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Hot-button and local issues highlight candidates' debate

Housing, growth and Woodfibre LNG among topics discussed

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While the topics covered in Whistler's only provincial election debate this week ranged from local to provincial, it soon emerged that the issues of most concern to the audience centred on housing and the growth of the resort and its recreational infrastructure.

The 60 or so people who attended the debate at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre on Mon., April 24 were respectful of the candidates — BC Liberal incumbent Jordan Sturdy, Green Party candidate Dana Taylor and independent Tristan Galbraith — but it was clear they were in no mood to hear "party speak" on issues such as the campaign donations by lobbyists and special interest groups.

Some of the Whistler crowd seemed unsatisfied with many of Sturdy's answers, at times audibly scoffing or shouting out short rebuttals of their own.

Things got terse, briefly, when a 22-year-old construction worker pressed Sturdy on the campaign-financing question.

"Why should I look to you to lead us when you're taking money from people who do not have the same interests as us at all?" the young man asked.

Sturdy reiterated the need for reform before shifting to a different topic, which didn't sit well with the questioner, and led to the two talking over one another.

As the candidates answered audience questions, the recurring themes — managing growth, Woodfibre LNG (WFLNG), education, the grizzly bear hunt and political donations — were addressed, but in most instances the discussion kept coming back to the importance of housing.

"Housing is the issue, I think, in many ways here in Whistler," Sturdy said.

"I am looking forward to the results of the reports of the mayor's housing task force... I think they're going to get a better handle on what the situation is right now."

Taylor said he believes the role of the provincial government should be one of facilitation.

"At the municipal level, the fact that there has been a good deal of study... (that is) first and foremost what we should pay attention to," he said.

"The province, if it needs to help, should look at those emergency and crisis situations where something has to be done."

Questions around daycare, maintaining a strong business climate and recruiting teachers all came back to the need for stable, affordable housing.

One question from the crowd touched on Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding, and if the definitions around it might be broadened to help the community in all areas.

The RMI is an annual $10.5-million program in which hotel funds are collected in 14 B.C. resorts and then doled back into the communities for tourism-related projects based on a formula.

Sturdy said he would be open to that community discussion.

"There should be more latitude, there should be a community conversation about... what are the best outcomes for those funds, how do we want to use them," he said.

"And let's just get it amended so we use it the way we want it, and the way we think that it makes sense for this community."

On the question of growth and capacity issues, Sturdy said it comes down to Whistler's Official Community Plan, which could see forward progress under a new Memorandum of Understanding signed in February by the RMOW, First Nations, Whistler Blackcomb and the province.

"Part of what we want to look at in Whistler itself is bringing our OCP back into this community, so ultimately the council makes the decision on it," he said.

"So next step is to get it back into the purview of the municipality and have the municipality manage our own growth within our own desires."

As for proposals like Whistler Blackcomb's redevelopment plan, Renaissance, "there will be ample opportunity for the community to debate this, and there is a series of other proposals, (like at) the south base, which could work to alleviate some of the traffic issues," Sturdy said.

"But these are complex issues, certainly, and are really best dealt with through the municipality and through the community."

Taylor referred back to his binder of notes and the Green Party platform, released in full the day of the debate, in response to many questions, and confessed to a lack of intimate local knowledge on several issues including the RMI, but also seemed to score the most points with the audience throughout the night.

The Green Party candidate garnered applause for responses relating to campaign financing ("There's only one answer to this: Get rid of the money. If you want your democracy back, get rid of the money") and WFLNG ("If I'm elected in this riding, I will do everything in my power to ditch that plant").

In his rebuttal on campaign financing, Sturdy said there is no denying that there needs to be reform — pointing to the BC Liberal pledge to appoint a special independent commission to look into the matter — and that he completely rejects the idea that Environmental Assessment (EA) processes don't work, or have been compromised by corporate money.

"I have followed that process right through — it is a completely separate, independent process," Sturdy said, noting that in the case of WFLNG, the project went through three levels of approval: federal, provincial and First Nations.

"Certainly there has been no influence, (or) attempted influence peddling with me. There's no question about that."

In response to a question about helping small businesses, Independent candidate Galbraith said he would like to see better Internet access for rural communities.

"I think it makes sense to provide that to them and maybe help them grow their businesses," he said. "I feel that it might make them more competitive."

In regards to WFLNG, Galbraith said he wasn't for or against it, "but I think we need to make a more informed decision about the environmental probabilities as well as the potential that we could be building upon ideas such as geothermal in the Chilcotins and wind energy in Howe Sound before LNG," he said.

But the independent candidate's answers were hit or miss for much of the night, oftentimes diverging on unrelated tangents.

For more on each campaign, including how each party plans to pay for its proposals, head to www.votejordan.ca, www.bcgreens.ca, www.tristangalbraith.com and www.bcndp.ca.

NDP candidate Michelle Livaja was unable to attend the Whistler debate.

VOTING IN THE PROVINCIAL ELECTION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Anyone who is 18 years old, a Canadian citizen and a resident of British Columbia for the past six months is eligible to vote in the May 9 provincial election.

General voter registration has closed, but voters can register in person at their polling station on Election Day.

Advance voting takes place on Sat., April 29 and Sun., April 30, as well as from Wed., May 3 to Sat., May 6 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) at Myrtle Philip Community School.

If you are in Whistler and do not currently have a permanent address or have misplaced your ID, you can still vote. Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) will be on hand to provide this service for you on May 9. From 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., a representative from WCSS will be at the main polling station in Whistler to administer a document that will act as your ID for voting in this provincial election.

The Whistler election day polling station is at the conference centre.

Voting places are listed on www.elections.bc.ca, on Where to Vote cards sent to registered voters, in community newspapers, and by calling Elections BC at 1-800-661-8683.

Voters are entitled to four consecutive hours free from work to vote on General Voting Day (Tues., May 9 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.), but that doesn't necessarily mean a guaranteed four hours off of work — just that each voter must have a four-hour period, free from work, during voting hours (so for example, if a shift ends at 4 p.m., or doesn't start until noon, the employee is not entitled to any time off).

Employees are not allowed to deduct pay or otherwise penalize for taking time off to vote.

For more resources head to www.elections.bc.ca.

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