Liberal candidate Terry Lake was forced to defend the Trudeau government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair on Tuesday night, in arguably the most heated exchange of the Kamloops This Week, Radio NL and Kamloops Chamber of Commerce-sponsored federal election all-candidates forum.
Asked by an audience member about “corruption,” Lake repeated lines previously heard from the prime minister on the pre-campaign controversy — “no undue pressure” and “this is a question of fighting for jobs” — resulting in some boos from the audience.
Candidate after candidate salted the wound, criticizing the Liberal decision to pursue a deferred prosecution for the Quebec-based company and telling the audience they would have voted differently as MP.
Conservative candidate Cathy McLeod elicited hollers and applause for her answer, calling Lake’s depiction of the issue as being about jobs “absolute nonsense.” She implicated the PM for blocking RCMP efforts to investigate and echoed Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s labelling of “guilty” on Trudeau, following a damning report by the ethics commissioner.
Challenge cards — opportunity in the debate to rebuttal — were used liberally by Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo candidates, adding fuel to the fire, hot take after hot take, with Lake in the middle of a verbal sparring match. Again he defended the PM, calling deferred prosecutions a “tool” used in countries around the world to protect workers and investors.
About 300 people attended the forum in the Grand Hall at Thompson Rivers University on a cold, blustery October night, one day after the televised English-language federal leaders debate. It was not as well-attended as last year’s municipal election forum, which was standing-room only. Was it the weather? Have voters already decided? Did the previous night’s debate format leave a sour taste in the mouths of residents?
Lake was polished and well-spoken, respectively including in his opening remarks a shout out to incumbent MP McLeod, who was at the forum on her 30th wedding anniversary. McLeod was equally respectful in her opening remarks, a stark contrast to her party’s leader, Sheer, who came out of the gates charging at the Liberals the night before in an apparent move to mobilize the Conservative base.
McLeod said she would not only oppose, but “propose.” On the topic of veterans’ services being rolled back at hospitals, for example, she dug into the Liberals, saying she was “shocked” by the news. However, she also committed to getting rid of a backlog of services for veterans within two years.
Green candidate Iain Currie came off well-spoken and personable, a man of Kamloops, and he was fixated on the topic on which he is most passionate — climate change. His concluding statement at the end of the night summed it up: “It’s important for me to note that the Green Party has a full platform, a fully costed platform. Important because I’m going to talk to you again about climate change.”
The NDP’s Cynthia Egli, the party’s third candidate in this campaign, was honest from the get-go about learning, with little more than two weeks of political catch-up under her belt. She read from her notes, at times stuttered and did not know the answers to some questions. However, she told audience members she would look into subjects with which she was not familiar and get back to them.
Egli’s strongest conviction appeared to be her own efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — she’s testing out solar energy on her trailer — and her party’s “bold commitment” to end fossil fuel subsidies on “day one,” if elected, which resulted in applause.
The remaining three candidates at the forum were Peter Kerek of the Community Party, Ken Finlayson of the People’s Party and Kira Cheeseborough of the Animal Protection Party.
Kerek and Finlayson offered views from either side of the political spectrum, with the former taking aim at capitalism and the latter calling into question climate science accepted around the world.
Cheeseborough, meanwhile, came off less preachy and instead sought to inspire a new generation of leaders. The social work student, at 25 the campaign’s youngest candidate, caught the attention of TRU political science professor Derek Cook, who attended the forum.
“She’s extremely articulate,” Cook said. “In a very realistic way, we don’t have much time to deal with the climate change issue. It would be nice to do things slowly, but we can’t. According to science, we have 10 years and we better do something about it. It’s my future and the future of young people. I hope the fact that she is running will get more people to vote for the party they are most attracted to.”
Cook said the forum was entertaining.
“We have someone from the People’s Party who denies what everyone else thinks, but it gives us a chance to reflect on why they think what they do,” he said. “He’s there to encourage people to put forward a rational argument about why they want to move on climate change. But there were other topics as well. I think it was a good evening for politics and motivating people to get out and vote.”
Cook said the range of issues will help undecided voters. Health, education, climate, veterans’ services, seniors, inclusivity, taxation and arts and culture were topics raised by voters at the podium.
(Lake advocated passionately for an arts centre, while McLeod said she would go to bat for the community on the project, if it so chooses to build a PAC. Her answer seemed to take note of the failed referendum of 2015.)
Finlayson’s views on climate change were once again targeted, prompting former NDP candidate Dock Currie — who was asked last month by the federal wing of the NDP to resign due to online messages he made while debating with two energy reporters, both pipeline proponents — to heckle the PPC candidate from the front row.
A much less polished version of the one-time, one-week candidate, with unkempt bleached blonde hair and plaid replacing the suit and tie on his campaign photo, Dock Currie called Finlayson a “quack” and stood up upon request by Finlayson to shout: “You don’t understand basic science.”
Post debate, Dock Currie, a law student at TRU, argued Finlayson should not have been on the stage.
“I’m 100 per cent behind my leader [Jagmeet Singh] to say that the People’s Party of Canada does not deserve to be on the debate stage,” he said. “They spread hatred, they spread bigotry. They spread misinformation on science. So, do I think it’s inappropriate to heckle the People’s Party of Canada? No I don’t.”
For his part, Finlayson lumped the Liberals and Conservatives as two sides of the same coin and ended the night on a comic note, poking fun at the other parties for being “stuck on the Disney channel.”
Voters go to the polls on Monday, Oct. 21. Advance polls are open on Oct. 11, 12, 13 and 14. To find out where, when and how you can vote, click here.