There was some tension between candidates on April 19 as the Fernie Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum at the Fernie Curling Rink featuring all four provincial parties.
The evening included Tom Shypitka representing the BC Liberals, Randal Macnair of the BC New Democratic Party, Yvonne Prest of the BC Green Party and Keith Komar representing the BC Libertarian Party answered crowd-submitted questions on everything from minimum wage, the provincial sales tax, affordable housing and diversifying the economy.
For the most part they stuck to their party lines.
The NDP and Green parties support a $15/an hour minimum wage. The Liberals and Libertarians do not. The NDP and Green parties are in favour of a carbon tax. The Libertarians are not and the Liberals want to maintain a carbon tax freeze.
“I believe the carbon tax as it’s being applied right now is very punitive,” said Komar. “It’s taking money from people on the margins and making tax breaks for other people. If you want to do something for the environment, there’s a better way than a blanket carbon tax.”
Macnair and Shypitka debated over which of their parties was more supportive of the local metallurgical coal industry.
“Metal is key for everything,” said Shypitka. “For every wind turbine that’s built you need 80 tonnes worth of metallurgic coal to build it. We need to promote it… We’re pro mines.”
Shypitka said that his party was phasing out PST on electricity for the Elk Valley’s mines.
Macnair countered that the province needs credible leadership to grow the area’s mining industry to give world markets the confidence that things are being done right.
“We’ve seen incidents as a result of government inaction that has seriously eroded the confidence in our industry,” he said.
Using one of his rebuttal cards, Shypitka replied that, “It’s great to say we’ve been mining [but] it takes more than lip service to get that done. You have to have political will to get these mines in place.”
Pulling one of his own rebuttal cards, Macnair said he’d been an advocate for the coal industry in his six years as mayor of Fernie.
“I went all over advocating for the coal industry,” he said. “To people in Vancouver I would point out that the coal industry here is four to five times greater than the whole film and television industry in B.C.”
When questioned on electoral reform Shypitka said the BC Liberals have been very open and very transparent about contributions, posting them to an online database two weeks after receiving them. He defended his party’s practice of accepting donations from unions and private companies.
“I say why not,” he said. “It’s a reality and it’s a good thing to do.”
Macnair countered that corporate and union funding has no place in politics and that his party was committed to holding a referendum on electoral reform.
“We have proposed six times to eliminate corporate and union funding and every time its been rejected by the BC Liberals,” he said.
Shypitka countered that the BC NDP recently accepted a donation of approximately $672, 000 from the United Steelworkers union.
“They accepted it, they didn’t turn it back,” he said.
Shypitka is a small business owner and councillor on Cranbrook City Council. He is also a director of the Regional District of East Kootenay. During the forum he stuck to boasting about his party’s economic record.
“I chose to run for the BC Liberal Party because of their fundamental approach to governing,” he said. “Spending less than what we make. The BC Liberal government is not perfect – no government is – but they’ve helped create the strongest economy in Canada.”
Macnair served on Fernie’s city council for 15 years, including six years as mayor, and runs a publishing business.
“I see a community that cares and wants to build,” he said. “What we need is an affordable British Columbia and we need a strong economy that’s not just working for a few folks at the top.”
While the pair of big-party candidates battled it out, the two smaller party candidates spoke extremely well.
Prest was born and raised in Victoria. She graduated with distinction from the University of Victoria. She’s been teaching at Sparwood Secondary School for the past six years.
“He’s full of integrity and intelligent and he inspired me,” said Prest of Weaver. “There was no one in this region for the Green Party and it saddened me so I took it upon myself to run.”
She touted the Green Party’s platform that calls for the elimination of MSP by including it in income tax and free daycare for children up to 3-years-old.
Komar is a 45-year-old unemployed bricklayer from Cranbrook.
His message was clear: if you are an advocate for the complete deregulation of the economy and you like marijuana, then this might be the party for you.
Komar has had a varied career. He’s been a gay rights advocate, a small business owner and recently he’s been devoting his time attempting to open a marijuana dispensary in Cranbrook.
“I’m a bricks and mortar guy. I’m a blue-collar, hardworking, rollup your sleeves kind of person,” he said.
Though a fringe party, BC Libertarian movement has been expanding. It now boasts 33 candidates compared to eight during the last election.