A young girl named Cadence stepped up the microphone Wednesday night, facing the full panel of six federal election candidates.
She had waited a half hour to reach the microphone, and it will be years before she will be old enough to mark a ballot. Neither of these things stopped her from addressing what she sees as the biggest problem in Chilliwack — homelessness.
As was the rule with everyone stepping up to the microphone at the All Candidates Debate at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre, she had to address just one candidate. She chose the NDP’s Seonaigh MacPherson, and asked what could be done better at the Yale Road overpass near McDonald’s.
MacPherson then asked the child what she would want to do about the problem.
“I have to walk by them on my way to the Leisure Centre,” she said. “The fence doesn’t help. They’re still there, you know. They’re still there.”
While someone on the panel noted that it’s more of a city problem, federal funding was given to 15 communities to deal with homelessness — but not Chilliwack.
After asking the young girl what she would do about the problem, MacPherson then explained the NDP’s housing strategy.
Green Party candidate Thomas Cheney took the question on as well, saying that it would cost less to house the homeless than to allow them to live on the streets.
“The City of Chilliwack’s approach is heartless,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment to the community.”
But that was about as hyperlocal as the questions got in the two and half hour debate.
Most of the questioning — from the microphone but also taken via Twitter and delivered by moderator Paul Henderson — focused on national issues such as the economy, terrorism, daycare policies, Canada Post, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.
Liberal candidate Louis De Jaeger pointed out that “nobody is going to what’s in that deal (TPP) until after the election.”
Cheney, who has a minor in economics, said that free trade has not proven itself in the past and that jobs will be lost if the 12-country trade deal goes through.
MacPherson added that Canada is already running an “extreme trade deficit. Our imports are outpacing our exports. We’re allowing imports to flood our marketplace.”
Marxist-Leninist candidate Dorothy-Jean O’Donnell said the TPP “would subject our laws to a three man investor tribunal.”
She gave the example that if Canada bans toxic chemical this tribunal can act for the investor to get damages against Canada, adding that ome $200 million was paid out under NAFTA.
Several people asked about international arms deals, and questioned Conservative candidate Mark Strahl on his government’s role in Syria.
“There’s a reason we’re participating in bombing,” Strahl said, and that reason is ISIL.
“They torture and behead children. They rape and kill women,” he said, and then record it and “brag about it” by sending those images around the world, encouraging more hate.
“We have a responsibility to protect the innocent,” he said. “That is what we are doing here.”
But that explanation didn’t fly with all the candidates, least of all Libertarian Alexander Johnson.
“Don’t believe the fear mongering,” he told the audience. “Bring our troops back here we are not creating enemies around the world.”
MacPherson said Canada has no place fighting in areas like Syria.
“We have interferred in areas we don’t really understand,” she said, and De Jaeger noted that what Canada needs is “more peacekeepers.”
Strahl also heard several complaints that he’s not been accessible as the elected MP over the past term, both from people at the microphone and from fellow candidates.
He was absent at recent all candidates debate held by the Sto:lo Nation, and won’t be attending the UFV student-led debate.
“You are the aboriginal parliamentary secretary, and you didn’t even have the guts to show up!” De Jaeger said, loudly and over applause from the audience.
Lisa Morry asked what he could bring to the community if he were elected but Conservatives failed to form a majority.
He noted that he helped fight for supply management during the TPP negotiations, has worked with local farmers “with onerous red tape,” and helped secure funding for infrastructure on major projects in the riding.
Later in the evening, he noted to another person at the microphone that the job of MP means spending about 22 or 23 weeks at work in Ottawa, which pulls them away from their communities.
“No matter who gets elected, that’s the reality,” he said.
The Chilliwack-Hope riding is becoming smaller with this election, and he hopes that his presence will be felt more in those communities if re-elected, he said.
The next All Candidates Meeting will be held Oct. 15, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. sponsored by the Chilliwack Chamber at the Coast Hotel, 45920 First Avenue. (Paid lunch, free entry at 12:20.)
General election day is Oct. 19.
Note: This story is edited to correct a previous version, which attributed comments made by Seonaigh MacPherson to Dorothy-Jean O’Donnell, regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership.