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ELECTION 2021: Chilliwack-Hope candidates clash in virtual meeting Monday

One of the only chances voters will get to see them in action after Tuesday’s event cancelled

With the last-minute cancellation of the only in-person federal election all-candidates meeting scheduled for Tuesday (Sept. 14) in Chilliwack-Hope, local voters got one of their only chances to hear from those running for office in an online event Monday evening.

All five candidates for the riding took part in a Zoom meeting hosted by the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Improvement Association.

It was a generally civil affair moderated by former Chilliwack mayor Clint Hames.

Candidates were asked about government spending, truth and reconciliation, vaccinations, housing, the rising cost of living, the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion route, and more.

The five candidates are, alphabetically:

• Rob Bogunovic, People’s Party of Canada (PPC)

• Arthur Green, Green Party of Canada (GPC)

• DJ Pohl, New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP)

• Mark Strahl, Conservative Party of Canada (CPC)

• Kelly Velonis, Liberal Party of Canada (LPC)

The entire event can be watched here:

Some highlights from the two-and-a-half hour meeting:

During introductory remarks, Strahl said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau had failed regarding Afghanistan, and he let Canadians down by calling an election amid a pandemic just to try to gain a majority.

Velonis suggested the country needed to stay the course, while Pohl said “the status quo is no longer working.”

But Bogunovic focused solely on the COVID-19 vaccinations starting with: “I am unvaccinated.”

On immigration: Strahl said the numbers were about right, Pohl suggested maybe we should increase numbers, Bogunovic said they needed to go way down.

On climate change: Strahl said we need to support those who work in the oil sands while we protect the environment. Pohl and Green said climate change is the number one issue we should all be focused on.

On Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples: Strahl said his government was the one that brought the national apology and that governments of all stripes have failed on the appetite to change.

Pohl agreed that we all have a lot of work to do, nationally and locally. “That has to be done from a place of respect and a place where you are operating nation to nation with respect to self-governance.”

Green: “It’s embarrassing the way we have treated Indigenous people.”

Velonis: “We need to confront the legacy of residential schools.”

The most contentious issue, which was only touched on briefly, was about the cancellation of the in-person all-candidates meeting scheduled for the Chilliwack Arts & Cultural Centre for Tuesday (Sept. 14) evening. This occurred because of the legal requirement put forth in the provincial health order that all attendees provide proof of vaccination.

READ MORE: All-candidates’ debate at Cultural Centre cancelled after vaccination kerfuffle

With Bogunovic proudly asserting he is unvaccinated, he was told by organizers he could not attend and plans were made for him to attend electronically. Monday morning, Strahl then expressed solidarity and suggested that because Bogunovic could not prove vaccination status, like some Strahl supporters, Strahl would not attend either.

This led the Chilliwack Arts & Cultural Centre Society board of directors to cancel the event as they are non-partisan and did not want to take a strong stance.

Asked about this at Monday’s meeting, Strahl said it would have been “grossly unfair” to have Bogunovic appear electronically with the four others present. He blamed Trudeau for calling the election amid a pandemic, and said the event could have been held anyway: “It had nothing to do with vaccine mandates.”

Green said the issue pointed to partisanship that “is killing the country.”

Bogunovic said little more than that “people have the right to be very mad about the mandate.” [Ed. note: there is no vaccine “mandate,” only a requirement that people prove vaccination status to attend non-essential events such as restaurants, theatres and sporting events.]

Pohl said Strahl could have predicted that stating he would not attend without providing alternatives would lead to the event cancellation, and she agreed that it was of the utmost importance to host such events as safely as possible.

Velonis called it a move to stop the democratic process by Strahl.

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