The five federal election candidates for the Kootenay-Columbia riding were in Fernie on Thursday last week for the Elk Valley all-candidates forum.
Health care, the long gun registry, highways, and the future of the Flathead were among topics discussed by the candidates.
The forum began with an introduction from each candidate.
NDP candidate, Mark Shmigelsky, was the first to introduce himself. He emphasized his background as a mill worker and a steel worker.
He was the Mayor of Invermere for nine years.
Shmigelsky addressed the struggles of industries like forestry and mining, seniors and small business owners.
He also said how proud he is to be endorsed by the Conservation Voters of B.C.
Betty Aitchison, the Liberal Party candidate from Kimberley, introduced herself as a grandmother who became a Liberal at a young age.
Despite not working outside the home, Aitchison has been involved in various volunteer organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross, where she worked with City of Fernie Mayor Cindy Corrigan.
Aitchison was unable to finish her introduction in the allowed time.
Bill Green, the candidate for the Green Party, said, “I am excited to be here and to hear the issues and concerns of the community.”
Green, who is from Kimberley, has been a biologist for 35 years.
He emphasized his background as a cross-country ski instructor and said that he enjoys being out on the water.
Green addressed the fact that the Green Party is not just an environmental party.
“We have a comprehensive policy to achieve our vision,” he said.
Green began to address the three pillars of the Green policy – smart economy, strong communities, and true economy – before he ran out of time.
District of Sparwood Mayor David Wilks, Conservative Party candidate, was the fourth candidate to address the forum.
Wilks surprised the other candidates and the crowd when he said that he was going to “wing it” instead of reading from a piece of paper.
He talked about his 29 years of service to the public as an RCMP officer and in municipal politics.
Wilks also talked about the economy and how the Conservatives plan to keep the economy going.
He also said that a Conservative government would address health care, which he said is spiraling out of control.
“You have to ask the questions so that we can give the answers,” said Wilks to end his introduction.
Brent Bush, the independent candidate from Kimberley, was the last to introduce himself.
Bush used a map to highlight an important part of his platform, the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty.
“Local land use needs to be kept out in the open,” he said.
He also addressed Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. Bush said that Canadians need justification for the extended mission in Afghanistan.
The introductions were followed by questions from community members.
The future of the Flathead Valley was an issue that came up several times.
The candidates were asked by Jim Miller to state in one word whether they were for or against a national park in the Flathead.
Wilks and Bush said that they were against. Shmigelsky and Green said they were unable to answer the question in just one word, and Aitchison said she didn’t know.
Shmigelsky was repeatedly asked about the NDP’s plans to eliminate the corporate tax cuts.
He emphasized that the NDP feels it’s important that everyone pays their fair share, including large corporations.
Mario Rocca, Fernie resident, asked the candidates to state whether they are for or against the long gun registry.
Green and Aitchison said that they are for the long gun registry. Wilks and Bush said that they are against, and Shmigelsky said that he would go with what the constituents wanted.
Fernie resident, Todd Fyfe, asked David Wilks about the conditions of the riding’s roads and highways.
Wilks emphasized the role he’s had as chair and co-chair of the Highway 3 coalition. He said that it’s a slow process but he will continue to push for safe roads and highways from here to Hope.
Elkford resident Faye Sigurdson asked Wilks if there is another minority Conservative government on May 3, if he could “make Mr. Harper play with others.”
Wilks said that if there is another minority government after the election there will be two options, Michael Ignatieff would have to go before the Governor General and ask for leniency so that an alliance government made up of the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois could form a government, or there would likely be another election.
Sigurdson also said how great it was to see five candidates that respected each other and behaved in a grown-up manner, something she and the candidates said is lacking in Ottawa.
Advanced polls opened on the weekend and the general election is May 2.