All seven Cowichan Valley riding candidates attended the all-candidates meeting Tuesday evening at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre. From left, James Anderson, Sonia Furstenau, Eden Haythornthwaite, Steve Housser, Lori Iannidinardo, Samuel Lockhart and Ian Morrison. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

All seven Cowichan Valley riding candidates attended the all-candidates meeting Tuesday evening at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre. From left, James Anderson, Sonia Furstenau, Eden Haythornthwaite, Steve Housser, Lori Iannidinardo, Samuel Lockhart and Ian Morrison. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

VIDEO:Education topic most raucous at Tuesday’s candidate debate

The line of the night at Tuesday evening’s Cowichan Valley riding all-candidates meeting went to the youngest candidate on the panel, 24-year-old Samuel Lockhart. He is running as an independent and admittedly wasn’t well versed in many of the issues, including softwood lumber.

Lockhart said “I don’t know much about the forestry industry but my house is made of wood and for that I am thankful.”

While his frankness garnered laughs, as he and independent socialist candidate Eden Haythornthwaite both were able to lighten the mood during the two-and-a-half-hour meeting at the Cowichan Preforming Arts Centre, it was also serious business as all seven of the Cowichan Valley riding’s MLA hopefuls took the stage for a night of debate on hot button issues in front of a packed house.

Joining Lockhart and Haythornthwaite were James Anderson (Libertarian), Sonia Furstenau (BC Green Party), Steve Housser (BC Liberals), Lori Iannidinardo, (BC NDP), and Ian Morrison (independent).

True to their promise, the Cowichan Chamber of Commerce and moderator Wade Simmons kept the meeting up-tempo and on time as the candidates spoke on a variety of topics.

Conspicuously absent from the discourse was any mention of health care and only passing mentions of a new hospital — what many believe to be one of the most pressing issues in the region.

But poverty, softwood lumber, the local government act, PST as it relates to small businesses, homelessness and housing supply and the controversial Site C dam were all on the agenda, with the issue of education earning the biggest audience response.

“We have an excellent education system in the Cowichan Valley,” Housser said, defending the Liberal government’s education system. “Enrolment has gone down, per student funding has gone up and our results are good. Yes we can do better in education, we can do better in health and we can do better for seniors but we have to have an economy that is working well to provide the tax base to do that.”

One of the rules of the evening was if a candidate’s party was mentioned by a speaker, that candidate had the opportunity for a rebuttal and as a result, Housser was able to spend more time than the other candidates at the microphone, defending the Christy Clark government and reaffirming its plans moving forward. He used his time to push the idea that through a strong economy, all things are possible.

Iannidinardo noted 16 years of the Liberal government — the last six under Clark — have actually caused 16 years of instability in education.

“The NDP doesn’t need a Supreme Court to tell us how to fund our education,” she said to applause.

Iannidinardo wasn’t the only one to take aim at Housser and the Liberals on that topic.

“I’m sorry, when you have to be dragged through the courts for 15 years to fund education…” started Haythornthwaite, a long-time school trustee, before things got inaudible due to the crowd’s uproar, “Let’s not forget that that’s a whole cohort of students, and that shows intent. And as far as our schools being great? They are great. When I go into schools they are excellent. But you know why they’re great? Not because of you guys, Steve. It’s because of the people that work there.”

Both Morrison and Furstenau said it’s time for people to put parties aside and focus on each other instead of politics as cooperation is how the big problems will be solved.

“I think we want an MLA who is going to go to Victoria and work on your behalf on your issues not putting party platforms first,” Morrison said. “Let’s put people before political parties. Let’s put the Cowichan Valley first.”

Furstenau explained that over the last four years as a regional director fighting alongside the people of Shawnigan Lake to protect that community’s water supply, she’s been able to learn more about the inner workings of provincial government.

“I learned our hyper-adversarial, hyper-partisan two-party system where each side spends too much time scoring points and not enough time cooperating and collaborating doesn’t serve the people of this province,” she said. “I also learned that there is nothing more powerful that a community that works together.”

Iannidinardo also zeroed in on the Liberal government’s inadequacies when the opportunity arose.

“More than half of British Columbians are living paycheque to paycheque. We don’t need four more years of Christy Clark. Government is about choices and Christy Clark is making the wrong ones. I want to represent you in Victoria as part of a responsible government. Voting for a BC NDP government will provide the opportunity for better services to make life more affordable, to provide more jobs and a sustainable economy. We need a better B.C,” she said.

Anderson wondered if perhaps its time for government to step back so individuals and communities can step up.

“We all worry about our families and our communities and we try to do the best we can to support them,” he said. “There’s often too much to do in the time we have each day and so we’ve started to give some of that load to the government to make our lives easier rather than take responsibility for our own lives and looking out for one another. The worst part is we’re starting to create a generation that wants to turn to the government to solve all of our problems unlike past generations who came together as a community and worked together voluntarily.”

Shaw TV will run the debate on May 3 at 6 p.m.