Civility reigned, for the most part, at the last major all-candidates meeting on Wednesday night for those seeking to win the riding of Chilliwack-Hope in the federal election.
There were, however, a few moments of passion from those looking to have their voices heard on issues such as abortion and gun ownership.
Present were Mark Strahl (Conservative), Kelly Velonis (Liberal), Heather McQuillan (NDP), Arthur Green (Green Party), Rob Bogunovic (People’s Party of Canada), and Dorothy-Jean O’Donnell (Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada).
Climate change, housing affordability, and immigration all spurred some exchanges the small crowd seemed to appreciate.
But it was incumbent Conservative Member of Parliament Mark Strahl’s response on the subject of the controversial Phoenix pay system for federal employees that prompted a bit of an outburst including profanity from one member of the 175-or-so who gathered at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre.
The question came via Twitter put forth by moderator, and Progress reporter, Jennifer Feinberg, about Phoenix and how the previous Stephen Harper government implemented it. Strahl said he had met with affected employees, but he disagreed that it should be a Harper legacy even though the testing of the system began under Conservative watch.
“It was the Liberal government… they were the ones that pressed the go button and they were those ones that had four years to fix the system,” Strahl said.
Both the vocal member of the audience, and then Green Party candidate Arthur Green continued to press Strahl, arguing that Phoenix was indeed a legacy of the Harper Conservative government. Strahl conceded there was blame to go all around and that the government should follow the direction of the Auditor-General on the pay system.
There were also many blatantly partisan moments with Liberal and Conservative supporters stepping up to the microphone to ask questions to the opposition.
One Conservative supporter pressed Velonis on the carbon tax being refunded to taxpayers rather than being reinvested in clean technology, while a Liberal pressed Strahl on why no one from the Conservatives showed up to Global Climate Strike events.
One person asked if parachute NDP candidate McQuillan, who lives in Vancouver with her husband Sean McQuillan who is running for the NDP in Vancouver South, would move to Chilliwack if she won. She said, simply, “yes” and that they spend time here already.
After a break, a topic that garnered some of the most vigorous debate was that of housing, not least of which because it was directed to the People’s Party candidate Bogunovic who blamed the cost of housing on immigration, specifically in big cities like Vancouver and Toronto.
All the candidates disagreed, with Liberal Velonis pointing to an Iraqi doctor in Hope she met as an example, she said, of 2,400 businesses in Canada that have grown thanks to immigration.
“He hasn’t drained our economy he has invested,” Velonis said of the doctor.
McQuillan, who said she used to work in real estate, called Bogunovic’s claims misleading.
Strahl, too, called it a straw man argument, arguing that the severely restricted immigration numbers Bogunovic’s leader Maxime Bernier has put out are arbitrary, as are the higher numbers by Trudeau. Instead, on the actual issue of housing, he pointed to his party’s policy announcements such as eliminating the mortgage stress test and increasing amortization to 30 years.
McQuillan pointed out that more loans do not increase affordability, while Bogunovic reiterated his claim that migrants from other countries are the main cause of house prices increasing in urban areas.
The candidates were scheduled for an all-candidates meeting in Hope on Oct. 10, with some other meetings planned at school between now and Election Day on Oct. 21.