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Posted: April 22, 2017

All-candidates’ forum brings surprises

“Perceptions” by Gerry Warner

After Tuesday’s all-candidates’ forum at the Key City Theatre we know at least one thing about the four candidates in the race – they all favour the legalization of marijuana and don’t seem to have any qualms about its commercialization either.

However, the candidates did differ on other issues in a surprisingly upbeat forum attended by almost 200 local residents.

MSP health care premiums was one of the issues that provoked some interesting debate, which wasn’t surprising considering that B.C. is the only province left in Canada still charging the notorious tax which enriches provincial coffers by more than $2 billion every year.

Libertarian candidate Keith Komar jumped into this one with both feet, exclaiming: “Ha, we’re the party of cutting taxes. That’s our thing,” which was easy for him to say considering his party’s unlikely chances of winning any seats in the upcoming election May 9.

Liberal candidate Tom Shypitka, who has to be considered the frontrunner in the Kootenay East race, was a little more circumspect on this issue, which has a direct financial effect on every person in the constituency. Shypitka said the Liberals would end the premiums eventually “if the economy runs right.” Nothing like qualifying your promises.

NDP candidate Randal Macnair and Yvonne Prest of the Greens were more forthright on this money-laden issue saying flat out they would get rid of the hated tax that no other Canadians pay. Both said they considered MSP premiums “regressive” but admitted other tax increases would have to be considered to offset lost medical care premiums.

And so it went for two hours with all the candidates empathizing how the ideologies of their particular parties would shape their stands on the issues of the day. Shypitka spoke about the strong B.C. economy and how the Christy Clark government recently brought down its fifth consecutive balanced budget. Prest responded that was all fine and good but added “a healthy economy yes, but at the cost of our environment, no.”

BC Liberal fund-raising practices, which are now being investigated by the RCMP, also came up for discussion. Macnair said B.C. was getting a bad reputation internationally from the millions in corporate donations it was getting from companies inside and outside the province. “There’s no place for corporate or union funding in politics,” Macnair said, adding the New York Times recently called B.C. “the Wild West” of campaign donations.

Shypitka responded the NDP weren’t exactly blameless in this regard and recently received a $672,000 donation from the Steelworkers Union. Meanwhile the Liberals have started to list all their donations in “real time” on their party website and are the only B.C. party doing this, he said.

At one point the candidates were asked to say something “positive” about one of their opponents. Komar said the Liberals “tried hard” in bringing down balanced

budgets. Shypitka said he loved the Green Party “because they keep us in check.” Prest said there are good values in every party “and that’s how things get done.” Macnair commented: “we’re truly all in this together and that’s what makes politics work.”

At this point, the forum was almost starting to look like a love-in, a rare event in B.C. politics, which is often called a “blood sport.” However, this quickly changed at the end when the candidates gave their final summaries. All of them were moderate in their remarks except for Shipitka, who launched into a Bill Bennett-style rant claiming that when the NDP were in power in the 1990s B.C. became “a have-not province” and the economy was left in a mess. “We can’t afford to go back to that economy,” he said.

But Libertarian candidate Komar got in the final word saying Premier Clark may have brought in balanced budgets, but the provincial debt has soared to $65.3 billion under her leadership. “That kind of math doesn’t work for me,” he said.

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist who has covered more B.C. elections over the years than he would like to remember.

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