Economic issues at the forefront of debate

Final election debate in Cranbrook features four candidates on economy, taxes, trade deals and more.

Wednesday evening was a clash of priorities.

On one hand, there was the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce All-Candidates forum at the Heritage Inn. On the other hand, there was the Canucks-Flames season opener in Calgary.

One is a fast-paced contest involving a lot of stick-handling and the timing of shots, while the other one is hockey.

However, the debate itself provided just as much entertainment. Maybe entertainment isn’t the right word, but it was an illuminating night featuring the four candidates vying for the Kootenay-Columbia seat in the House of Commons.

Running in the 2015 federal election is incumbent David Wilks (Conservative Party), Don Johnston (Liberal Party), Wayne Stetski (New Democratic Party) and Bill Green (Green Party).

It was a stark contrast from the debates seen on TV featuring the federal leaders.

While Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair, Justin Trudeau and Elizabeth May look for the snappy soundbites during the televised forums, it was a much more toned down affair in Cranbrook.

While there were a few heated exchanges, it was a relatively cordial event with a few moments of levity where the candidates shared a laugh along with the crowd.

That’s what stuck out the most, as the candidates did a good job of sharing their vision—and their respective party’s position—on each of the questions and issues fielded by the moderators.

Each candidate was given a different question with one minute to answer it. The format rotated with one set of prepared questions that the candidates were given from the Chamber and one set of questions from the floor. Each answer had to be given in under one minute, while candidates also had rebuttal cards worth 30 seconds of time.

The one complaint I had with the format is that each candidate answered different questions, and everyone didn’t have the chance to sound off on each particular inquiry.

However, that’s where I have to give kudos to Dave Struthers, the president of the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce, who stepped in and recognized when there was a question that was significant enough to warrant a response from all candidates.

On the issues themselves, much of the debate focused on policy initiatives such as the economy, taxes, infrastructure and trade deals among many others.

The candidates set the tones in their opening remarks; Johnston lamented the ‘cat-fighting’ during Question Period, Bill Green touted reconciliation with First Nations as one of his main reasons for running, Stetski took issue with the Conservative management of the country for the last nine years, while Wilks leaned on his record of getting federal funding for projects and programs into the riding.

I don’t like thinking of straight-up winners and losers in debates, rather each candidate had moments of strengths and weaknesses.

Bill Green noted that Canada is in what he called a ‘structural deficit’, meaning that with reduced tax levels, the government is spending more than it takes in. Other issues he focus on included transitioning to a green economy and eliminating poverty.

Stetski’s strategy was a mix of taking the Conservative record to task while laying out NDP policy on whatever question was at hand. Stetski criticized the Harper government for relying too heavily on oil economy, while promoting social policy such as the NDP’s $15-a-day national daycare plan and investments in apprenticeship training programs.

A repeated theme in Johnston was the Liberal Party’s plan to invest $60 billion over the next decade in what he called the largest infrastructure funding plan in the history of the country, along with the need to advocate rural issues on the national stage.

Wilks leaned on his ability to funnel federal dollars into the riding, namely for infrastructure projects on the Trans-Canada highway. He also used his concluding statement to paint the Liberal and NDP as parties who will raise taxes.

If one-liners are your thing, Johnston skewered Wilks, wondering if legislated pay cuts to federal ministers for running a deficit were retroactive, noting that there were seven deficit budgets under the Conservatives.

Wilks also had a chance to take a dig at Stetski, pulling up a quote from Mulcair noting the NDP leader would like to bring back some form of long-gun registry after Stetski explicitly ruled it out.