Four candidates in the riding of South Okanagan — West Kootenay exchanged views on climate change policy at a Zoom forum Tuesday evening, Sept. 7.
With less than two weeks to go before Canadians head to the polls, the discussion pitted the NDP’s Richard Cannings —who’s held the riding for the past two election cycles — against the Greens’ Tara Howse, the Conservatives’ Helena Konanz and the Liberals’ Ken Robertson (in alphabetical order, by candidates’ last names).
People’s Party candidate Sean Taylor watched silently via Zoom, but was not invited to join his competitors. Laura Sacks, who helped organize the event on behalf of two West Kootenay non-partisan organizations, said this was in keeping with the federal election debates, adding that Taylor hadn’t asked to participate.
Cannings said he’d pursued “a full career as a biologist” before entering politics. When he did, he said it was “because I wanted to be a voice for science and reason in Ottawa.”
“When I became an MP, my first private member’s bill was to fill a huge loophole in the Species at Risk Act,” which he said the Conservative government under former prime minister Stephen Harper had been using “to simply do nothing for species at risk in Canada.”
Howse at several points criticized Cannings’ record on climate change policy, especially in terms of holding up legislation to ban old-growth logging in B.C.
“Paul Manley (Green MP for the riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith) put that motion forward and the Liberal government and their NDP supporters would not pass it,” she said.
“Paul Manley’s motion was tabled (before it could reach parliament),” Cannings shot back. “We had no opportunity to support it or not.”
Later apologizing, Howse said, “There’s a reason I haven’t taken too many shots at the Conservatives, Richard, and that’s because if we elect them, things are going to go backward on the environment.”
Howse meanwhile promised a federal ban on old-growth logging as well as a halt to federal subsidies to oil, gas and liquid natural gas companies.
Konanz insisted the Tories had “a great, solid plan” to meaningfully tackle climate change, which would include spurring local innovations in green technology and putting an end to the dumping of raw sewage. Taking aim at Cannings, she insisted her NDP opponent hadn’t shifted the federal government’s environmental agenda.
“It’s been six years now that we’ve given our sitting MP a chance to do something,” she said. “He can’t,” she continued, granting that while he was a great scientist, “he represents a fourth-place party.”
Konanz said she would not accelerate Canada’s climate change targets before tackling massive upsets to local and national economies wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Liberals’ Ken Robertson repeatedly underlined his commitments as an Indigenous person to the land and especially the riding’s watersheds. He would immediately push for a moratorium on the harvesting of trees over 250 years old, he said, adding that the Grits were meanwhile keen on “phasing out all oil and gas subsidies” and advancing Canada’s carbon emission targets.
The forum was put on by the West Kootenay branch of Fridays for Future and the Nelson and West Kootenay branches of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. The forum kicked off at 6 p.m. with around 70 registered viewers, ending two hours later with around 60.