Okanagan-Coquihalla voters who live in West Kelowna and Peachland had their first chance to see the six men vying to succeed long-time Conservative MP Stockwell Day together Wednesday.
The candidates, who participated in an election forum in Peachland, took questions from members of the 200-strong audience, covering a myriad of topics ranging from law and order and the economy to health care and seniors issues.
Dan Albas, the Conservative candidate kicked off the evening thanking popular long-time former Tory MP Stockwell Day for his public service.
Albas said he planned to continue Day’s “strong” record of constituency work if elected.
“I want to listen to people, take their views to government and be accountable,” he said.
“And I want to remind people in government to respect the people they represent.”
NDP candidate David Finnis, who lives in Summerland but has worked in Westbank for the last 11 years, said he decided to run because of the lack of civility in Parliament, a state of affairs that seems to make it impossible for MPs to get things done.
But he said minority parliaments can work and the NDP is willing to find common ground with other parties.
Liberal candidate John Kidder, who rejected Albas’s claim that this is an “unnecessary” election, said Canadians are voting because the Conservative government of Stephen Harper was found in contempt of parliament.
“The (former conservative) government has a profound disrespect for democracy,” said Kidder, referring to the contempt finding, as well as an advertising scandal stemming back to the 2006 election and fractious relationship with other parties in Parliament.
The Green Party’s Dan Bouchard, who ran in the 2008 election when he was a student and now works in the forest industry as a lumber broker, called himself a “middleman” in the business world.
“And that’s what you need to be as an MP. You need to bring people together,” he said.
The other two candidates, West Kelowna realtor Sean Upshaw, who calls himself an “independent Conservative,” and Dietrich Wittel, a medical doctor, are both running after failing to win the Conservative nomination.
Upshaw said if he wins, he plans to sit with the Tories and support them. As a result, he spent much of the night explaining what the Conservatives would do if re-elected to govern.
“I’m not a conservative out of convenience but out of conviction,” he declared. “And that makes a difference.
He claims the Conservative nomination process was rigged to give Albas, a former Penticton city councillor, the nomination. Albas, former MP Stockwell Day and the Conservative riding association have all denied the charge.
Wittel, a latecomer to the race, is pushing an alternative health care and environmental agenda, that he says should be funded by taking money from the existing health care budget.
During the forum, the candidates were asked about both their party’s positions and their personal views on issues such as help for seniors, the economy, post secondary education and affordable housing.
“There is an increasing gap between the rich and poor and it’s getting bigger,” said Kidder when asked what measures the Liberals would take to help middle-class seniors.
He referred the audience to the Liberal platform for specifics but said the issue of poverty must be addressed.
“We have people in this riding living on $900 per month and that’s not right.”
Finnis called the finding of one recent report that the richest one per cent of Canadians are taxed lower than the poorest four per cent disgraceful.
He slammed Conservative government spending on fighter jets and new jails and said his party would put money into affordable housing and health care instead.
An NDP government would also strengthen the Canada Pension Plan to help seniors, added Finnis. Bouchard said a Green government would provide money for home refits to make them more energy efficient, remove income tax for everyone earning less than $20,000 per year and introduce a carbon tax.
Albas touted the Tory economic proposals in the budget tabled just before the election was called but added “government is a responsibility, not a benefit program.”
And he pointed to his party’s track record, including lowering the GST by two per cent, introducing income-splitting for couples, introduction of the tax-free savings account and its vow to increase health care spending by six per cent per year.
While all the candidates were given turns to address all the questions, there was little direct interaction between them.
But Albas’s reference to dealing with drug addicts through jail when asked about the possibility of a safe-injection site opening in the Okanagan did prompt Kidder to directly address him.
“Dan, that is about the cruelest thing I have ever heard,” said Kidder, saying drug addiction should be addressed as a health issue, not a crime issue.
He, Finnis and Bouchard all pointed to repeated expert support for the Insight safe-injection site in downtown Vancouver. “It’s a health issue and (the safe-injection site) saves us money,” said Finnis.
The Conservative, Liberal, Green Party and NDP candidates also said that their respective parties would provide money from the federal gas tax for municipalities struggling with infrastructure costs.