Veteran issues draw early election volley

New Democratic candidate Gwen O’Mahony scored TV airtime last week talking about her Conservative rival’s “tainted” nomination, and followed it up with a show of support from military veterans in Chillwack “ignored” by retiring Tory MP Chuck Strahl.

New Democratic candidate Gwen O’Mahony scored TV airtime last week talking about her Conservative rival’s “tainted” nomination, and followed it up with a show of support from military veterans in Chillwack “ignored” by retiring Tory MP Chuck Strahl.

But Mark Strahl, the Conservative candidate, who was unavailable to the TV reporters last week, countered by saying that O’Mahony was “acclaimed” rather than nominated as the NDP candidate, and “has a lot to say about what is really an internal Conservative matter.”

He agreed there are party members unhappy with the nomination process, but he said most understand once the reasons for the short nomination period are explained, and the party is “not going to be distracted” in the campaign to return a Conservative MP in the Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon riding.

His said his opponents’ “soft-on-crime” stand and “high taxes” would be the real issues.

Strahl also said his father had “pre-existing commitments” last November when the military veterans rallied outside his Chilliwack office, but added he was sure that if his father “had it to do over again,” he would make sure a representative was on hand to receive the vets’ petition.

“There are some people who have taken a very personal approach to this issue,” Strahl said. “But I’ve said it before, I’m likely to inherit half (his father’s) friends and all his enemies.”

O’Mahony said TV reporters called her for comment on the Tory nomination when they couldn’t get in touch with Strahl.

But O’Mahony said she only reported the mood of voters during her own door-knocking campaign.

“I already know I have a few Conservatives who want NDP lawn signs,” she said, because of anger over the nomination, but she also found party “die-hards” who will “hold their nose and vote Conservative.”

“Then there are others who are so disgusted, they’re not even going to vote,” she said.

O’Mahony said she marched with veterans to Strahl’s office last November as a “quiet supporter” only because “I believed in the cause, I didn’t do it for votes.”

“I didn’t want to make it a political issue,” O’Mahony said.

But retired Master Warrant Officer Joe Beauchesne, an organizer of the vets’ rally, said he was so angry at Strahl for “choosing to sing in a choir for a Conservative fundraiser in Langley” instead of meeting with vets, that he would change his vote from Conservative to NDP this election, and urge others to do the same.

“Not one politician except for Gwen O’Mahony stood shoulder to shoulder with the veterans at the protest rally,” he said.

Veteran Claude Latulippe, said he would also change his vote to support the NDP for the first time, although he expected there was “slim” chance O’Mahony could win the strongly conservative riding.

“However, the vets community is a large one, and if we all voted NDP, we could make a difference,” he said.

Strahl said he would argue the Conservative government is “very supportive” of the military, and has made “positive changes” to the new Veterans’ Charter.

But Latulippe called those changes “band-aid fixes” that fall short of vets’ expectations.

“The Conservatives are the issue,” he insisted. “They have been ignoring the plight of the vets.”

rfreeman@theprogress.com

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