis in B.C, Cook criticized the government response, saying not only does more need to be done, but the government was late in addressing it. She said the NDP would establish a ministry responsible for mental health and addictions because both areas need more attention than they have received from the current Liberal government.

On healthcare, all four candidates agreed more needs to be done to provide more doctors in this province. Thomson rattled off steps the Liberals have taken to try and do that, including more funding for medical school spaces, placing nurse-practitioners in doctors offices to help relieve the workload and free up doctors time to see more patients and a plan to spend millions more on healthcare in the recent B.C. budget. On the other hand, Cook accused the Liberals of cutting healthcare funding in a number of areas and not addressing the key issues such as mental health.

She said B.C. has the second lowest child poverty rate in the country and has not lived up to the promise it made to have a family doctor for everyone in B.C. by 2015.

Mellalieu said the B.C. Greens would quadruple the amount of money the B.C. Liberals are planning to add to healthcare funding if it is elected to government.

The most awkward moment of the evening came when Walker asked the candidates to identify something in their own party’s platform they disagree with. After Thomson said there was nothing in the B.C. Liberal platform he disagreed with, Mellalieu stood, tried to stare down Thomson, a former rugby player, and called him a “wimp” for saying that.

Mellalieu said he disagrees with many parts of the B.C. Green platform, but Greens, he said, talk through their differences and come to consensus.

Cook also said she agreed with all parts of her party’s platform, but added in some areas she feels it has not gone far enough.

Thiesen, an independent candidate, quipped, he agreed with all of his own platform.

And, in responding to a question about how he would deal with voters who do not support him, he had the audience laughing when he joked, “I think everyone is entitled to my opinion.”