A wide mix of voters, from students to retirees, were treated to some straight answers from federal election candidates at a Tuesday night meeting in Chilliwack hosted by the UFV Student Life Department.
There was surprisingly little partisan bickering among the candidates, just one remark by NDP candidate Gwen O’Mahony at the start of the meeting that it was “unacceptable” for Conservative candidate Mark Strahl not to attend.
But her view was roundly applauded by most of the estimated 160 people at the meeting held in the UFV theatre building.
Strahl had also missed an earlier all-candidates meeting in Hope because of a prior campaign commitment in Pemberton. Similar commitments kept him from the UFV student meeting Tuesday, his campaign manager said.
But Strahl organized a “telephone townhall” meeting for Wednesday night that would see 35,000 households in the riding called so he could answer voters’ questions.
At the UFV meeting, the five remaining candidates outlined their differences – and sometimes their agreement – in response to nearly a dozen pre-submitted questions put to them by moderator Brian Minter.
The issues included child care for single parents going to school, the loan forgiveness program in B.C., preserving Chilliwack’s water supply, transportation in the Fraser Valley and bringing Canadian troops home from foreign wars.
After the meeting, UFV theatre student Nial Harrison-Morry said that hearing all the candidates at one sitting helped him decide who he was going to vote for – and his choice was Green Party candidate Jamie Hoskins.
“I agreed with most of the things he said, it’s as simple as that,” Harrison-Morry said.
Business student Jesse Byman said he was still undecided after the meeting, but “definitely leaning” toward the Liberals, the Greens or the New Democrats, who shared some similar platforms that “I believe strongly in.”
He said NDP candidate Gwen O’Mahony would “probably” get his vote.
“I’m disappointed that Strahl didn’t show up,” Byman said.
Bev, a business student who didn’t want her last name published, said she was “still torn” after the meeting about who to vote for, but she had kept careful notes for later study.
Chilliwack resident Rob Beischer and his wife Sabrina were at loggerheads after the meeting.
Rob, who is backing Liberal candidate Diane Janzen, said the only thing that kept Liberals from winning past elections in Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon was “splitting the vote” with New Democrats.
To wrest the riding away from the Conservatives, that voting pattern had to end.
Vote Liberal, Rob said.
Vote NDP, Sabrina said.
Candidates Dorothy-Jean O’Donnell, for the Marxist-Leninist Party, and Clive Edwards, for the Western Block Party, both had more radical suggestions for real change in Ottawa.
O’Donnell said either the Liberals or the Conservatives will win the May 2 election, that one or the other will form the opposition, and that an NDP government is simply not going to happen “despite Jack Layton’s dreams.”
“We need to have an effective workers’ opposition (in the House of Commons), some force that can stand up and defend the interests of working people, defend social programs against these cuts that are going to come,” she said.
O’Donnell’s party calls for an end to the “old cartel party” system “that runs this country but does not represent the Canadian people,” she said.
Only one per cent of Canadians belong to one of the existing political parties, she said.
Edwards said Canadians need to “de-confederate” the nation and start all over again, ending its military and free trade relationships with the U.S.
“You can’t fix Ottawa – as a matter of fact, you can’t fix Canada. It’s structurally unsound,” he said.
To give Canadians living in Western Canada “any control over their lives,” he said, confederation needs to be “re-negotiated” and the North American Free Trade Agreement “abrogated.”
“Once we start selling our water to the Americans, we no longer have water rights for our selves,” he said.