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Federal candidates square off

Whistler All-candidates meeting touches on local election issues



The loudest applause of the night came after a question from the crowd.

"Do you feel like democracy in Canada is intact?" Emily Mann asked Conservative MP John Weston at Whistler's federal all-candidates meeting on Sept. 28 hosted by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce.

"And if so, why are there so many well-documented, factual accounts of anti-democratic practices and abuses of power in the Conservative government?"

The crowd's reaction — extensive applause overlaid with scattered cheering — filled the Millennium Place theatre to the ceiling, giving a clear view into the psyche of this particular voting bloc of Whistler.

Weston was under fire for much of the night, but held his own in an at-times-hostile environment.

"I created the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which stands up for individual Canadians' rights when governments menace those rights, so I too care very much about these things," Weston said in response to Mann. "Any Conservative MP with backbone is free to do the kinds of things that we've seen accomplished on behalf of this riding."

Weston took every opportunity to touch on the things he's done since being elected — including passing two private members bills and working with Whistlerites on things like fisheries and tourism — though it was clear the Whistler crowd was often unimpressed.

Many of Weston's responses were met with grumbling, laughing and boos.

"I believe in your sincerity about the things you stand up for, but unfortunately, it's been at the expense and to the exclusion of many, many Canadians," said Liberal candidate Pam Goldsmith-Jones.

The evening's second biggest round of applause was awarded to NDP candidate Larry Koopman, and his response to Weston's claim of a balanced budget.

"John mentioned balancing the budgets," Koopman said. "I don't believe balancing the budgets on the back of seniors, First Nations and veterans is the way that this country should operate."

Koopman's preparation showed in his responses, as he flipped through a colour-coded binder to effectively answer questions using relevant statistics.

The NDP candidate also drew audible agreement from the audience when he touched on cuts to the CBC, and the Conservative government's use of divisive politics and partisan advertising.

Local Green Party candidate Ken Melamed received favourable responses for his answers on climate change — stressing that he is the only candidate with a plan to stop Woodfibre LNG — as well as answers on tourism and electoral reform.

"We need to change the way it works, and to take back our democracy, rescue democracy from politics, reform the electoral system," Melamed said. "This is the last election with first-past-the-post. It's gotta be."

Electoral reform was brought up more than once throughout the night, with the three opposition candidates all stating their party's support for reform.

The first question of the night focused on labour, and how each candidate would ensure federal immigration policy works for Whistler.

Weston stressed the advocacy work he's done over the years in taking Whistler's voice to Ottawa, and pledged to continue fighting for an exemption to new rules around the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

"We need to exhaust the (options)... make sure that we are trying to recruit here, we are trying to use programs like the international mobility program, and if that isn't working, then we'll be going back to them," he said.

"I'll make sure that the message is heard loud and clear, and we'll get the right answer."

Goldsmith-Jones also pledged to fight for the exemption, and to create a local labour task force composed of local business leaders, political representatives and community stakeholder groups within 60 days of being elected.

The task force would work to ensure the riding's unique circumstances are accommodated in any national labour policy.

"Whistler must have that exemption," Goldsmith-Jones said. "We know that these are unique circumstances and that businesses are closing as a result."

After Weston downplayed a question about the muzzling of Canada's scientists — "I have worked with scientists. I have asked them their views and they say they are totally free to work with the forum of scientists around the world," he said — the challengers took turns promising to restore Canada's environmental processes.

"That omnibus Bill C-38 gutted multiple acts that had environmental legislation that we believed in, particularly the fisheries act," Goldsmith-Jones said.

"Think of how many hundreds and hundreds of hours volunteers gave in our riding for our streams and creeks and foreshore areas only to have the word 'habitat' taken out of the fisheries act. It's unconscionable."

Melamed promised greater transparency around science.

"One of the pieces of legislation we'll bring in is the requirement that all scientific research be made public," he said, to applause from the crowd.

The national platforms of all four parties can be found on their respective websites.

To view the debate go to the Whistler Chamber of Commerce YouTube page.