Issues facing women in this country are, or should be, important to men too, federal election candidates told a standing-room-only crowd in Parksville on Sunday, International Women’s Day.
Candidates from three parties agreed the federal government needs to do more to address issues related to poverty and housing if women are going to reach a more equal footing with men in relation to education, income and influence.
“I don’t think the issues that are important to women aren’t important to men,” said Liberal candidate Carrie Powell-Davidson. “Sadly, we still have so far to go.”
The forum was organized by the Parksville-Qualicum branch of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW). It attracted about 150 people to the Garry Oaks room of the Parksville Community and Conference Centre. Powell-Davison, Gord Johns (NDP) and Glenn Sollitt (Green Party) attended and gave answers to three questions they received in advance from the CFUQ and a handful from the audience. Conservative candidate and government whip John Duncan did not attend — he let organizers know previously that he generally flies back to Ottawa on Sunday afternoons.
“Full disclosure, I’m not a woman,” Sollitt said to open his first response, which prompted laughter in the crowd. He said he understood some might just see “another middle-aged white man up here to talk about women’s issues” so he said he asked woman of all ages and economic backgrounds for their views before coming to the forum on Sunday.
“Most of the challenges that came up, they identified as not gender-specific issues,” said Sollitt. “Every single person I talked to said poverty in this riding is a massive problem.”
Johns said one-third of children in Port Alberni live in poverty.
“It’s real, it’s here and it’s in our communities,” said Johns. “And it’s all of our duty to do something about that. We (the NDP) are determined to bring forward equality and fairness — that’s what our party is all about.”
Johns also said the Conservative government has cut funding to many programs and departments that could help provide info to battle poverty and homelessness.
“I believe in science and I believe in data collection,” said Johns. “We have to measure our successes and our failures.”
“I don’t want to measure my country just on GDP.”
Qualicum First Nation Chief Michael Recalma offered a welcome to open the proceedings and then heard the candidates make repeated references to the challenges facing First Nations women in this country and the failures of the Conservative government in addressing those challenges. All of the candidates said they want some kind of enquiry or Royal Commission to investigate the alarming numbers of murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada.
“Our prime minister says it’s a criminal problem,” said Johns. “We know it’s more than that — it’s all our problem.”
The candidates were also asked for some solutions to the problems that are facing women in this riding and the country.
Sollitt said the Green Party will push for what he called a guaranteed living income by setting a number (yearly income) and ensuring everyone in the country has that amount of money every year, partly by issuing federal government cheques using money from a carbon tax.
Johns said the NDP supports a $15/day child care program and an increase in the minimum wage to $15/hour.
Powell-Davidson — who stumbled through her speaking notes more than once, didn’t seem to understand the order of speaking and admitted she wasn’t prepared for one of the questions — didn’t agree with Johns’ suggestion about the increase to the minimum wage. She said one way to empower women is to encourage and support them to start their own businesses and those women often “cannot afford to pay $15 an hour.”
The new riding that now includes Parksville Qualicum Beach (along with Courtenay, Port Alberni, Tofino, Uclulet and surrounding areas) is called Courtenay-Alberni.
While the governing Conservatives can call it earlier, voters are expected to go to the polls on Oct. 19.