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VIDEO: Skeena—Bulkley Valley candidates spar over northwest issues during debate

Event featured five of six candidates for Sept. 20 federal election
Skeena—Bulkley Valley candidates at the R.E.M. Lee Theatre on Sept.7, 2021 for the all candidates debate. From left to right: Adeana Young (Green Party, on screen), Jody Craven (PPC), Taylor Bachrach (NDP), Rod Taylor (CHP) and Claire Rattée (CPC). (Thom Barker/Smithers Interior News)

“For nearly two decades we’ve had NDP representation at a federal level and we haven’t seen anything change,” said Claire Rattée, the Skeena—Bulkley Valley Conservative candidate, as she questioned incumbent NDP candidate Taylor Bachrach’s record during a virtual all candidates debate on Sept. 7, 2021.

Rattée accused the perceived frontrunner Bachrach of failing to meaningfully improve transportation in the northwest and along the Highway of Tears.

“We’re seeing more young women and girls going missing and it feels like lip service is being paid to the families that are missing loved ones and nothing’s actually changing.”

Bachrach — who won the riding for the first time in 2019 with over 3,000 more votes than second-place Rattée — defended himself and his party’s track record in Ottawa on multiple occasions during the event, pointing to his time as the mayor of Smithers and as an MP.

Rattée went on the offensive again in the climate change segment of the debate, moderated by Bell Media’s John Crawford, saying that the NDP have been propping up a Liberal government that has increased subsidies to the oil and gas industry.

“This Liberal government has increased subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, that’s not something we support,” Bachrach said in response.

“We don’t support the Government of Canada buying an oil pipeline, that’s been shown that it’s going to lose money. This is not the way that we tackle the climate crisis with the climate emergency and an NDP government would reverse that.”

During the final segment moderated by Black Press Media’s Binny Paul, a flurry of rebuttal cards from Rattée, People’s Party candidate Jody Craven and Christian Heritage Party national leader Rod Taylor were targeted at Bachrach. The NDP candidate emphasized his party’s role in securing much needed COVID-19 relief for Canadians.

“As a smaller party in the House of Commons, we fought for the wage subsidy, we fought for the CERB program, we fought for the business loans, we fought for health for people with disabilities and seniors and Indigenous communities,” Bachrach said.

But Rod Taylor took issue with the cost of government spending and called the health impacts of the pandemic overblown.

“We’re over a trillion dollars in debt now because our Liberal prime minister supported by his NDP colleagues think that money grows on trees or you can just spend it and more will come in automatically,” he said.

Jody Craven attended the debate days after receiving emergency surgery for a gallbladder issue. He raised that experience in his opening statement and in answers to some questions. Craven repeatedly expressed his opposition to mandatory vaccinations and vaccine cards.

“I just came out of the hospital. I support the frontline nurses, first responders. I do not support mandatory vaccines for these people. I do not support these mandatory passports. Consent under fear or duress is a criminal offence,” he said after being asked a question about shortages of health care professionals and infrastructure in the northwest.

Rattée used a rebuttal card to ask Craven what he would do if elected to attract more healthcare workers to the region.

“Not getting rid of them, right,” he said. “We’re losing nurses, by the handfuls, and coming from a Conservative candidate I think all you guys should be vaccinated, are you Claire?”

Later in the evening, Rattée addressed Craven’s question while talking about her position on mandatory vaccinations.

“I find it a bit hypocritical that the PPC candidate is saying on the one hand that that nobody has a right to tell us to be vaccinated or ask if we are vaccinated and then yells across the stage and asks me if I’m vaccinated, not that it’s anyone’s business but I am vaccinated and at the same time I am opposed to mandatory vaccination.”

Rod Taylor also expressed his opposition to mandatory vaccinations, calling them “experimental,” and said that doctors critical of the vaccines are being silenced. That was in contrast to Green candidate Adeana Young and Bachrach, who both took time to urge viewers to get vaccinated.

“If you can get a vaccine, get a vaccine,” Young said.

“As an Indigenous woman, I can relate to what vaccines are and how they help. Smallpox epidemic here on Haida Gwaii, I can go into history about that and what it is to be here this time. Vaccinations are extremely important, and they are being developed and are in place to help protect us as a community,” she said, adding that the choice to be vaccinated is up to each individual.

Young joined the event virtually from Haida Gwaii. Earlier in the evening, she responded to a question about housing for Indigenous people from CFNR’s Jeff Blagden, pointing to her party’s platform.

She said if elected the Green Party would declare housing affordability a national emergency, update the formula that defines affordable housing, increase housing supply for people with disabilities and supporting renters.

Then, Young used a rebuttal card to question each of the other candidates on what truth and reconciliation with Indigenous people means to them. All candidates agreed that reconciliation is an important issue.

Rattée and Bachrach emphasized implementing all of the the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Craven advocated scrapping the Indian Act and dialogue with elders, and Taylor said that past crimes against Indigenous peoples need to be exposed fully for reconciliation to occur.

Both Craven and Taylor used rebuttal cards to express their support for firearms in a question originally posed to Rattée from CBC’s Matt Allen.

Rattée accused the Liberals of demonizing law abiding firearms owners while at the same time reducing sentencing for people charged with firearm offences.

“It’s confusing and hypocritical. It doesn’t do anything to deal with the actual issue, which is crime,” she said.

Taylor agreed, stating that the CHP supports the freedom to own firearms for hunting, self defence and sporting use.

“Firearms are just a virtue signalling tool of the Liberals to say that they’re doing something about crime, and they’re not.”

The candidates used their closing statements to thank debate organizers and viewers before making their final overtures to voters.

Adeana Young billed herself as someone who understands the “ripple effect” that decisions have on all types of people and is able to collaborate and find common ground.

“As an Indigenous woman, I feel like I have been oppressed for a long time and that I was born into this world fighting. Fighting is not a word that I would like to use for my campaign. Fighting is really exhausting,” she said.

“When I can come together and hear the differences, and to hear the commonalities of what party interests are, and the interests of individuals versus corporations, I think it’s an opportunity to bridge a gap.”

Rod Taylor used his time to reiterate his party’s view on social issues and criticize the Liberals, NDP and Conservatives. He voiced his opposition to abortion, medically assisted dying and the “coercive, manipulative, useless and harmful federal response to COVID.”

“The current government of Canada operating on socialist lines, but with an arrogant element of self-serving dictatorship, has violated every boundary of appropriate behaviour.”

Rattée stressed the importance of the election and urged people to get informed and to get out to vote, while positioning her Conservative Party as a better option than the Liberals.

“Are you prepared for another six years of deficits and deceit from your government? Are you ready for better? A fresh start for Skeena—Bulkley Valley and for Canada and a government that will put Canadians first with a plan to actually recover,” she said.

“One of the most important responsibilities that you have as a Canadian citizen is to make sure that your voice is heard and that you go vote.”

In his closing statement, Taylor Bachrach said that he is proud of the work he has done to represent the riding since he was elected in 2019.

“Over the past two years, I’ve worked hard as your representative to bring your voice to Ottawa, to push for better to ensure that people got the help that they need,” he said.

“We’re living through some incredibly difficult times and the social fabric of our communities is stretched tight. We have important work to do together, we have important choices to make.”

Jody Craven wrapped up the event as the final speaker.

“This next election is the most important vote in Canada. Just remember the most important in the history of Canada, you’re not voting for yourself, you’re voting for your children’s freedom,” he said. “Vote PPC for freedom.”

Liberal candidate Lakhwinder Jhaj did not participate in the debate, which was hosted by the Terrace Standard with venue partner R.E.M. Lee Theatre, and moderated by a media panel from Black Press Media, Bell Media, CBC and CFNR.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the venue was closed to the public and candidates were physically distanced on-stage. Viewers can watch the debate in its entirety below, or view the recorded event on Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. on Channel 10 and Channel 310 CityWest Community TV.

General voting day is Sept. 20.

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