Health care and Ajax were predictably dominant questions Tuesday night (April 25, 2017) as 600 people turned out to hear candidates at a media-sponsored election forum in the TRU Grand Hall.
There were some heated moments but no flames as all nine candidates in the Kamloops-South Thompson and Kamloops-North Thompson ridings attended, answering questions from the crowd.
The Liberal, NDP and Green candidates bore the brunt of questioning fairly evenly, as many of the questions came from party workers and supporters either soft balling to their candidates or lobbing grenades at their opponents.
Ajax was the subject of the very first question from the floor, and provided the first friction of the night as Kamloops-South Green candidate Donovan Cavers sparred with Nancy Bepple of the NDP.
When Bepple said the environmental review process was “broken” and that the NDP supports a strengthened process, Cavers responded with, “That’s pretty rich” considering Bepple had to consistently recuse herself from discussing Ajax when she was a City councilor because she owned shares in a junior partner in the project.
Bepple said she declared a conflict on Ajax because it was the right thing to do.
Later in the forum, Kamloops-North Thompson Green candidate Dan Hines said the “risks were too high” to allow Ajax.
Incumbent Kamloops-South MLA Todd Stone was on the defensive for a good part of the night, especially on health care, but cited some of the major capital projects the government is funding, as well as what he said is “progress” in addressing the doctor shortage.
When Bepple again went after the government’s record on walk-in clinics, Stone told her, “Taking photos of people in long lineups every morning is not a solution,” a reference to her tweeting of pictures at walk-in clinics.
Several questions related to the challenges facing people on low incomes when it comes to health care and access to the justice system.
Education, the economy and political donations also came up. At one point, questioners in the audience held up a large sign that read, “#Pay4Play.”
“Well, that was well-rehearsed. Congratulations,” Stone responded.
At times, the crowd demanded that candidates “Answer the question!” and called “Time!” when they felt the candidates were talking too long. Former Liberal MLAs Terry Lake and Kevin Krueger kept busy heckling the non-Liberal candidates with frequent shouts of “Wrong!”
When the audience got on Lake’s case, he responded, “I have a right to heckle.”
Electoral reform came up briefly, with Stone saying the Liberals have no plans to take the matter to a third referendum, and Kamloops-North Thompson NDP candidate Barb Nederpel pledging to do just that. “This province is absolutely ready for electoral change,” she said.
Kamloops-North Thompson Liberal candidate Peter Milobar urged voters to carefully examine the promises of the other parties, while Communists Beat Klossner and Peter Kerek promised change, with Kerek going so far as to say his party would end poverty and homelessness.
Libertarian Jessica Bradshaw had little to say except that she’s not a politician and that the direction taken by government “will be decided by you guys.”
The next forum will feature the Kamloops-North Thompson candidates at the Brock Activity Centre from 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesday, May 2.