With only two out of the three declared candidates on hand to answer questions from the crowd, Friday’s all-candidates forum at The Gardens in Qualicum Beach lacked a whole lot of fire, with NDP candidate Barry Avis and B.C. Conservative candidate David Coupland agreeing more often than locking horns.
Liberal candidate Michelle Stilwell excused herself from the event, citing flu-like symptoms and a concern for the well-being of the residents in the retirement home.
After moderator Phil Spencer from St. Stephen’s United Church laid down the ground rules, Avis and Coupland took different approaches in their opening statements, with Avis emphasizing his experience in various forms of local governance, including nine years as a town councillor, as well as serving on the board of the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) and the Vancouver Island Library board.
“Since I moved to Qualicum Beach with my wife in 1999, I’ve spent my last 11 years preparing myself to become your MLA,” he said.
Coupland took a different tack, noting his experience working in the fields of health and education and emphasizing the potential for a brighter future in the province, but only if B.C. elects to go with a different style of governance.
“I believe B.C. has the potential to lead Canada with a future of success and opportunity,” he said. “However I’ve come to realize that without better government this may not happen.”
Although the bulk of the meeting was collegial, there were several points where the candidates’ positions differed widely.
One of these involved the divisive Northern Gateway pipeline issue.
Coupland said the oil bought by China will make its way there one way or another and it’s in B.C.’s interest that it be moved in the safest, most cost-effective manner — which is a pipeline.
“It could be put on a rail car and taken to the coast legally and we would have to break all sorts of international laws and treaties to stop it,” he said. “We have to rethink our positions in that regard. It’s going to go, so what’s the safest way that’s in the best long-term interest of British Columbia?”
Avis said that while he doesn’t support a pipeline going west from Alberta, and thence to Asia, he thinks it would be better to send the oil east.
“We’ve been clear we are not in favour of a pipeline going to Kitimat from Alberta,” he said. “We are in favour of using our resources and I would be in favour of a refinery in Alberta. We don’t send enough oil back east and they are getting it from other countries. We should be keeping the oil in Canada and having more secondary manufacturing.”
In response to a question about the voting system in B.C., Coupland got in the closest thing to a shot during the back and forth, when Avis said NDP leader Adrian Dix had pledged that MLAs can vote their conscience.
“If you don’t have it in writing it doesn’t mean anything,” Coupland responded. “We have it in writing that our MLAs are free to vote in the interest of their constituents. You can say whatever you want, but when the moment of truth arrives, you will have to toe the party line.”