In the first debate for the Skeena-Bulkley Valley candidates, held in Fort St. James, a majority of the questions posed to them were around climate change.
There was little participation from the community at the three-hour event, but the residents present questioned candidates on climate policy, how their governments would deal with India and China when it comes to pollution, corporate tax, health, electoral reform, energy production, job creation and more.
Five candidates attended the debate including NDP candidate Taylor Bachrach, Liberal candidate Dave Birdi, Conservative candidate Claire Rattée, PPC candidate Jody Craven and Green Party candidate Michael Sawyer. Missing from the debate were independent candidates Danny Nunes and Merv Ritchie, and Rod Taylor from the Christian Heritage Party.
“There is an emergency and crisis when it comes to climate change,” Sawyer said, adding climate change is the overarching issue of the election and immediate action needs to be taken. “We are on the cusp of a major disruption in terms of how our societies and economic systems operate.”
Swayer said he wasn’t promising to make anyone’s life better presently, but instead is looking to make the lives of future generations better.
Throughout the debate, Swayer pressed on the need for a climate plan. When asked how he would deal with pollution that comes from India and China, he said that most Asian countries have commited to convert to renewable energy and are shifting away from coal.
“The burden doesn’t solely rely on Canada,” he said. “There is more work to be done. But these countries are working too. In relatively wealthy countries, one can show leadership. If we don’t, then what hope do we have that second and third world countries will step up to the plate.”
PPC candidate Jody Craven rebutted Swayer’s statement by saying Canada has given over a billion dollars in aid to Africa to fight climate change, but because of corruption in those countries, Craven claimed that people in power put that money in their pockets.
Craven told listeners that the Green Party has been “in power for years” and Canada should stop giving foreign aid, so Canada can have money for domestic green projects.
The Green Party has never been in power, Sawyer said in an instant rebuttal, adding there are complex problems to deal with and anyone offering simple solutions to complex problems are “not right.”
Corporate Tax Breaks
Another question posed to the dias was about corporate tax breaks. And whether any of the parties would consider having conditions laid out for big corporations to fulfill if they were to get a tax break.
Bachrach took a jab at the previous Conservative government. He said under Stephen Harper’s government, there were drastic cuts in corporate tax and zero evidence those cuts resulted in an increase in business investment.
“We need a different approach,” he said, adding in the forestry industry an accountability policy needs to be brought back. This social contract between the province and the corporation would be beneficial to hold the latter responsible. He also said voters should ask their Conservative candidates what cuts in services would be made if they give those tax breaks.
“There is no free lunch,” he said.
Rattée said the Conservative Party’s concern was not about cutting taxes on corporations. She said their focus instead is on small to medium businesses and how they can make life more affordable for people in smaller communities.
On the Liberal side, Birdi said there is a need to attract businesses and that healthy businesses do become more sustainable.
Birdi said the party would help the business sector with sales to foreign markets.
For the Green Party candidate, taxes are not just a necessary evil but also a tool that government can use to influence behavior. He said the tax system should be reformed and any government elected should re-think subsidies to corporations. He said if there are tax breaks, there need to be policies that hold corporations responsible for their end of the deal.
Craven said his party did not have an opinion about electoral reform at all.
Bachrach said he is a big supporter of proportional representation but didn’t give an answer for whether the NDP would support electoral reform.
Swayer said Greens are interested in democratic reform which includes shifting to proportional representation.
Rattée said the conservatives had made it clear that they wouldn’t make any change in the electoral system without a referendum.
Specific climate plan
“There is no such thing as a climate emergency,” Craven said.
“I do believe in climate change. As humans we can do better. I have a solution for plastics and garbage. If there is such an emergency then why aren’t we shutting industry down? Last year there was 1.2 million hectares of forest fires. Why aren’t we putting out fires faster if there is a climate emergency?”
Birdi said building more green technology and infrastructure such as electric charging stations, using geothermal energy and getting the youth involved in finding greener alternatives would help in the process.
Rattée said the Conservatives are not focusing on taxation but on incentivizing when it comes to dealing with climate change. She said carbon tax doesn’t work and there needs to be more investment in green technology.
Bachrach hit back at the Conservatives saying they did not have a plan and their policy was devoid of details and doesn’t give any scientific target or meet any criteria.
He said the NDP wants to fight climate change and economic inequality together.
“We believe re-tuning our economy for clean energy is a huge economic opportunity where we can put people back to work and create jobs and opportunities getting industries that are required to power our societies on clean energy.”
He said the NDP would cancel the $3 billion in fossil fuel subsidies to oil and gas companies in Canada and start a Climate Bank fund which will be used to invest in smaller communities to help them switch to clean energy.
Swayer asked Bachrach how the NDP could support clean energy when their official position is they support LNG. He said if the object is to transition from carbon-based fuels, would the NDP government ban fracking.
“If you are opposed to fracking, you are opposed to LNG,” he said.