As the buildup to the May 2 federal election winds down, Vancouver Island North candidates had a final opportunity to respond to questions and concerns from the public at an all-candidates’ forum Thursday at the Filberg Centre, hosted by the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Members of the standing-room-only audience put incumbent Conservative MP John Duncan and four other candidates on the spot about the long gun registry, fighter jets, clean drinking water, fish farming, first-time homeowners, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation funding and the status of First Nations.
Duncan said the Tories “want to be very prudent because we want to balance the budget by 2014.”
While Duncan said “the F35 is the right plane” for Canada, Liberal candidate Mike Holland said U.S. senator John McCain is a critic of this particular brand of fighter jet, which carries an approximate $450-million price tag.
Holland also questioned how the federal Conservatives can commit to increase funding to the CBC when the party has said $11 billion worth of budget cuts are on the way.
NDP candidate Ronna-Rae Leonard said CBC funding was “abysmal” under Liberal leadership. She and Green candidate Sue Moen both advocate stable funding for the national broadcaster.
“It’s part of the fabric of this country,” said Moen, noting remote communities’ reliance on the CBC.
Leonard and Moen are also on the same page in terms of creating a national housing strategy.
With respect to First Nations, Leonard criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government for neglecting issues such as housing and for prolonging treaty negotiations.
“We have a duty as a country to address those issues,” she said.
Believing treatment of First Nations people must reflect history, Moen said it’s time for Canadians to keep promises made as settlers.
Independent candidate Jason Draper said treaties would not be necessary if we fix the underlying problem. Criticizing the Tories for investing more in bank payments than health care, Draper suggests the populace is starting to catch onto government’s “paint and wallpaper” application to an unstable foundation.
Regarding the fish farm industry, Draper suggests a scientific approach will create a balance between industry and the environment.
“Let’s not get ahead of the science,” Holland said.
Marxist-Leninist candidate Frank Martin did not attend Thursday’s forum. He also did not attend all-candidate sessions at the Cumberland Recreation Centre and North Island College.