“I think you folks are in for a lively one tonight,” Courtenay-Alberni Green Party candidate Sean Wood joked at the beginning of an all candidates meeting in Port Alberni on Thursday, Oct. 10. He wasn’t wrong.
The meeting, which was hosted at the Italian Hall Events Centre by the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce, had opened with Conservative candidate Byron Horner and NDP candidate Gord Johns trading barbs back and forth. In his introductory remarks, Horner accused Johns of “taking credit” for municipalities doing their jobs during his time in office, and promised that he and the Conservatives will deliver “real results.”
Johns countered that the previous MP, Conservative John Duncan, was barely visible in his riding. During Johns’ time as a Tofino city councillor, he was never able “to get a project off the ground.”
“Where were [the Conservatives] and why weren’t we getting our share?” he demanded. “There are 31 communities in this riding. Many of them never saw their MP.”
The forum was moderated by Michael Moore, who last took the stage at the Italian Hall as a candidate in the 2018 municipal election. Audience members asked questions by submitting tickets, which were drawn anonymously. The topics discussed ranged from seniors issues to crime prevention to climate change.
Crime has been a concern in Port Alberni for years, so it was no surprise that the first question provided by the audience was about the candidates’ policy on mental health, homelessness and addiction.
Horner promised that the Conservative party will focus on contributing federal surplus land to regional districts and municipalities for affordable housing. He also proposed more funding for recovery and treatment centres.
Liberal candidate Jonah Gowans said that homelessness has “deeper cultural roots” that need to be addressed, and the funding has to get to local community groups.
Johns promised that the NDP will be building 500,000 units over the next 10 years to make up for a lack of affordable housing.
Wood compared mental health issues and addiction to “drowning in a river.”
“We keep pulling them out, but why don’t we go up the river a little bit and see why they’re falling in in the first place?” he asked.
He added that the Green party supports decriminalizing all drugs in order to remove the stigma of addiction.
The second question of the night came from a speaker who asked the candidates their position on new fossil fuel infrastucture.
Horner argued that if Canada stops all new oil and gas developments, the demand for oil and gas is going to be provided by countries that have worse environmental standards than Canada.
“You’re going to take off that potential source of wealth we can use to help fight climate change, to help transition our economy,” he said.
He also proposed that Canadian LNG will help displace dirty coal as the country transitions to a more sustainable economy.
Gowans defended the Liberals’ purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, noting that the party does have a plan to get to emissions neutrality by 2050 by investing in clean technology and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.
Both Johns and Wood proposed stopping fossil fuel subsidies entirely and moving them into clean energy. They also support a stop when it comes to building new fossil fuel infrastructure—a proposal that was interrupted with a round of a applause from the audience for both of them.
One of the youngest audience members, Heather Ramsay, asked the candidates the most important thing they plan to do as MP.
Wood said that he wants to represent his constituents well and work well with other MPs. Gowans said that “environmental action” would be his No. 1 priority as MP. Johns promised to be present and bring people together in his riding, while Horner promised again that he will provide “real results” for his constituents.
The jabs continued throughout the meeting, with Johns making note of Horner’s absence at a Comox Valley climate forum earlier this month and the Tofino all candidates meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 8. When asked about party politics, he questioned his opponents’ experience within the Courtenay-Alberni riding.
“The Conservative candidate arrived last year,” he pointed out. “The Liberal candidate doesn’t live in this riding. That should count for something.”
Horner countered that he was born and raised on the Island. “For the last year, I’ve been on unpaid leave and I’ve knocked on over 9,000 homes personally.”
Gowans admitted that he does work in Victoria currently, but has familial ties to the riding. “If I didn’t feel a connection to this riding, I wouldn’t have run here,” he said.
At 26 years old, Gowans is the youngest candidate running in the Courtenay-Alberni riding, and one of the youngest in the country. He emphasized that he wants his generation to have some representation in government.
“Politicians promise to make the world better for their children,” he noted during his closing statements. “It’s not just their children I’ll be working for—it’s my own future as well.”
If you missed Thursday’s all candidates forum, Shaw TV in Port Alberni will be airing the event on Monday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 1 p.m. and Friday, Oct. 18 at 6 p.m.