Cariboo North Independent candidate Bob Simpson (left) helps Cariboo-Chilcotin Independent candidate Gary Young hold up his sign

Cariboo North Independent candidate Bob Simpson (left) helps Cariboo-Chilcotin Independent candidate Gary Young hold up his sign

Candidates square off at two forums

Two all candidates forums in Williams Lake Saturday attracted around 30 viewers to each, with some of the viewers attending both sessions.

Two all candidates forums held in Williams Lake Saturday attracted around 30 viewers to each, with some of the viewers attending both sessions.

Both forums were fairly tame, not the fiery or heated sessions. Williams Lake is located in two ridings so candidates from Cariboo-Chilcotin and Cariboo North were invited to participate.

Cariboo-Chilcotin Green Party candidate Dustin Price was absent, due to a scheduled tour of the west Chilcotin.

At the afternoon session Liberal candidates Donna Barnett, Coralee Oakes, Independents Bob Simpson and Gary Young, and NDP candidate Charlie Wyse participated. NDP Duncan Barnett had a previous commitment.

When asked about New Prosperity Mine, Barnett reiterated her support of the project, saying the region “cannot wait any longer” because the jobs are needed to move the economy forward.

Oakes said for too long “we’ve allowed our emotions to take over what scientists or folks who know the facts have to say,” adding forest dependent communities need to look for new revenue.

Wyse said the NDP suppport the federal review’s decision on the original proposal.

Young said if salmon are protected he’ll support the mine.

Simpson said the region has to be willing to accept “no” as an answer if that’s what the environmental review determines.

When asked if they supported a seniors advocate that would report directly to the legislature, Simpson said he hopes in September the government will pass legislation to make the position an independent officer of the legislature.

“When they made the position a function of the Ministry of Health then seniors felt they wouldn’t be represented.”

Donna Barnett said the position is something new.

“Let’s give it a chance. It’s a start and nothing says that the seniors advocate position cannot be changed,” she insisted, adding the position is necessary to deal with elder abuse in B.C.

Wyse said more people will go to the seniors advocate if the position is independent of government.

Young said all MLAs should be seniors advocates, that’s their job, while Oakes said the position is necessary because of the province’s aging demographic.

Candidates were also asked about free medical services for seniors.

Wyse, Oakes, Barnett and Simpson said free would be nice, however, the money is not there. They agreed services should be free for low-income seniors.

Young said free would be “unbelievable” and should not be dismissed as a possibility.

“Seniors have paid their whole lives. Let’s see what we can do.”

In the evening session, only the two Independents and two NDP candidates participated, while both Liberal candidates had previous commitments.

As a result, a main theme emerged throughout the forum —  Independent versus party representation.

Simpson said having three Independent MLAs in the legislature has “fundamentally changed the structure of the legislature.”

“I think you can be well served by a party MLA as well as an Independent MLA if all MLAs are free to represent. The constraint of the party system is you quickly hear the echo of the leader’s voice,” he said. “The leader’s voice comes back to the constituency, instead of the other way around.”

All systems have strengths and weakness, Wyse said. “The strength of a party system is you get a government and a platform.”

The platform can then be used to hold the party accountable.

Eighty-five MLAs are elected and all have the responsibility, upon being elected in their constituency, to look after the interests of all the constituents, not just those that voted for them.

Young said Independents represent constituents directly.

“Party MLAs are stuck with an internal governance. They must follow the lead and line of the party,” he said, adding it’s not getting any better.

“We’ve lost our democratic wish because the MLA you might like with a certain party has their own agenda set out by the party, not by you.”

Duncan Barnett quoted the NDP’s slogan: “Change for the better, one practical step at a time,” saying he likes it and helped write it.

“I don’t think we need any fundamental change. It’s true the party system is not perfect, there’s always room for improvement, and that’s why I’m happy with some of the commitments the NDP has made in the governance chapter of our platform.”

The role of the MLA is to advocate for their constituents, but another part of the job is working with a caucus to develop policy, legislation, regulation and decided how to do the government’s work, he added.

“An Independent can be an excellent critic in the legislature, but I’m not running to be a critic in the legislature, I’m running to get results for Cariboo North.”