Candidates spar on the dias

Incumbent Conservative James Lunney forced to fend off attacks on stage and from the crowd

Pirate Party candidate Jesse Schroeder came out from behind the table and proved himself the best speaker — if a little long-winded — of the bunch.

Despite competition from game seven of the Vancouver/Chicago hockey game, over 300 Oceanside residents filed into the Parksville Community and Conference Centre Tuesday night to hear federal candidates speak their minds.

They were not to be disappointed.

The forum, jointly sponsored by the Qualicum Beach and Parksville chambers of commerce and the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board, saw and no shortage of elbow work in the corners as the Christian Heritage, Conservative, Green, Liberal, Marxist, NDP and Pirate party candidates battled it out for the hearts and minds of Nanaimo-Alberni voters.

This time, the hits came from all sides, with Conservative James Lunney going on offense as well as defence, scoring the occasional point of his own as verbal pucks rained down on him and his government’s record.

The gloves were dropped early, with Liberal Renee Miller slamming Lunney for not returning e-mails from constituents and refusing to meet with certain individuals, as well as for his party’s priorities.

“Value for money is not in tax cuts, jails or jets,” she said. “It’s in the Liberal plan to invest locally and in families.”

Lunney took Miller to the boards on a question about the economy, dismissing her claim that no Conservative government has balanced a budget since the days of Sir John A. MacDonald.

“I would like to point out some trouble with her math,” Lunney said. “There was John Diefenbaker and, in 2006, 2007 and 2008, we paid back on the debt, and you can’t do that without balancing the budget.”

The NDP’s Zeni Maartman also came under fire from Miller for mathematics about their plan to hire doctors and nurses. Miller said the NDP’s budget for doing so would mean those hired would need to be paid a mere pittance.

“It doesn’t add up,” she said.

Although lively, the crowd was kept orderly by the effective moderation of MC Wendy Maurer and they didn’t actually boo until the issue of the Conservatives raising the spectre of Quebec separatism came to the fore. Lunney answered that the Bloc leader had attended the Parti Quebecois convention and had said electing the Bloc would create a situation where anything becomes possible.

As catcalls sounded, Pirate Party candidate Jesse Schroeder offered to give up his time at the mic to Lunney, so he could properly answer the question.

“I already answered the question,” Lunney shot back. “Merci beaucoup.”


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