Thirty seems to be the magic number of people interested in attending all candidate events in Williams Lake during the 2013 campaign.
That’s the number of people who attended an all candidates assembly hosted by the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce and the Northern BC Real Estate Board Wednesday evening at the Tourism Discovery Centre.
Two forums on Saturday attracted around 30 people to each, some of those returning to hear the evening session.
The next forum takes place for high school students at WLSS, Tuesday May 7.
The chamber-hosted assembly was the first time all seven candidates representing the Cariboo-Chilcotin and Cariboo North ridings were present at a candidates event in Williams Lake.
Cariboo-Chilcotin Independent candidate Gary Young, protesting the $50 fee charged by the chamber for candidates to participate, however, chose to set up a table outside the front entrance.
He had posters, cards and brochures, and interacted with people as they arrived.
Young missed the opportunity given to each candidate to give a three-minute speech, and was gone before the event ended.
Chamber president Jason Ryll put names in a hat to determine the order of speakers.
First off was Incumbent Cariboo North Independent MLA Bob Simpson who said he wanted to dispel two myths.
One that an Independent can’t achieve anything for the riding. The other that an Independent can’t have a voice in the legislature.
“If you’ve driven through 150 Mile House there was $11 million of government money spent there and a sign at the school about school repairs,” Simpson said. “If you drive the Likely Road there’s a sign there that $2.3 million was spent on repairs of that road.”
He could name “all kinds of things” that government has done while he has served as an MLA. “That’s not taking credit for it, it’s just the fact that government works independent of who your MLA is and what political stripe they may have.”
It’s very seldom that you will get political interference in the way that government uses taxpayer money.
Simpson argued Independents can have one of the strongest voices in the legislature.
“Don’t take my word from it, but I want to quote from Martin Brown, chief of staff for Gordon Campbell,” he said.
Brown said Simpson’s representation on forestry reforms and the Pacific Carbon Trust legislative reforms site a few examples of how effective an independent member can be.
“Tom Birch, a B.C. Conservative candidate, thanked me for being a voice for our province. Jane Sterk and Elizabeth May have endorsed my campaign, not because I take a stance on any particular issue, but because of what I do in the legislature to represent my riding and democratic reform.”
The strongest endorsement for Independents came from NDP critic John Horgan, Simpson suggested.
“This a direct quote from Hansard. The advantage of having three Independents is that we should be looking at our activities through the lens of their point of view. They have the luxury, many of us would say, of being able to outline issues ahead of the government or ahead of the Opposition.”
Simpson said Independent members have the same rights as government ministers, the same rights as an Opposition critic to participate in the debates.
“So please don’t buy the myths about what an independent can and cannot do. I think we’ve proven ourselves already.”
Cariboo North Liberal Coralee Oakes described her background as fourth generation Quesnel resident.
“I grew up on a family farm,” she said. “We see a lot of change and growth in our community. I’m a firm believer in the opportunities that we have in our region.”
Oakes spent six years on Quesnel city council and 14 years with the Quesnel chamber.
“One of the things I think this election is about is what does renewal and growth look like for our region. I believe in small business and I believe there is so much opportunity for this region.”
Seventy per cent the region’s small businesses are looking at retiring, Oakes said.
“It’s critical for everyone of us to look at how we can attract investment into our region. This is critical, not just for small business, but for large business at all, and the symbiotic relationship we have to look after.”
Oakes said she’s running because she’s a “passionate champion” for small business, believes in the rural economy, the “tremendous” opportunities the region has because small businesses are the heart of communities.
“They support the hockey teams and the different groups in our communities,” she said. “I’m asking for you to give a local kid a chance on May 14. That you look at our region and the opportunities for growth. We have an incredibly bright future and have young people who want to move back to this riding.”
The Liberals, she added, have the right policies in place, believe in free enterprise, entrepreneurship and can deliver for the next generation.
“We’re making sure we can support tourism, support small business, support agriculture, forestry and mining.”
Cariboo North NDP Duncan Barnett said he’s running for the NDP because it’s time for a change.
“I believe government can do better in the province in terms of the economy, how we treat people and the environment.”
Barnett said he’s earned his living in agriculture and forestry over the last 20 years in the Cariboo.
“I got to thinking that government had walked away from agriculture and then I started to get the same feeling about forestry and then I decided rather than just complain, which is easy to do, I’m going to put my name forward and run and try and do something about it. Try and change things for the better, was what I thought.”
Through the campaign Duncan said he’s realized there are as many problems on the social side with the province’s education and health care systems.
“The Liberals economic model isn’t working, cutting family services and cutting taxes has really hurt our communities and I think we see that here in the Cariboo. I know I experienced it in my business and I know we experience it with child poverty, the highest rate in Canada, and with the growing gap between rich and poor, and with the debt that has gone way up.”
He said the NDP look at people as the number one resource.
“We start by investing in people, with child care, education, skills and trades training, so that people can get jobs. Innovative, creative, productive members of society are how we move the economy forward.”
That’s the basic difference between the two choices people have, Duncan said, adding he chooses the NDP platform.
“You can see it clearly laid out on our website. We say what we’ll do and we say how we’ll pay for it. What you need to do is consider that platform, consider what we’re proposing and if you like it and it makes sense to you, and I believe it should. If you’re in small business, it should make sense to you because there are concrete, firm commitments to support small business, agriculture, forestry, mining and tourism to invest in our land base and our people.”
If the Liberals are elected, the NDP platform won’t be implemented, Duncan said, adding “you won’t change things for the better.”
Cariboo-Chilcotin NPD Charlie Wyse said it’s a unique challenge to speak, following someone who is from the same party.
“The good news is I’m not going to repeat everything that Duncan said because when Duncan spoke, he was speaking on behalf of all 85 NDP candidates across the ridings,” Wyse said.
“That’s certainly one of the aspects of looking at people from different parties. You know if they are elected government then that is the platform they’ve been empowered to implement and then you are able to hold them accountable.”
He described the “uniqueness” of the riding.
“It’s very vast geographically and has a large mix of different groups and different communities. If we are going to proceed and move ahead, it certainly is time for a change in how we go about working together so that we can have some practical decisions put into place.”
The entire area, including the province, will benefit by “that small change,” Wyse suggested. “I represent an enhanced chance for that taking place. The previous approach for the last 12 years has not gotten us anywhere.”
He asked people to vote for the NDP in both ridings so the Cariboo Chilcotin can move the region forward.
Incumbent Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Liberal Donna Barnett said she has lived in the region for 47 years and worked with communities for 40 years.
“I ran in 2009 for MLA and was successful, and I feel great about the accomplishments I’ve been able to bring to the Cariboo-Chilcotin,” she said, adding she’s also worked very closely with citizens in the Cariboo North riding.
“We got Deni House open, we got DriveABLE here, we got glaucoma shots in the optometrists’ office. It goes on and on. I’ve worked with our ranchers to make changes to help with them with fencing, predator control, this is about working for the people of the Cariboo-Chilcotin.”
Donna said she gets tired of the NDP saying “your debt, your debt.”
“When the NDP left office, there was $35 billion of debt. Yes we have $55 billion, but we built cancer clinics, we built hospitals, we built highways, we put people to work.”
There’s a difference between a debt and a deficit, Donna suggested. “For those of you who don’t know, a debt is your mortgage. Your deficit is your operating capital. We have worked extremely hard.”
She also challenged the NPD claim that 30,000 jobs have been lost in the forest industry under the Liberals, saying “no such thing” has happened. Communities in the region have the lowest unemployment rate in B.C. she said.
“I have worked hard and will continue to work hard. I will represent every single one of you. When the minister tells me know, such as the abattoir and other things, I will get the job done.”
A vote for her is a vote for someone “strong, straight forward, and honest,” she added.
Cariboo-Chilcotin Green Party’s Dustin Price said he’d prepared a speech, but after hearing the other candidates decided he’d do something a “little different.”
“I’m 28 years old and have lived in 100 Mile my whole life,” he said. “I’ve spent the last five years coaching minor hockey and four years mentoring and training young athletes.”
He also volunteers at the local Youth Zone.
“I believe youth are the future and I believe in being a leader and investing my time working with youth.”
Price has worked in the forest industry since he was 15 years old logging, heli-logging, fighting forest fires, forest and range, and most recently for B.C. Timber Sales.
“We need to rethink forestry,” Price said. “It’s a huge industry and always has been. With the mountain pine beetle ramping down, we need to put a plan in place for how we are going to move forward.”
A solid inventory of the forests needs to be completed and a plan put in place, he added.
“In B.C. it takes 1,200 cubic metres of wood to create one full time job. In Quebec they can create one job with 300 cubic metres. We need to try and get closer to that. It will create some jobs and help us out here.”
The Green Party is not against mining, Price said.
“We believe in the triple bottom line. It’s the environment. It’s economy and it’s the social well being of people. We need to balance on that. That’s what we need to look at into the future and that’s what will keep us going.”
Growing the economy, is necessary, but how long can that happen on non-renewable energy? he asked.
People attending the assembly then had the opportunity to chat with the candidates one-on-one.