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REPORTING · 12th May 2013
Walter McFarlane
Watch the all candidates forum by clicking here

The All Candidates Forum took place on Wednesday, May 1st at the Mount Elizabeth Theatre. MLA incumbent Robin Austin representing the NDP, Carol LeClerc representing the Liberal Party and Mike Brousseau representing the Conservative Party got up and faced down the firing squad of questions from the public. Each candidate had the opportunity to introduce themselves, answer each question and thank the people for coming out.

Austin Introduced himself first

Austin thanked everyone for coming out, despite the weather and the Hockey game. He thanked the organizers.

“It’s been a real privilege for the last 8 years to represent the Skeena riding. When I first went for public office, I didn’t know hardly anybody here in Kitimat. I spent all my time in the North living in Terrace and I was overwhelmed with the support I had, not only in 2005, but in the last election from the people of Kitimat and I want to thank you for that,” said Austin.

He expressed he was the first MLA to ever open an office in Kitimat and he hoped whomever wins would continue that precedent rather than have the people of Kitimat drive to Terrace.

“This election, after 12 years of BC Liberal Government is a pivotal one in our history. No matter who wins the election in […], any incoming government will have many challenges to overcome,” said Austin.

The challenges he listed include the reality of the BC fiscal situation and a budget which was neither debated nor passed prior to the election. He expressed the reality is the current government will be leaving a large fiscal deficit.

Austin stated the BC NDP has put together a cautious plan in which they have clearly stated where they would make expenditures and how they would pay for them. He expressed the lesson learned from the HST is the citizens will only accept changes in taxation policy if they are given the facts ahead of time and have the right to approve those changes.

“We must tackle the issue of insuring that our youth have the skills and educational expertise to enter the workforce of the 21st Century: a labour market where over 80% of all jobs will require a post-secondary education or skills training. Children living in poverty are not only a source of shame for a jurisdiction as wealthy as British Columbia but are also a complete waste of our social capital,” said Austin.

He said the task of government was to manage all of the projects which will be coming to Northern British Columbia so they serve both the public Interest as well as the Shareholders of the private companies. A responsible government would make investments in the province to build on in the future and ensure prosperity for all rather than those who already have everything.

To do this, the NDP will bring back a capital tax on financial institutions in BC, bring back the corporate tax to 12% from 10%, and ask the top 2% of BC who make in excess of $150,000 per person to pay a little more so the issues he has highlighted can be addressed.

LeClerc was the second to introduce herself

LeClerc thanked everyone for being there on that night.

“I want to tell you why I’m running in this important election. I take the responsibility of being an MLA very seriously. In the past 8 years, our representation has been weak and lacking. I believe now is an incredible point in our history here in the Skeena riding. For the first time in a long time, we’re seeing transport trucks coming and going regularly on our highways. Restaurants are doing well, new businesses are establishing themselves, contractors are busy and small business owners are growing, hiring more people to meet the demand. It has been a very long time since we’ve seen the economy thriving like it is right now,” said LeClerc.

She said this was because municipal politicians and business leaders are working with the BC Liberal Government. She said she was one of the people, serving on Terrace City Council for the past decade. They have worked for the electrification of highway 37 and stood up for Rio Tinto Alcan because the 1000 jobs when plant is modernized will help employees, their families and the Region.

“These projects were not supported by our current MLA despite the clear need for them to go ahead,” said LeClerc. “We must build on the work to encourage investment in BC which is balanced with our environment. Believe me, protecting our environment is as important to me as it is to all of you. Industrial development must be done responsibly and sustainably but the NDP wants to slow down development, adversely impact investor confidence and put our improved economy in jeopardy.”

She expressed the representative for Skeena should be active, listen and take advantage of the opportunities in the Northwest so everyone can prosper.

“The progress made today was made without the support of the representative we had. With all due respect, an MLA needs to be far more visible and engaged then the present one has been. Being stuck in opposition is no excuse for being ineffective,” said LeClerc.

She said a good representative will listen to all voices and take action. She said she understands there are many voices to be heard on the tough issues. Her job is to listen and represent them in Victoria. She expressed 900 delegates attended Minerals North in Terrace and it was a sign of the potential and resource industries in the North.

Leclerc concluded by saying Apache has already spent $20,000,000 upgrading the road to Bisch Creek. “Let’s keep the ball rolling,” said LeClerc.

The vote this year will take place on Tuesday May 14th from 8 am to 8 pm so do not forget to come out and vote for the candidate which you believe will best represent this region down in Victoria.


Mike Brousseau was the third speaker of the night

He thanked everyone for coming out in the rain proclaiming it makes this place a great place to live, but the people made it better.

“For me, it has been a pleasure to work, live and raise my family in this community and, as you came, you can see my family and it’s heritage that goes way back to the Arctic,” said Brousseau, explaining who his family was. “That is the main reason why I am running in this area. We want a future for our children to grow up.”

He was asked to represent the BC Conservatives because they want a change in this area. He is a good businessman, a contractor and he enjoys working with people. He is able to listen and follow instructions because the people are the boss if he is the MLA. He is willing to listen and do, put into action.

He explained the work he has done in the region to make things better for people who are needy. He expressed the children are the future.

“I’m not looking for a job folks. I’ll make more money roofing as a contractor. But to me, my Grandchildren need the future. My children are all looked after. They have work, they’ve been trained, they are going on with their lives,” said Brousseau.

He expressed he was busy, but the future of this area was more important. He delivered his platform in 5 words, what he stood for and who he is: Community, Economy, Education, Health Care and Integrity.

The floor opened up for questions. The highlights have been produced below.

Education

Liz Thorn questioned what they would do to ensure youth in small communities had the same access to the courses youth in larger communities have. Austin said the cutbacks were the reason he entered public life. He said the NDP is going to rebuild the public education system after 12 years of decline. $100,000,000 of new money would go back into the public education system to improve learning conditions and be used by the school district as they see fit. During the 12 years, the funding formula was changed to put money into schools where there were more students.

Brousseau said the children were the future and the funding and the teachers need to be there. He expressed BC’s education system has dropped. He wanted to know where the money was being spent. He expressed families need a good education in every area. He wanted to give schools a budget they did not have to spend in a single year to widen the window for learning possibilities.

LeClerc said funds have been put in to help schools where they need it and a selection of options which were given into the schools. The Liberal Government put $650,000 into the school district. She felt if she were made the education critic, she would give good suggestions rather than criticize people.

A question came for LeClerc concerning class size and how there were classes which exceeded the class size limit of 30. She was asked what her plans were for class size. Brousseau stated he was educated by his father and by himself. He expressed smaller classes were high priority.

LeClerc stated there was never enough dollars for education, nor was anything one size fits all. The learning fund she mentioned earlier was for the school to help fit the needs of the students.

Austin stated the Liberal Government brought in unconstitutional legislation and the school teachers had to go to court and waste money to prove the legislation was illegal. Because of the bills, $225,000,000 a year was stripped from public education. That is where the learning improvement fund came from. He agreed there will never be enough money to look after health care and education. However, they began this mandate by taking money from the education system and then told the School Districts to make due because times were hard. He stated the money taken from education was put towards tax decreases. Austin said it would have been better to put the money into the school system, create a better education system so children would have come out better educated and been able to earn higher salaries and pay more taxes.

The applause were deafening.

A final teacher asked if their party would be willing to negotiate a contract with the teachers or legislate a contract to meet the needs of professionals who have never been in a classroom. LeClerc said she would rather have a negotiated contract. Austin said they would like to go back to a negotiated settlement, pointing out most of the money in education goes towards human beings paid to interact with children. Brousseau said John Cummings is a teacher who understands the issues and they will rebuild and open dialogue in the negotiations rather than dictatorship which has been presented in the past.

Enbridge

LeClerc was asked point blank to take a stance on Enbridge. Austin answered first. He said it was a challenging question between jobs and the environment. “If you make a choice to say something is simply wrong, and has way too much risk and not enough benefit, then you fall prey to those who say: “Oh, you’re against everything.’ No, you’re not against everything, you’re against dumb ideas that are going to destroy the planet,” said Austin.

Brousseau stated he looked at the track record of Enbridge and what happened in Kalamazoo. It did not line up with his five policies, particularly integrity. “They are looking for the bottom dollar and to me, you have to have people with integrity, right from the start, right from the get go, not because someone caught them doing something wrong or makes them do something,” said Brousseau.

LeClerc stated she could sleep well at night because of the 5 conditions which were laid out by Christy Clark, knowing BC is going to be looked after and would not be rushing into Enbridge. She has met people who do not want Enbridge, and she has met people who do. There are a lot of voices, controversy and emotion. She does not know what Enbridge is going to do, or what it will look like and she is going to find out before she makes a decision.

Tim Rice asked if the candidates supported the refinery. LeClerc said it would be the largest private sector investment that has happened anywhere in BC. The cost of the refinery has gone up because he wants to make sure it’s the most environmentally safe refinery in the world. She has concerns about the air shed and the cumulative impact it would have. But if he builds a refinery to protect the environment and the air shed, and it creates thousands of jobs, she would look at that proposal.

Austin stated LeClerc had identified the pro’s and the cons. The environmental critics have met with him. He expressed the big debate concerns bringing the bitumen across northern BC. He wondered why there are no refineries being built in Alberta with the expanding bitumen industry. Austin stated there are 40 First Nations’ Territories which have to be crossed to bring the Diluted Bitumen, and unless they agree, it will be difficult. People want jobs but they are still talking about the challenges of the Diluted Bitumen across the Northern BC Landscape.

Brousseau is talking to David Black about it and wants to meet with him in person about it. He expressed the refinery does not work in Alberta because it would result in 12 different pipelines, one for each product produced. He said Black is man of integrity and there is a lot of spin off jobs which can be created from this. He said Black has the backing of one of the largest banks in China.

A questioner from Terrace stated pensions are invested in the oil and gas industry and would happen to the money if the projects would be canceled. LeClerc stated she hoped they were well invested, although she did not know what they were invested in. She did say if everything went south because a bad government was elected, would her pension be ok.

Austin stated it is up to the people who invest pensions to decide where the pension is best invested. It is government’s job to look after the public interest and for corporations to work within the framework. He pointed out the 90s in British Columbia were better than the 2000s pointing out under the Liberal government, there have been a lot of people leaving this area to go to Alberta. He accused the Liberals of spinning the idea that more left in the 1990s. However, according to statistics Canada, more people have left since the year 2000. He pointed out that the problem with Mythology is if you say it enough times, people believe it.

Brousseau stated he survived the 80s because people helped them and they stayed while others moved away. He was told investors are putting things on hold out of fear of what the upcoming government will bring. He’s been told investors will go to Alberta if the NDP win the election.

Jobs

A question came from John Allsop who wanted to know if employment should come before human beings and the environment.

Brousseau said the planet is what sustains the people and we are destroying it. Chemicals are being put into our food system and this is not healthy for long term sustainable health. He said his job would be to protect the environment. It is not just business which does this and the bottom dollar is not important, it is people. Farming needs to be done locally and not trucked in from across the province.

LeClerc said it is important to balance industry with environment. She said there are a lot of options for environmental studies and industries are hiring those people because there is a lot of social conscience to look after air and water. She said they have to give credit to industry, pointing out RTA has been working to improve safety and there are enough regulators to look after the world.

Austin said this is the critical debate over the last 20-30 years: jobs vs. the environment. He said people have benefited enough from jobs vs. the environment to realize it is not jobs vs. the environment, but finding jobs which do not destroy the environment and create jobs which are environmentally friendly. He expressed the Enbridge Gateway project makes little sense from an economic, environmental and social point of view. This is why they said no to diluted bitumen, because it could destroy this part of BC. He said the NDP is supporting LNG because it is safer energy. He said it does not matter where they come from, everyone depends on clean water and air.

Art Lucier stated when the NDP was in power, Mike Harcourt came to Kitimat and announced that Kemano II Completion was shut down because of environmentalists. He said the environmentalists were wrong and Harcourt shut the North down for 15 years. He stated there are environmentalists who are louder concerning the LNG than Kemano II. He asked why they should trust the NDP, who they should trust not to shut the LNG down, and why Robin Austin opposed KMP.

Austin had just commented on it in an earlier answer concerning challenges facing Kitimat and Terrace. “It would be great if [Kitimat and Terrace] could work together and not be separated like what happened on the whole issue with power sales where these two communities were divided on an issue when they should have been united. I think if Terrace had supported Kitimat’s position, we might have had a bigger smelter than the one we have today,” said Austin during the prior question.

This time, he had a different point to make to complete the history lesson.

“Mike Harcourt did come here and shut down Kemano Completion with the approval of Gordon Campbell, who was the opposition leader who pushed him to do that. Just understand, go look at the history. The opposition was the one leading the fight on the environmental side and in the end, with pressure from the opposition, the Mike Harcourt government sided with the environment that time,” said Austin.

He said it was different with LNG because both parties are in support of the LNG and the government, ministers and MLAs have been meeting with LNG proponents so there is no difference between the stance of the two governments on it compared to KMP. The decision would depend on the market and the ability to get the projects to fruition before the other competitors. He said the biggest challenge was finding long term investors.

Brousseau stated he had met with workers out in the channel at the Terrace Trade Fair over a big bowl of pistachios. It brought in a crowd of orange buttoned people who did not want the guy next to him coming through and promised to shut them down. He was concerned with policies changing, long term reviews, slowing down progress and saying one thing, doing another. He said the principals of the nation include doing what you say and harming no person or their property.

LeClerc said it was ok for businesses to come and spend billions of dollars. She said everyone is waiting to see what happens in the May 14th election, although Apache has a road going through already. She said they need to diversify the economy and the window for LNG is going to close soon. She said a stable government would be a huge attraction for it. She talked about a recent conference concerning natural gas. She was concerned with a Venting tax proposed by the NDP on LNG which she felt would be a huge deterrent on investors on BC Natural Gas.

Derrick Stinson wanted to know what would be their economic priorities for the Kitimat valley. LeClarc stated the Liberal Government has invested 4 million dollars to support trades training as the industry in the Northwest unfolds. She said there are great opportunities. She said she is a big pusher on the economy and the jobs. She hopes to provide a legacy for their kids where they grow old and stay with them.

Austin stated there are other things which they can do in Kitimat. They could expand the West Side Road which would add to the value of the community. He also stated it would be possible to rebuild bridges between the District and the First Nations Council so they can work together for the betterment of everyone.

Brousseau talked about reconciliation and forgiveness.

A group of youth asked where they stood on the legalization of Marijuana for recreational use. Austin expressed it is important for all who aspire to leadership to challenge the status quo. Marijuana is treated as a criminal act rather than as a problem for those who use it. This leads to kids having easier access to illegal products than to cigarettes and alcohol. He said his main focus is stopping cannabis use among young people because what adults do with their lives is up to them. He wanted to see it regulated, taxed and the money used to stop children from getting hooked on tobacco. He added it was a Federal issue.

Brousseau stated the drug harms children, kills brain cells, and numbs pain, problems and issues. “It is a bigger social problem then we can imagine when children gain access to it so easy. The law enforcement has to be there to protect our children so they can be safe, at peace in a prosperous area,” said Brousseau. He said it shows that children are not being raised properly and they are not being taught how valuable they are. He sees the damage which has been done through drugs and alcohol.

LeClerc agreed with Austin concerning it being a Federal issue and said there are a lot of problems around the issue. She expressed how people are losing their jobs at Alcan because they do not pass a drug test. People need to be aware of what will happen if they go down the past. She promised she would not judge anyone. She wanted to see what happens in Washington State because they have just started regulating it.

Each candidate was given time for a conclusion. This article focuses on many questions but does not go through all of them. watch the all candidates forum Watch our video on Kitimat Daily Videos by clicking here and do not forget to vote on Tuesday, May 14th.