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Election 2013: The race to represent

Five candidates, four weeks. The provincial election is coming to an end and on May 14 voters will choose the new MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky.

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The Whistler debate

Four of the five candidates — Santos, Sturdy, Johnson and Warrington — were in Whistler on May 6 for the fourth of five all-candidates meetings in the election campaign.  

The debates show how important theatre and performance is to politics. They are a chance for voters see the candidates up front, hear answers to questions and determine how they would perform in the legislature or other public forums, like the media.

On Monday Whistler Library was packed with about 100 people and after a brief introduction by each candidate, moderator Fiona Famulak of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce leads into questions. The rules are stricter here than for the debates in West Vancouver, Pemberton and Squamish: only two candidates could be asked a question, the other two had one minute for rebuttal (though if a question was directed to just one candidate only two could reply, this means one candidate got left out of the opportunity to respond at all. This happened twice during the debate).

"Would you be willing to go against your party in a legislature vote?"

This is the first non-environment-related question (for a look at those, see next section), and is directed at Sturdy and Santos. The former's answer gives a nod to process; the latter's answer to feistiness.

"I absolutely agree that it is the job of an MLA to represent the communities and constituents in the riding to the government," Sturdy responds. "You need to identify what you believe is the interest of your riding. If on an issue the principles are compromised then absolutely, you vote against the party line. But we also need to recognize that a degree of party or parliamentary discipline is critical. Parliament meant failing a confidence motion and we're back at an election."

Santos gives an answer that suggests a willingness to liven up NDP caucus meetings should she win.

"I feel passionate about it myself. It is not a question that I will vote against the party vote. It is a question that I know I will be able to change the party's mind," she says, to laughter.

Given a chance to respond, Warrington says he would vote with his conscience. "I don't think the Green Party even has a whip," he tells the audience.

Johnson, who came into the race in order to provide an alternative to political parties, gives the sobering answer that B.C. legislature records show that just a quarter of one per cent of votes go against the party line. "That's what passes for democracy here," he says.

A subject that is closer to home is long-term economic prosperity, and what the candidates would do to ensure this.

Warrington says the Green Party supports long-term sustainability, green initiatives support this. "We believe an investment in the local people and their knowhow is the best way out of their economic problems.... (and the development of) long-term renewable manageable resources."

Sturdy agrees that "renewables are the way to go" but broadens them out to include tourism, forestry and agriculture. He says that it is not practical for non-renewables to be phased out quickly and believes it will take several decades for such a move.

Johnson believes that education is key and that "under the Liberal government we've just had cut, cut, cut."

Santos refers to her opening statement on the lack of education and skills training and her interest in improving these things. "I think the Liberals brand themselves as the defenders of free enterprise. It hasn't been free enterprise... what I find is that there are certain things that are being subsidized and the others are being left without help."

The range of other subjects is wide. Santos is asked what she would do to address inequality and responds that the NDP want to improve minimum wage levels and invest in childcare, Johnson wants to see a minimum annual income brought in, Warrington supports a guaranteed livable income. Because the question is only addressed to one candidate, thanks to the debate rules, Sturdy does not have the opportunity to respond.