The nine candidates running in the South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale riding spoke on a wide range of topics at an all-candidates meeting Wednesday, touching on the economy, health care, taxes and crime.
But it was talk of a possible coalition between opposition parties that caused the biggest stir at Star of the Sea Hall – and much of that tension came from the audience.
Moderator Jared Dreyer called order following repeated outcries by members of the 300-person crowd to comments incumbent Conservative Russ Hiebert made about the formation of an allied political group.
“The threat of a Liberal-NDP-separtist Bloc Québécois coalition is now more real than ever,” Hiebert said in his opening statement at the event, hosted by South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce.
He continued to speak over a chorus of booing and shouts of “How dare you!” “Contempt!” and “Liar!” – saying such a high-spending coalition would break up the country and put Canada’s economic recovery at risk.
“This is the stark reality that we face. There is only one way to stop the coalition, and that’s through a Conservative majority.”
After Hiebert took a seat, Dreyer spoke to the assembly.
“We know this is political, but let’s keep it in order here from everyone in the crowd.”
Some of the same more vocal audience members were laughing moments later, when Green party candidate Larry Colero addressed Hiebert’s claims.
“The way I would like to respond to this outrageous statement is to conduct a little quiz – which Canadian prime minister is best known for doing this?” he said, before ripping a piece of paper in half.
Colero explained he was referring to Brian Mulroney, who said in 1992 that if favourable votes weren’t made for the Charlottetown Accord, the country would be torn apart. The accord was defeated, Colero said, “and here we are still living happily with Quebec.”
“I just want to assure you that if the Conservative government does not get a majority, there’s no need to panic,” he said to applause. “However, if (they) do get a majority, I suggest you panic.”
Liberal hopeful Hardy Staub said party leader Michael Ignatieff has rejected such a coalition.
Staub was asked why he is representing the party after being a Conservative prior to the election – a written question that provoked laughter in the audience.
“I was on the executive of the Conservative party until about 1993, then (current MLA) Gordon Hogg ran and I felt that he was the best man who would represent our community and I became a Liberal, and I was a Liberal as it turns out all the time,” Staub said. “I thought I left and joined the Conservatives – I did – but it looks like I was a Liberal all the time.”
Staub said he has now convinced Ignatieff to include injured veterans’ pension reform in the party’s platform.
He referred to himself as a “dog with a bone” because he gets things done, and later called Hiebert a “flapping seal” that brings back messages from Ottawa – a comparison that drew booing from some in the crowd.
NDP candidate Susan Keeping said that if elected, she would address health-care issues in the community.
“Peace Arch Hospital used to be something we were proud of. And even though we still appreciate the hard-working doctors and nurses in that hospital, we are sad and really disenchanted by the service that we are getting in that hospital.”
The NDP would support a cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions, increase taxes to large corporations in order to up the Canadian Pension Plan and bring a much-needed change to government, Keeping said.
Independent David Hawkins also said it’s time for different representation, but argued a party-aligned MP is not the way to go.
“If you send me to Ottawa as an independent, I predict there would be 20 independents emerging from backbenches from the squawk-the-talk parties and we could debate – even that would be a victory.”
Hawkins said that as MP he would address the restoration of the grand jury, the prevention of money laundering and organized crime in Canada, and, within 30 days of being elected, would propose a private member’s bill to adopt a flat tax, which would exempt people whose income is below $30,000.
Kevin Donohoe was forthright about his chances of being elected as an independent, saying he has “about as much chance as a snowball.”
But it didn’t stop him from discussing issues such as health care. Donohoe emphasized the importance of taking care of oneself, and said seniors should be living at home as long as possible to relieve pressure from the system.
Donohoe said he doesn’t like the attacks between parties, and told the audience to “vote with your conscience, and not the political bantering.”
Christian Heritage Party candidate Mike Schouten said that injecting civility in politics might make the field more attractive to youth and increase their participation in voting.
Schouten said he would serve constituents with “true conservative principles.”
He said he favours a fair-tax system – which would tax consumption instead of income – and would advocate to revive an economic plan used to combat unemployment after the Second World War, in which the Bank of Canada makes interest-free loans to provinces and municipalities for infrastructure projects.
“It’s time for a new infrastructure initiative – one that works, and doesn’t rely on increasing your tax burden.”
While Hiebert said Canada fared the economic downturn better than other G8 nations with the guidance of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Colero said the Conservatives made many mistakes.
“The only thing I think they did right was to tell everyone to stay calm,” he said, noting the government should have invested in the development of green energy and alternative fuels.
When asked why a carbon tax is necessary, Colero said that in order to reduce the CPP and payroll taxes, the party would tax polluters and not incomes.
“The carbon tax is designed to transfer the burden onto industries that we pay for in other ways,” he said, citing health-care and transportation costs that result from pollution.
Progressive Canadian Party candidate Brian Marlatt said human-induced global warming is a major concern that historically hasn’t been addressed by the Conservative government.
Marlatt said there should be a government commitment to the environment as well as other issues, such as money for autism – “an area I think Canadians have to address.”
Marlatt said his platform includes autism funding, as well as affordable post-secondary education and creating trading partnerships within the Commonwealth.
Marlatt said the Harper government isn’t allowing representation.
Independent Aart Looye said voters shouldn’t let the “Conservative big boys choose your candidate,” and instead vote for himself – a conservative politician who wouldn’t have to vote the way the Conservative party tells him to.
Looye said the price of prescription drugs needs to be lowered so people aren’t crossing the border for their medical needs, and suggested engaging youth in politics by teaching civics in high school.
He also took Hiebert to task over travelling expenses incurred when flying his family to Ottawa at taxpayers’ expense.
“Where are the Air Miles Russ got flying first class? Give us a straight answer, and what else are we paying for?”
Hiebert focused the attention on commitments the Conservative government has made for the future, such as continuing to strengthen the economy, cracking down on crime and reducing taxes further.
He said that during his time in Parliament, he has brought federal funding to the community for parks, sidewalks, a border crossing, highway improvements, the White Rock Museum and Archives and the Centre for Active Living.
Staub claimed Hiebert was taking credit for infrastructure projects started before his election, and Hiebert fired back, saying he met with White Rock City council to identify priorities in the community before fighting for the projects in Ottawa.
At the end of the two-hour meeting, candidates met with audience members.
Canada goes to the polls May 2.