They did not hear a debate per se, but the huge crowd that filled the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre heard all the candidates vying for the Cowichan-Malahat-Langford seat in Ottawa answer a wide variety of questions.
The big theatre was almost full for the meeting and the session, organized by the Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce, was smoothly marshalled by moderator Wade Simmons.
He bluntly outlined the rules of the evening at the beginning and then clamped down hard on any candidate or audience member attempting to sneak extra time for additional remarks.
There was no clear winner among the candidates and the audience, which drew heavily from the over-50 demographic, was polite for the most part.
An applause-o-meter would have noted that NDP hopeful Alistair MacGregor had the most supporters in the crowd, followed by Green candidate Fran Hunt-Jinnouchi. However, Conservative Martin Barker earned recognition by showing up for the evening, unlike some of his party colleagues in other ridings.
Questions ranged widely, coming from people at two microphones or in written form.
One questioner opined that MPs make high salaries and asked how the candidates planned to earn it.
Hunt-Jinnouchi quickly said that Greens were dedicated to working hard, without expecting extra perks, as personified by their leader.
“Elizabeth May walks right past her colleagues from other parties and flies coach. She has set the standard there,” she said.
The money was needed to help low income Canadians by providing a guaranteed “liveable” income, and raising the so-called poverty line from $20,000 per year to a more realistic $25,000 or $30,000, Hunt-Jinnouchi added.
On natural resources, MacGregor was firmly against processing LNG in such “a pristine space” as Bamberton and also said that shipping of raw bitumen abroad was counter productive to the country’s economy.
“Canadians aren’t getting enough value out of our oil as it is,” he said. He also got the strongest applause of the night when, asked when Canadians could expect a new health accord, he replied, “First, we need a prime minister who’s willing to sit down with the provinces.”
He also said he thought a national water policy was essential “or we will see a flood of climate refugees” and wanted to see repairs made to federal environmental acts he said the Conservatives “had gutted.”
Barker sometimes got the floor to himself and sometimes his answers separated him from the pack. Asked about homelessness, Barker said, “the issue is complicated,” and that often homeless people came from “very weak families” but then drew groans when he said such federal programs as income splitting would help.
Asked to comment on the Stop Harper Movement, Barker said, “Our country is unrivalled in the world because of Stephen Harper. Our country is reputable and well administered, it’s the best it’s ever been because of our Conservative government.”
Candidates were asked about the Long Gun Registry allowing Marxist-Leninist Haythorhthwaite to get in one of the best lines of the night for the seniors in the audience by claiming the Conservatives “had cut it up and buried it like they did with the Arrow”, referring to the scrapping of the famous Canadian supersonic jet developed in the 1950s.
Barker was just as firm on his opposition to the Long Gun Registry.
“We are not prepared to make our rural long gun owners register,” he said, adding, “but we need strong laws to deal with the criminal element.”
This week’s hot topic, the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement that sees Canada enter a long-term trade deal, has been front and centre in Cowichan and other agricultural areas, largely because of the worries of the dairy industry, which has been promised financial compensation.
Barker promised, “The prime minister said supply management will not be on the table. Forestry will get increased access to markets.”
Haythornthwaite wanted to “tear up these agreements” which he said only benefitted corporations.
Krayenhoff said he wanted to see more detail before he commented but then added “water cannot be a part of this; it must be protected.”
He also said the agreement “ruffled a lot of feathers” in the agricultural community and that a Liberal government would to act to protect rural families.
Hunt-Jinnouchi took up the cudgels for farmers, saying, “these agreements undermine our sovreignty. Valley farmers don’t want handouts. They want to farm.”
A difficult question asked all the hopefuls what they thought of Canada’s position of standing by the government of Israel no matter what it did with Palestine.
MacGregor said that the Israeli military presence was very strong and drew applause for saying that Canada, as a friend to Israel, “should be able to stand up and tell your friend when you’re making a mistake.”
Krayenhoff added that he wanted to see Canada return to its former status as a world leader in peace keeping.
Hunt-Jinnouchi said part of the problem is that people who speak up against Israeli “encroachment” in Palestine are immediately tarred as being anti-Semetic, when that is not the case. “It’s the big elephant in the room,” she said.
Advance voting is this weekend.