About 200 people turned out Saturday afternoon to listen to what all five federal candidates for South Okanagan West Kootenay had to say on a variety of issues facing the region.
Questions at the all candidates forum sponsored by the Western News, in conjunction with the Seniors’ Drop-In Centre and the South Okanagan Real Estate Board, jumped from healthcare to missing and murdered aboriginal women to seniors’ issues.
Legalizing marijuana and taxing it left Conservative candidate Marshall Neufeld alone in right field, as the only candidate against legalizing, or even decriminalizing, pot.
“It can be dangerous and it can have lasting effects on some individuals. Our Conservative government wants to stop kids from smoking marijuana,” said Neufeld, who was booed when he suggest that Liberal leader Justin Trudeau wanted to make smoking marijuana an everyday activity.
Liberal candidate Connie Denesiuk agreed that keeping young people from smoking pot was important, but disagreed about the best way to do it.
“My biggest interest is students. I want to keep it out of the hands of students, because it does affect their brains,” said Denesiuk, adding that students have an easier time getting pot than cigarettes because it is in the hands of criminals. “I want to get it out of their hands by legalizing it and regulating it.
“It’s time that industry started paying taxes too.”
The Green Party and the Liberals both want to legalize marijuana, but the NDP wants to stop at decriminalizing possession. Richard Cannings, the NDP candidate, joked however, that he was the only candidate to admit to using marijuana.
“Before any of the other parties would even talk about this, we have advocated for the decriminalization of marijuana,” said Cannings. “We don’t think a person who smokes the odd joint should be thrown in jail.”
“I believe that every human being has a right to die with dignity,” said Gray, adding that these are personal choices. “I do not like to see the government have anything to do with who is going to live and who is going to die.”
Marshall Neufeld, who has worked as a care aide, described it as a divisive issue.
“I have sat with people in their final moments,” said Neufeld, adding that vulnerable people needed to be protected. “There are many things we need to consider, it can’t be solved in two minutes.”
Troy said that medical professionals needed to be involved.
“Continuing conversation is definitely a priority,” said Troy. “There needs to be dialog with medical professionals as well because it is such a personal issue. We are all born, and we are all going to die.”
“It is something that requires a great deal of thought. We also have to not create barriers for people that are in pain or great discomfort,” said Cannings.
Denesiuk said the discussion should have started immediately after the supreme court ruling on the issue to make the most use of the 18-month deadline to come up with legislation.
“We are so far from that, it is going to be a lot of work,” said Denesiuk. “We will continue to talk to Canadians to ensure it is not the thin end of the wedge that people are concerned about.”
The subject of a national park for the South Okanagan was on the minds of several of the audience. Few of the candidates were decided on how to protect it.
“One of the advantages of preserving it through a national park is increased awareness in the country, and increasing the number of tourists that come here,” said Neufeld, adding that other factors needed to be considered as well, citing HNZ Helicopters, a world-class flight training school their fears a national park would restrict flights through the region. “That is something that needs to be addressed first.”
Troy said that the conversation about a national park needs better structure and dialog.
“I am not against it. I need to get far more information and find out why the conversing bodies are at loggerheads as much as they are,” said Troy.
Cannings, an ecologist, said he had been involved with the issue since 1979, when he wrote a report urging to create protection for rare grasslands.
“It’s the last ecoregion in southern Canada without a national park,” said Cannings. “We live in a special place. We need a national park, we need to protect this area.
“As an MP, it would be at the top of my list of things to do.”
Denesiuk, who often visits the proposed park area, is amazed at the beauty of the area.
“We need to think of not just the next five years, the next 10 years. We’ve got to look 100 years down the line,” said Denesiuk, who claimed the wheels were put in motion by Jean Chretien in 2002 when he visited the region. “We need to protect the area and a national park is a perfect way to do that.”
Troy said a national strategy for senior’s care is a basic part of the Green Party platform. Their plan includes a housing plan, and a guaranteed living income to ensure no one lives in poverty.
“That’s for everyone,” she said. “We will implement a national pharmacare program, which through the bulk buying of drugs will greatly reduce pharmacare costs.
“The Green party supports the expansion of the CPP as the most reliable and predictable pension plan.”
Cannings said the NDP also supports a universal pharmacare program, along with other programs to fix a broken healthcare system and implementing a national seniors’ care plan.
“We need to take of our seniors. More and more seniors need help,” said Cannings. “We don’t think seniors should have to retire and live in poverty. There is a myth out there that seniors are wealthy people.”
According to Denesiuk, the Liberals also have a number of initiatives to support seniors, though she said there is a difference.
“Ours will become effective immediately. Our very next budget, we are going to be implementing many of the measures,” she said, listing increased guaranteed income supplements, and keeping pension splitting.
Neufeld said the Conservatives stand on their record of supporting seniors, including introducing income splitting.
“The average senior couple are paying $900 less a year in tax because of that one measure alone,” said Neufeld.