Enbridge, foreign investment in local resources, and seniors were some of the topics discussed at the all-candidates meeting at the R.E.M Lee theatre in Terrace April 20.
The six candidates looking to represent the Skeena Bulkley Valley riding – Canadian Action Party candidate Maggie Braun, Rod Taylor from the Christian Heritage Party, Conservative Clay Harmon, Green Roger Benham, Liberal Kyle Warwick and New Democrat Nathan Cullen – took a turn at the microphone explaining their platforms and what they’d do to improve the lives of northwesterners if elected.
Questions from the media panel and audience were directed to the candidates, with many directed to Harmon, who’s party is in government. Candidates also had five rebuttal cards on hand to use if they wanted to jump on a topic.
Below are some highlights of the night’s event, broken down into categories:
Residents wanted to know how the candidates stood on Enbridge’s planned $5.5 billion Northern Gateway Pipeline project, and found they were mostly against the proposed development.
Harmon said he is in favour of a thorough environmental analysis before any major project has been done.
“We owe it to our civil servants…the environmental professionals, we owe them the opportunity to do the detailed analysis and report to government,” he said, saying that it would be foolish not to pay attention to hired professionals.
He also pointed out that project benefits could come in the form of jobs for people to feed their families.
But “until the benefits to this community, to this riding, exceed the risks, I would not speak in favour of the Enbridge pipeline,” Harmon said.
Warwick was quick to say that although Harmon has a valid approach to Enbridge, it’s not an approach that’s shared by people in his party.
“While Mr. Harmon is articulating a balanced point of view, we should be sceptical about electing a member who might be bound by caucus discipline to support a different position all together,” Warwick said.
Cullen also pointed out that whenever the Conservative government disagrees with professional advice, those professionals get fired, which has happened time and time again.
Braun said that petitions have gone around indicating that the public doesn’t want this project, and Taylor said while the pipeline is most economical way to transport oil, the environmental issues of the pipeline crossing B.C. and the supertankers on the coast is plan he’s not prepared to support.
Benham said there is no way people can say the project or the tankers shipping the oil can be safe.
“You cannot guarantee a pipe of that length to not sustain a leak…particularly when you’re going through country that could have an earthquake,” he said.
Residents were also concerned about candidates’ stance on foreign companies relationship with northwest resources.
Harmon said one of the reasons the economy has pulled ahead of other countries is because the government attract foreign investment through low tax rates.
Also, if all of the criteria in terms of international investing have been met, and the project is environmentally sound, then foreign investment should be allowed and encouraged, he said.
“Investment by foreign corporations into Canada is an important form of investment,” Harmon said, pointing out a Chinese company recently invested in the closed mill here. “Because of that, there’s going to be significant jobs and there’s going to be significant business here.”
Cullen said that the foreign investment act has a clause that any foreign takeover to Canada should have a net benefit, yet there’s been thousands of takeovers of Canadian companies by foreign investors with little benefit.
“Even when the company is taken over, stripped down for assets and raw materials are shipped out and people lose their jobs…this government still calls that an investment,” Cullen said.
One of Cullen’s talking points revolved around seniors and the pension plan, noting that the government still has seniors living below the poverty line while spending its money on fighter jets and prisons.
“If we can’t take care of the seniors that built this country, why are we putting other priorities first?” Cullen asked.
Harmon said NDP leader Jack Layton’s plan of companies paying nine cents an hour per employee towards the pension plan has consequences.
“Companies do not just absorb increased costs, they either cut workers or they increase costs of goods to the consumer, adding to the price of bread to seniors and essentially cutting workers’ net wages…do not seem a good solution to me,” he said. When asked what his party would do for seniors, Harmon said he would open lines of communication.
“I would want to involve the people that are directly affected, the stakeholders, and look for ways on how the problem can be solved,” he said.
Harmon toed the party line, saying that the Conservative government has brought through two different components which will increase the old age supplement.
Voters go to the polls May 2 to elect their Ottawa representative.