The candidates for the 2015 election

Election 2015: Ladies and gentlemen, meet the candidates

A profile of the federal candidates running in the Kootenay-Columbia riding: Bill Green, Don Johnston, Wayne Stetski and David Wilks

The Free Press sat down with the candidates for the Kootenay-Columbia district. Here are the interviews.

Residents of Elkford, Fernie and Sparwood: If anyone has any questions or concerns they’d like to ask the candidates, please send them to editor@thefreepress.ca and we will relay those to the candidates and print their answers in the paper starting Sept. 24.

Bill Green, Green Party:

During the last federal election in 2011, the voter turnout for youth under the age of 30 in the Kootenay-Columbia riding was only 35 per cent, a number this year’s Green Party candidate hopes to see improved on Oct. 19.

In a recent interview with The Free Press, Bill Green said now is the time when the youth should be exercising their right to vote, adding it is “critically important” to reach out to that voting demographic and urge them to cast their ballots on election day.

“There are now more millennials than there are baby boomers,” he said. “If you guys do it, you can make a change.”

The problem is there is a lot of talk about strategic voting – something Green said there’s little evidence to suggest works in the fist place – which turns the youth off from voting and makes them cynical.

“The only way we’re going to fix that is by encouraging people to vote for what they believe in and for the future they want,” Green said. “That’s the fundamental message I’m giving.”

Green said the campaign trail is going well so far and the Green Party has built a strong campaign for the upcoming election.

“I’m excited about how the campaign is going,” he said. “I am really encouraged by the positive feedback that I’ve been getting at the door steps.”

What he’s been hearing is a mix between undecided voters and that support for the current government doesn’t seem to be as strong as it once was.

“There’s a huge number of undecided voters here and I think that Conservative support has slipped since the last election. A lot of people want to see a change.”

The Green Party has, since its inception, had a strong focus on the environment, which is an area where the party’s Kootenay-Columbia candidate brings a lot of experience to the table.

Since 1994, Green has been the director of the Canadian Columbia River Inter-tribal Fisheries Commission, a First Nations organization focused on salmon and ecosystem restoration.

Prior to his work with the commission, Green worked on protecting aquatic ecosystems in Papua New Guinea and on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Green said there have been a number of issues raised by constituents during his campaign trail. Because Kootenay-Columbia is one of the largest districts not only in British Columbia but also in all of Canada, wants and needs vary across the region. In Fernie, though, some of the concerns he’s been hearing include access to healthcare, affordable childcare and affordable housing.

Another issues common across the riding are that constituents wants job creation and maintaining jobs for young people, a problem Green said has to do in part with the issue of affordable housing.

“You always think of affordable housing as a Toronto or a Vancouver issue, but it’s also an issue here in Fernie,” he said. “Part of that comes down to the real estate competition with people from Alberta and vacation homes. It’s astounding for me to walk around and see how many homes are owned by Albertans.” Green said in many ways that’s good for the economy, but also said if the Albertans who buy houses here only occupy those houses from a few weeks to a few months a year, how much money does that actually put into the local economy?

One of the policies of the Green Party is to reestablish the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and begin to invest in social housing and cooperative housing that will make housing more accessible and affordable, Green said.

The Green Party wants to restore corporate income taxes to the levels they were in 2008, he said.

“In 2008 it was lower than what it was in the early 2000s but higher than what it is now,” he said. “Let’s increase the corporate income tax to what it was in 2008 and take that revenue and invest it in things like CMHC.”

Green said another big part of the Green Party’s policy is moving to a low-carbon economy and moving Canada to the forefront of the global clean energy revolution.

“And the way we’re going to do that is getting the incentives right,” he said, adding this means establishing a carbon pricing regime that puts Canada on the path to carbon reductions in the future.

The way to introduce a carbon price is through a carbon fee and dividend system, which would set a clear price on carbon pollution. Some economists suggest the fee could start at approximately $50 per ton of CO2 that would rise by $10 until it reaches between $150-$200 per ton.

“The intent is it changes investment decisions of businesses so that in 10 years from now, we’re positioned for a the low-carbon economy.”

Green said he thinks a lot of the consequences of such incentives means the country will have to leave some of the oil sands in the ground.

“Do we have to leave all of it? Do we have to wind down the old sands industry? No, I mean why not have a sustainable level of oil sands production instead of thinking we’ve got to keep going up and up and up because that’s clearly not sustainable.”

Of all the issues that could be improved in Canada, Green said he believes it’s the breakdown of the country’s democracy.

“We have to fix,” he said. “Part of that is about electoral reform and the voting system, which all the parties except the conservatives are talking about.”

For this reason, Green said it is important the Green Party is part of coalition government.

“I think, whatever the outcome from the election, it looks highly likely it’s going to need some type of coalition, which I don’t find scary whatsoever. I think some of our best governments have been coalition governments and they’re reasonable,” he said. “I think it’s time for that cooperative approach.”

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Don Johnston, Liberal Party:

With more than 40 years experience working in community development within Canada and internationally, and some 30 years in senior management positions with a variety of organizations, Nelson native Don Johnston is ready to take on incumbent Conservative MP David Wilks for the seat of Kootenay-Columbia in the upcoming 42nd national election.

Since his May 27 nomination, Johnston has been travelling around the 64,000 square kilometer area that makes up the Kootenay-Columbia riding meeting people and acquainting himself with the region.

Having spent six years as the CEO of the Columbia Basin Trust (1999-2005), Johnston said he is very familiar with the region and the needs that lay within.

“I know the region, I’ve travelled [it] extensively,” he said, commenting on the vast amount of ground to cover. “That’s been one of the big challenges in this riding, being able to get out and meet everyone.”

There’s been a common theme among Kootenay-Columbia constituents Johnston said he noticed along his travels.

“We’re finding that there’s an awful lot of people that are interested in seeing change,” he said. “They don’t like what’s going on right now. They don’t like the sort of aggressive-style of government that we’re seeing right now. They don’t like the acrimony they see in question period.”

Johnston said, because they’ve seen it happen in the past, Canadians know it is possible that politicians can disagree and still get along decently well, something they haven’t been seeing much of lately.

“So there’s a real sense of frustration about the level of aggressiveness and divisiveness. There’s some super strong concerns about how an area like this gets represented when you’ve got a government that’s so controlled by the Prime Minister’s Office that the MP really can’t do very much,” he said. “That’s a common thing we’re feeling.”

Johnston said there’s a degree of feeling that not being able to properly represent a riding is the fault of the party and of the prime minister, rather than the fault of the MP.

“But at the end of the day, the feeling is that we’re not being well represented,” he said. “I just really think that we have gotten a long ways away from why MPs were created. When they created this country, they understood it was so large that you were going to need voices that represented every riding across the country, and came to Ottawa to represent the needs and interests and concerns of their constituents. We’ve gotten so tied up in the party model that we’ve forgotten that. This is a key element for me.”

Representation is one of the key points of Johnston’s campaign.

Other points include rural issues, the environment, the economy, and social issues.

Johnston said 80 per cent of Canadians live in urban communities, and it’s time to raise the profiles of rural communities in Ottawa.

“I think it’s really important that we try to get a higher profile for rural issues,” he said. “I would begin to have structured conversations with representatives from other rural areas in Ottawa. I don’t care what party they’re from.”

It has nothing to do with party politics, he said.

“It’s got to do with understanding your obligation to work for the interests of your constituents and try to get people in a dialogue that helps us raise the profile for rural communities everywhere.”

A major issue faced by those living in rural areas is infrastructure, Johnston said.

“When you look a place like Fernie or Nelson, both fairly old communities with a lot of history, they’ve got major infrastructure, but they don’t have a huge tax base to be able to rebuild that. So when you look at issues like that there needs to be a strong national infrastructure program and that’s something the Liberal Party (is) committed to.”

The Liberal candidate said it is always valuable for people to have a good line of communication with one another.

“My entire career has been working in international development or (local organizations),” he said. “I’ve always focused on building stronger, more resilient, more sustainable communities, globally and locally.”

Johnston said he is tired of the status quo and felt he needed to do what he could to help change it.

“I want my Canada back. This is not my Canada, and I’m a proud, proud Canadian. Mr. Harper sort of goes after anyone who disagrees with him and sort of suggests they’re not good Canadians. Well, I’m a good Canadian and

I’m very opposed to the way he’s running the country.”

And as far as Liberal leader Justin Trudeau goes, Johnston said he’s more than ready to take on the challenge and lead the country.

“Yes he is, he’s absolutely ready,” he said, adding Trudeau has been the MP in the Papineau riding for seven years and has held the seat throughout three elections.

Trudeau, he said, took a party that was reeling after scandals, including the sponsorship scandal, and has breathed life back into a party that was broke and broken.

“He’s been heavily involved in the youth commission, revitalizing the youth wing of the party,” he said. “He rebuilt the part to the point now we have the largest membership of any political party, and a party that’s functioning at a very high level, where the people are firmly behind the leader and ready to move forward.”

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Wayne Stetski, NDP:

Canada, a country historically painted red and blue, is slowly changing colours. Orange is making its way across the political landscape.

In the last election, the New Democratic Party (NDP) won an unprecedented 95 seats in the House of Commons, becoming the official opposition – the best showing the party ever had in a federal election.

This year, with leader Thomas Mulcair at the helm, the party hopes to do one better and become Canada’s government in power.

Wayne Stetski, former mayor of Cranbrook and Kootenay Regional Manager for the B.C. Ministry of Environment, is vying for votes on behalf of the NDP in the Kootenay-Columbia district.

Given his previous roles, Stetski has travelled the district thoroughly from tip-to-tip, and knows the ins-and-outs of the communities within.

Stetski’s professional life has focused on environmental leadership through a number of positions, including manager of the East Kootenay Conservation Program, following his retirement from the B.C. government.

Since he started campaigning for the Oct. 19 federal election, Stetski said there’s been a common theme among eligible voters – Stephen Harper must go.

“You expect to hear that from the Liberals; you expect to hear it from the NDP. But I’m also hearing it from long-time conservatives,” Stetski told The Free Press in a recent interview. “And quite frankly, I’m not that surprised, because Stephen Harper has taken the ‘progressive’ out of ‘Progressive Conservative Party’.”

Stetski said those long-time conservatives find Harper’s has swung the party too far to the right.

“For those conservatives who were more central, this is not working for them. That’s the number one thing I hear.”

In terms of families, Stetski said he’s been talking to people about the NDP’s proposal of a $15 per day national childcare program, as well as cutting federal small business tax from 11 to nine per cent.

“That’s important for small businesses and that’s really where we need to grow the economy in Canada,” he said. “Those are the jobs that are right in the communities.”

Another issue Stetski and the NDP support is expanding Canada’s green energy sector, saying those jobs are also right in the community.

The NDP candidate said Canada is “potentially heading into a recession” because Harper’s conservatives have focused on what he calls a “monoculture approach” to the environment.

“It’s built on oil and gas,” he said. “Harper has encouraged oil and gas development. Those jobs are in Alberta or they’re in northeastern B.C. If we move to a green-energy economy, those jobs are all in local communities.”

Historically, Stetski said, Canadians have been nervous about the idea of an NDP government, but said, with places like Alberta going orange, that mindset is starting to change with voters beginning to shift towards the left.

“This [could] be the first-ever NDP federal government, which excites a lot of the youth,” he said. “What excites them is they may be able to elect the first-ever social democratic government.”

Stetski said in terms of the economy, when looking through Statistics Canada, provincially the NDP’s budgetary record is second to none.

“The NDP have formed governments provincially over the years, and if you compare the economic records of the NDP provincially, versus Conservative governments and Liberal governments provincially, the NDP have actually balanced budgets more often than any other party. But the conservatives have done a great job at convincing Canadians that they are the best at managing the economy,” he said. “During [Harper’s] 10 years as being the “best fiscal manager” there’s been $150 billion increase in our deficit, including one year which was the highest, I think it was in 2008, as the highest single-year deficit ever created by a government ever in Canada.”

In a recent press release, Stetski said incumbent Conservative MP David Wilks does not want to take part in local all-candidate debates, which Steski said he finds that insulting to people of the district.

“Ducking debates is simply not good enough. The incumbent is asking for his job back, and he has a responsibility to stand beside other candidates and answer questions posed to him by voters.”

During The Free Press interview, Steski has one question in regards to this issue – “What is MP Wilks really afraid of? Why is he so afraid of the public?”

There is an answer for that, he said with a laugh.

“You’ll have to ask David.”

As for whether or not he is worried about a split in the left vote, Stetski’s message to the public is, “When you go into that voting booth on Oct. 19 you need to think about Canada and how important it is to see Stephen Harper gone.”

He said having lived and worked his entire live in the environment, he’s as green as they come.

“I don’t know how you can be greener than I am.”

He also said that under Mulcair, the NDP would bring in proportional representation for the 2019 election, as opposed to the current first-past-the-post system.

“A more diverse parliament, like any group, will be better off,” he said. “You get a good range of views and thoughts.”

And finally, he said the proof is in the numbers, adding in the riding there are 26,400 Conservative votes; 20,500 NDP votes; 3,400 Green votes; and 1,800 Liberal votes.

“When you walk into that booth, the NDP are the only party that are situated to take out the conservatives in this riding,” he said. “Vote strategically.”

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David Wilks, incumbent Conservative MP:

Election signs are posted around the city as candidates battle to gain ground, or in the case of incumbent Conservative MP David Wilks, to hold his ground.

Wilks, who was elected to represent Kootenay-Columbia in 2011, will once again have his name on the election ballot.

Having gone through the nomination process for 30 days during the last election, followed by the election campaign, Wilks said he’s ready for the next two months on the lengthy election trail.

“You have to pace yourself mentally to go for 78 days. It’s a long, long time.”

At this time of the year, late-summer, most Canadians are disengaged in election discussion, Wilks said in an interview with The Free Press earlier this month.

“They’re out camping or down at Koocanusa,” he said. “The last thing you’re thinking is, ‘geez, there’s a federal election on Oct. 19, I’d better start paying attention’. They’ll all start paying attention after the September long-weekend then everything gets back into a routine.”

If Canadians, as Wilks pointed out, are disengaged at this point, it begs the question why would the prime minister call for an early election.

Wilks said he believes there are two reasons for this.

“It stops third-party spending and puts everyone on an even keel.”

Perhaps not all parties would find that keel quite so even, however, seeing as the Conservatives have a significant war chest to work with, but Wilks said everyone starts on the same playing field.

“It’s not our fault the NDP and Liberals don’t know how to raise money. Everyone has the opportunity to raise whatever money they want to raise. The rules are all the exact same with the Elections Act,” he said, adding that parties can’t collect donations from corporations or unions and individuals have a limit to what they can donate.

“So, you know who your target audience is, it’s every Canadian, and the maximum you can ask from them is $1,500. Go ask. And if you’re not going to ask, shame on you, irregardless of which party.”

Wilks is no stranger to knowing what it takes to represent a riding of this size and scope in Ottawa and said he knows the needs and wants of the district.

The Elk Valley, he said, is very unique compared to the rest of the riding because of the coalmines.

“And the coalmines, for the majority of the time, are very stable. And they are even stable right now. Are they going through a hiccup? It’s the seven-year hump, I call it. Just about every seven years this happens. So they’re going through that right now, but it’s not like they don’t know how to get through this, they’ve gone through it before.”

Wilks said one major issue for the riding, especially in the areas of Revelstoke and Golden, is the state of the Trans Canada Highway.

“It’s really problematic. I go every year with a request to the Minister of Finance with regards to twinning the Trans Canada, but it’s a big ticket item because the Trans Canada flows between three national parks,” he said, adding he knows all too well the horrors that have happened on that highway.

“I worked in Golden for six years with the RCMP. I’ve picked up my fair share of bodies on that highway and it’s a brutal highway. And it’s our main highway; it’s the one that goes from coast to coast.”

Although the district is a diverse riding with different challenges throughout, Wilks said he is ready to once again take on that challenge.

“I liken it back to police work – you do the best you can with the information you’re provided. You can’t please everyone but you’ll do your best, and that’s what I do.”

While visiting constituents since the writ dropped, Wilks said the main concerns he hears are jobs and the economy.

“Everyone wants to ensure that the economy stays relatively strong, and anyone that can get a job should get a job. Again, depending on where you live in the riding it depends on how much of that is available to you. Here in the Elk Valley, sometimes [employers] can’t find enough people to work,” he said, adding this seems to be a significant challenge for the tourism-based areas in the district.

Another issue Wilks said he’s been hearing about is the environment.

“Climate change is with us and we have to find ways of dealing with that.”

The Conservative platform on the environment, specifically when it comes to emissions, is a sector-by-sector approach, he said, adding he thinks individual provinces needs to come up with their own ways of dealing with environmental issues, much like the way B.C. has brought in a carbon tax.

“I think that if the provinces want to bring in carbon taxes, that’s a good thing. It’s difficult, in my humble opinion, for a federal government to do it because every province is difference and what may work in British Columbia, might not work in P.E.I., or vice-versa,” he said. “I think it’s important that the provinces come to the plate and do what they think they need to do, and then if they have to come to the federal government for support on their initiative when it comes to that, I’m ok with that.”

There’s been a lot of talk about how Canadians want to take back their Canada because they don’t recognize it anymore, but Wilks said he isn’t sure what is meant by that.

“I don’t know what Canada you want back. Do you want the Canada back from the 1980s when we had 21 per cent interest rates, when our dollar was worth 68 cents?” As of the printing of this article, the Canadian dollar sits at 76 cents on the US dollar.

Every politician wants what’s best for the country, he said.

“Irregardless of how people think ‘I want my Canada back’, I think that every country in the world wants to move forward, that’s the object, to move forward and make it better,” he said, adding everyone has different views on how that should look.

“I believe through the party I am with that our platform is the platform to move Canada forward the best.”

He was then asked what he thought Canadians mean when they say they want change, and could that change perhaps be a change of government.

“I don’t know what it means, because I think we live in the greatest country in the world,” he said. “Maybe that’s what it means. I don’t know, but be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. And I don’t know what that means, either.”

As for the issue of proportional representation, Wilks said he opposes it because it would make it too difficult for anything to get done, despite the fact it represents the many voices of Canadians.

“It might be more representative of the voices of the people, but the people ain’t getting nothing because no one can agree to do anything,” he said. “I personally wouldn’t vote for it. I would vote against it if it was brought up.”

Wilks concluded by saying he isn’t concerned that polls are showing a tight race between the Conservatives, NDP and Liberal parties.

“The only poll that counts is on Oct. 19.”