It’s a question of style vs. substance when it comes to deciding who won the all-candidates forum Tuesday.
While leading candidates Dan Ashton (Liberal) and Dick Cannings (NDP) split the points for knowledge of the issues and substance, local business man Doug Maxwell (B.C. First) won on sincerity. However, Sean Upshaw (Conservative) drew audience applause for his forceful delivery, despite departing from his party platform and occasionally dipping into attacks on Ashton.
“The reality is I left my policy manual with my wife accidentally,” said Upshaw, who also admitted that the B.C. Conservatives have no chance of winning the next election, adding his opinion that party leader John Cummins bombed during Monday night’s leaders debate.
“I don’t even know if he will get his own seat. In fact, I highly doubt that Christy Clark will get her own seat,” he said.
“B.C. Conservatives may not be the next government, but neither will be the Liberals.”
Doctoral candidate and political observer Wolf Depner suggested that the applause Upshaw garnered from the audience of nearly 400 was not necessarily in support of B.C. Conservative policies.
“He has a commanding performance when he goes up there. His body language is very aggressive, he performs well, he is not afraid to challenge the crowd,” said Depner. “I think he reflects some of the anger that exists within the riding about the B.C. Liberals. He certainly taps into that negative emotion. But for all the support he gets, he also draws an equal amount of boos.”
Depner said the riding may no longer be a safe seat for the Liberals.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it is Ashton’s election to lose. Cannings can be competitive, the NDP has been competitive here. Upshaw has had a history in the riding, ran as an independent (in the 2011 federal election).”
It didn’t take long for Ashton to be asked to defend his record as mayor, particularly in regard to the failed hockey dorm project, and the losses suffered by the local companies involved.
The city, Ashton said, checked the developer out and received a down payment, allowing him to begin preliminary site work in keeping with the city’s new policy of fast-tracking developments that promised to bring jobs to the community.
“This council and the previous council were very pro business. Unfortunately, you can’t go through life holding people’s hands in business. We feel terrible about it, but most importantly we protected the people of Penticton,” said Ashton. “Penticton is much further ahead by us being quite aggressive.”
Upshaw, a real estate agent, was the only candidate taking the opportunity for a rebuttal. Property should not be developed on until it has been completely transferred over, he said. And because the project was fast tracked, Upshaw continued, the contractors were misled by the city.
“The business owners were left with the assumption that everything was ok,” said Upshaw, not mentioning that the city issued stop work orders. Far from protecting Penticton citizens, Upshaw said it was an example of poor representation.
“I don’t believe that sort of activity should be rewarded with a promotion and going to Victoria,” he said.
Pushing the hospital expansion through was one of the few topics where all the candidates were in agreement, after Dr. David Paisley, concerned that election promises would evaporate, asked for a public pledge of support.
“I’m just sad that it became an election situation before it gets done. It is way past due, should have been done a long time ago,” said Maxwell, questioning how political priorities had caused other developments to leapfrog Penticton.
But Upshaw said the expansion has always been an election issue and will be an election issue until it is done, trying to throw barbs at Ashton and the Liberals.
“Since 1999, Dan Ashton has been a councillor and a mayor; all of a sudden, six weeks prior to an election, he has an epiphany and says I am going to do something about the hospital,” said Upshaw.
For his part, Ashton reaffirmed that the PRH expansion is his No. 1 priority, then forcibly informed Upshaw that he had been supporting the project for years at the regional district level.
“Seven years ago, we doubled the tax requisition so we would have the money in place for our 40 per cent,” said Ashton.
Cannings also reaffirmed the NDP commitment to the project
“You will see it done and I look forward to the day it opens in spite of Liberal delays,” said Cannings.
But the candidates showed a wide divergence in their stands when local filmmaker Victoria Baptiste hit them with a dual question about two important economic generators, the film industry and the introduction of genetically modified foods to local agriculture.
“The NDP has pledged new tax relief for the film industry. If we invite them here and give them a tax break, they will spend money and all the local business will thrive as a result,” said Cannings.
He also recognized the damage GMO products could do the reputation of Okanagan fruit.
“I know the local growers here are opposed to GMO if only because of the branding. We need to keep our fruit industry here branded as a healthy food to eat,” he said.
Maxwell simply feels there is too much risk of the unexpected with GMO.
“We just don’t think it through far enough and there is always a surprise that comes somewhere down the line,” he said.
But the solution for the film industry is not more tax breaks, according to Maxwell, but more people supporting Canadian productions.
Upshaw admitted he knows little about GMO, but did agree with the NDP stand on the film industry.
“The B.C. Liberal government has committed a tragic mistake,” he said. “We need to get tax incentives back to where they were. We need to encourage that big time.”
Ashton said the film industry can and will go anywhere that suits its needs.
“It is a bottomless pit when you start chasing them with tax dollars,” he said. On GMO, however, Ashton supported the local ban.
“The GMO question has come to the regional district and we are adamantly opposed to it. There is too much protection that is required because of our fruit industry in our valley and more significantly in the Similkameen with the organic growers,” said Ashton.