About 100 people showed up for the forum on environmental issues in Castlegar on Wednesday. Photo by John Boivin

Federal candidates debate environmental issues in Castlegar

Few sparks and much agreement between candidates that action is needed

Federal election candidates gathered in Castlegar Wednesday night to talk climate change — but it’s doubtful many minds at the event were changed by the debate.

Five of the six candidates vying to represent the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding met at the Sandman Hotel for the all-candidates debate, sponsored by the Mir Centre for Peace, West Kootenay Citizen’s Climate Lobby of Canada and Fridays for Future — a youth environmental group.

Only Conservative candidate Helena Konanz declined the invitation to attend the debate. About 100 people, many sporting buttons supporting particular parties, attended the two-hour event.

The debate, moderated by Mir Centre’s Jennie Barron, gave the candidates six questions — three from the organizers, and three from the audience.

Barron warned the candidates that the event took the climate crisis as a given, and wanted them to answer the questions based on that presumption. It was a warning tailored for the People’s Party of Canada candidate Sean Taylor, whose party continues to suggest there’s no scientific consensus on the theory that CO2 produced by human activity is causing dangerous global warming.

Taylor addressed the elephant in the room — himself — right off the top.

“I’m sure you’re wondering why the organizers here invited this ‘fascist climate-change-denier party’ to come,” he said. “Well, I think you might be surprised. Don’t believe what you heard, I’ve got some ideas and I’m looking forward to a good debate.”

The candidates were asked for their ideas on how to transition to a fossil-fuel-free future in a just and fair manner; the top three things their parties would do to meet the Paris Agreement targets; and how to develop a non-partisan approach to addressing climate change. Questions from the public asked the candidates about dealing with the opioid crisis as a function of climate anxiety, what to do to protect winter tourism, and electoral reform.

SEE: Where and when to vote in the Castlegar area

Civil discussion

The debate was low-key and respectful, with few shots made and candidates agreeing with each other on many points.

NDP candidate Richard Cannings, the incumbent, garnered the most applause from the crowd, with a call for electoral reform to address partisan approaches to climate change, and when he criticized calls for more production of

“clean” Canadian oil.

“If we decide to do what we promised in Paris, global oil demand falls very steeply starting right now,” he said. “…We have to look, the world is awash in cheap oil. We’re not going to get a better price for oil if we get it to tidewater, the better price will always be the United States. We have just got to get away from the idea we have to double the output of the oil sands. This is where we have to start.”

Green candidate Tara Howse talked about the Green plan for an all-party “inner cabinet” that would guide climate policy, passing legislation to increase transparency and accountability in government, and weaning the country’s industries off fossil fuels.

She said if the country was going to meet its climate commitments, the Green party was the only one to do it.

“The Green Party platform is the only platform that actually meets Paris targets,” she said. “Mission Possible is 20 steps. It starts with all hands on deck and working across party lines … We’re the only party that has consistently said, ‘no more pipelines, no more fracking, and against LNG expansion’.”

Liberal candidate Connie Denesiuk scored points attacking Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s call to scrap the carbon tax.

“Unfortunately the Conservative candidate is not here, the first thing Andrew Scheer will do is remove the price on carbon we have in Canada — he can’t do that in B.C. because the province already has the price on carbon,” she said. “We know that has reduced carbon in B.C. by 16 per cent, while the rest of Canada has gone up three per cent, so we know it is an effective way of getting carbon out of the atmosphere.”

Though Denesiuk was also jeered when she called on voters to strategically vote Liberal over Greens or NDP.

“On October 22 we’re going to wake up, and either Andrew Scheer or Justin Trudeau is going to be our prime minister for the next four years,” she said. “It’s unrealistic to think that either Singh, Bernier or May are going to be the Prime Minister on October 22. If this riding goes NDP again, we’re one step closer to a Scheer government. And I think it’s very important to look at what our options are, and I think it’s important if we’re serious about action on climate change, we know if Andrew Scheer is the next prime minister … we know what their response will be. We know what the results will be.”

The Green candidate also objected to the Liberal’s statement.

“It is a national fear-mongering strategy,” said Howse. “There are six seats up here. You have options. It is a perversion of democracy to imply otherwise.”

The PPC’s Taylor also faced a negative reaction — when trying to argue C02 emissions weren’t pollution. But he was applauded for calling on the country to rebuild its train transportation system and resist “global control” over climate issues.

“We need to start having sensible debates here … we’re the only ones that are speaking to the science,” he told the crowd. “We’re the voice of dissent. This is about sovereignty and the environment. Do we want Canada making these decisions or do we want foreign bureaucrats? I think we’re pretty good.”

The NDP’s Cannings told the crowd his party would continue working for economic and social change, and its environmental policy was based on science.

“On the doorstep I hear people are looking for a party that will stand up for them instead of the big corporations, a government that would work across party lines to tackle climate change and bring economic justice to Canada,” he said. “And the NDP is that party. So cooperation becomes the norm in Ottawa, and not division and delay.”

SEE: South Okanagan-West Kootenay candidates ready for federal election campaign

Independent candidate Carolina Hopkins spoke of addressing the needs of youth, seniors, and people with ongoing physical and mental health issues. She also spoke of dealing with climate adaptation through investment in infrastructure, transportation and supporting individuals as the country moves away from a carbon economy.

“We need a long-term investment plan for adapting using nature-based and other options,” she said. “In so doing we can continue to build capacity and find solutions that will work for everyone.

“We need to engage more with municipalities and work to advocate with the province in favour of the community grass-roots.”

Audience mostly unmoved

After the event, audience members approached by the Castlegar News didn’t seem swayed by the candidate’s arguments.

“Overall I felt all candidates did say climate change and global warming were real, they all have different perspectives of the same idea,” said one youth voter, Caitlin Kellendonk. “I came in feeling very much between NDP and Green, but to my surprise I had some agreements with the PPC, which I found very interesting and intriguing, as he had very good and reasonable points in his discussion.

“So in some ways I feel more confused.”

“I think I was in support of the NDP and potentially Green,” said Shannon McCready. “And I was impressed by both candidates. So I’m still pretty torn.”

“It was a good debate, it was a lot more lively and exciting than I thought it was going to be when I missed the Canuck’s home opener to come to it,” said Ed, who only wanted his first name used. “But my mind was already made up, like I think most of the people here.”

“I had my mind made up before I came here tonight,” agreed Duff, who also didn’t give his last name. “I was interested in seeing how the candidates talked about the issues. I think Dick Cannings is a great candidate. I think he knows those issues very well.”

Canadians go to the polls on Monday, Oct. 21.

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