Kootenay-Columbia candidates debated in Sparwood on Oct. 5. From left: Bill Green (Green Party)

Election 2015: Candidates debate in Sparwood

Candidates participated in a debate in Sparwood on Oct. 5 hosted by the Chambers of Commerce for Elkford, Fernie and Sparwood.

The four candidates for Kootenay-Columbia met in Sparwood on Oct. 5 for their ninth debate on the election trail; this one organized by the Chambers of Commerce for Elkford, Fernie and Sparwood.

One question addressed trade agreements and if they truly are beneficial to Canada. This question came the same day the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement was signed by Canada and 11 other countries, making the agreement the largest free trade initiative in history.

According to a Government of Canada website, the agreement is “a comprehensive, economic, strategic and balanced agreement that will increase Canada’s foothold in the Asia-Pacific”.

Incumbent MP David Wilks, who is running for the Conservatives, said the agreement affects 800 million people, and said the dozen partnering nations make up 40 per cent of the world’s economy.

Wilks said there is already a bilateral agreement in place between Australia and Japan; something Canada doesn’t have.

“If we did not sign on to this deal, it would give Australia significant advantages over coal exports – metallurgical coal exports – because that’s what Australia has with Japan right now; we have nothing,” he said, adding Canada is the only country in the world that has agreements with the Americas, Asia and Europe, covering 60 per cent of all of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the world.

Liberal Party candidate Don Johnston questioned how well agreements help Canada economically, considering “we’ve signed 44 trade agreements and yet we have the highest trade deficit in the history of the country”.

Canada needs agreements, but they need to be negotiated in a way they make sense for Canadian industry and businesses. Johnston also said it’s important to look at ways the government can play a role in creating opportunities for Canadian businesses to take advantage of trade deals.

The Liberal candidate said he wasn’t ok with the fact the TPP agreement was done in secrecy, something he called a “mistake”.

“That should be done in a much more open and transparent process so that people are more aware of what’s actually in it, and so people can have clearer and more well-rounded reasons for supporting it or not supporting it.”

Bill Green of the Green Party said his party supports fair trade agreements, which means agreements that “respect sovereignty of country, human rights and the environment and doesn’t undermine health, safety, consumer or labour standards”.

Green said agreements like the TPP are not fair and are “more about protecting larger corporations, overseas corporations, and ensuring

their rights above those of citizens.”

Agreements like that give companies the rights to challenge Canadian laws through independent tribunals, outside the Canadian court system.

“How can that possibly be right?” he asked.

NDP candidate Wayne Stetski said an agreement like the TPP should “never have been negotiated at this particular period of time”, considering the current prime minister might not still hold that post come Oct. 19.

“Negotiating this deal in secret in an election period is I think, quite frankly, unethical,” he said.

Historically, he said, it seems like each time Canada signs a trade agreement, “our deficits of exports and imports have gone up; so we’re not doing something right”.

Stetski expressed his concern over the TPP because he said included in those types of agreements is “the opportunity for corporations or other countries to sue us if they think we’re taking care of our people a little too well” and said in the future, Canada needs “entirely different” trade agreements, ones that include environmental and social clauses.