Last night I attended the All-Candidates Forum at the Victoria Event Centre. This is my official play-by-play, to be taken with a grain of salt, as I was typing on an iPhone 4 as fast as possible, so I probably missed some things the Times Colonist will cover more timely and colonist-ly.
750 people RSVP’d on Facebook, which usually means 30 show up, but this is Victoria, and dammit we love our politics. I arrived at 5:50, the door was at 6:00, and at 6:07 one of the moderators announced they were at capacity.
The moderator asked if any older, experienced voters would kindly give up their seat aboard the S.S. All-Candidates Forum so they could admit some younger, newer voters. A handful of mid-age folks obliged, to a smattering of applause. Nice.
As expected, only three chairs were onstage, and Victoria Conservative candidate, C. Sandiego was nowhere to be found. I’m not saying the Conservative was up to no good somewhere, just if you were out last night I’d wash all your mugs.
50 questions were submitted online to Victoria Votes, which broke them down into 5 policy areas, given in advance to each candidate, who gets five minutes to address them, with the order randomized to give some opportunity to respond to each other. Each candidate also gets 5 minutes to introduce themselves.
You’d think such a format would have been agreeable to the Conservatives. Victoria audiences don’t exactly carry pitchforks and torches (our buildings are very old).
Jo-Ann Roberts (Green Party) is up first. She begins by acknowledging we’re on Esquimalt First Nations territory, to applause by audience (and the other candidates).
She then tells her personal story of a life as a journalist, mentions “speaking truth to power” as something important to her in and out of journalism. She accounts having had to quit a job as a young parent because she was given only 6 weeks maternity leave. She left the CBC a year ago because she wanted to combat Tory cuts, and felt she could do more by running for public office.
It was a good intro for Roberts, as people need to know who she is. In my estimation the biggest problem the Greens have is that more than any other party they essentially have to run their leader in every riding in Canada.
Cheryl Thomas (Liberal) is up next. She tells her story, which follows a similar path, in that she was faced with the same situation re: maternity leave in trying to balance her career as a speech pathologist. She stresses the importance of engaging people so that they care about the political process. She then talks about her past efforts in helping developmentally disabled people find work.
Another good intro, as Victoria is a two-horse race between the NDP and Greens, and even less people here know who she is.
Murray Rankin (NDP) is last, and he goes right into policy. He says we have a “crisis in democracy”, and discusses how the refugee crisis highlights the failure of the Harper Government.
Not a lot of the personal from Rankin, but such is the power of incumbency. Victoria knows who he is already, which allows him that leg up.
Policy Area 1: Housing.
Murray Rankin (NDP) goes first. He talks about how affordable housing is a concern for his two sons (this is a young audience, so not an insignificant choice of tactic for Rankin).
Rankin points out we used to have a Minister of Housing, and do not anymore, and that we would under an NDP government. Rankin also promises 2 billion in investments in co-op housing by 2020.
Rankin stresses the importance of the NDP’s $15/day childcare program, pointing out that Quebec’s $12/day childcare has allowed 70,000 women to enter the workforce, and thus provided a significant economic boost. I like very much how he’s tackling the housing problem laterally as well as directly.
Cheryl Thomas (LPC) is next. She says part of the Liberals’ proposed 60 billion dollar investment in infrastructure is for social housing. She does not say how much. (I posed the question on Twitter, and one of her staffers told me the number is 125 million a year in incentives for developers and landlords to keep costs down)
She says our health care system is set up for the 60’s and 70’s and that Liberals will “modernize” it. One of the ways would be assisting the College of Physicians in helping more people get a family doctor (not insignificant and would very much help vulnerable folk).
Thomas than refers to “one of Harper’s known racist remarks”, and only I laugh loudly. Whoops. Anyway Thomas is bold and quite funny.
Jo-Ann Roberts (GPC) brings up the rear. She says her daughter, who has a degree in refugee studies, had a hard time finding a one-bedroom apartment for $850/mo, which is above 25% of her income, a situation many young people face.
Roberts then suggests a 5% tax credit for renters to incentivize reduced apartment costs. Fixing the problem by lowering taxes sounds like a Tory-style approach, so what would the Greens also do to address the problem laterally? Well, they propose eliminating tuition for post-secondary education as well as a guaranteed basic income. Not an insignificant proposition, though it ain’t gonna happen so long as we have First Past The Post.
Different approaches from all three candidates. I’m calling round one a three-way tie, and a tie goes to the incumbent. Point Rankin.
Policy Area 2: The Environment
Cheryl Thomas is first, and she discusses how green infrastructure is a key element of the Liberals’ 60 billion dollar infrastructure plan. Specifically, the Liberals will invest big dollars in retrofitting older buildings with green technology.
She also talks about the sewage problem in Victoria, and says the federal government will provide municipal support in addressing such problems.
In a moment that could only happen in 2015, Thomas references Twitter at the exact moment I respond to her account, which tweeted me while she was onstage talking.
Thomas will be a distant 3rd and here she is making a lot of sense communicating the Liberal plan, which really says something for their slate of candidates.
Jo-Ann Roberts next. She says even the IMF (which is a pretty Conservative group of folk) says we need to move beyond fossil fuels. Roberts wants Elizabeth May at the climate delegation in Paris (which I believe is in November), and asks Rankin tell Mulcair to invite May if elected. (Rankin laughs warmly, but doesn’t say whether he will do so).
Roberts says the Greens are the only party opposed to transportation of diluted bitumen, which gets a big applause.
Murray Rankin next. Says the NDP will provide clean technology incentives. He also points out that solar creates more jobs than the tar sands do.
Rankin differs from Roberts in saying the focus should be transitioning to a low-carbon economy as opposed to a no-carbon economy. This is less what a lot of BC voters want to hear, but it’s infinitely more realistic.
I’m giving round two to Cheryl Thomas, as her knowledge of the Liberal platform is encyclopaedic and she communicates it very clearly.
Policy Area 3: First Nations.
Jo-Ann Roberts is first. She immediately says the Greens would repeal the Indian Act. I’ve been on that stage tearing a strip out of the Indian Act before, so it’s nice to hear it from a political candidate. The Greens would also follow every recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
She also gives this fantastic quote: “When we’re talking about fracking and LNG, we’re talking about First Nations.”
Murray Rankin next. He discusses the UN’s recommendation for an inquiry for missing and murdered indigenous women, and he says it will happen in the first 100 days if the NDP is elected. They would also institute all 94 recommendations of the TRC.
Cheryl Thomas quips how alike all 3 candidates are, and again only I laugh out loud.
She said the Liberals will invest millions in schooling and school infrastructure for First Nations. Not only that, the Liberals will ensure the history of Canada’s abhorrent treatment of First Nations is taught in schools, particularly the history of residential schools. A very powerful statement, and something I didn’t know was in the Liberal platform.
Of residential schools, which Thomas has visited, she says, “You can feel the evil in the walls.”
Initially I gave round 3 to Thomas, but I’m going to tip my hat to Roberts on this one for her very astute comment on fracking.
Policy Area 4: Civil Liberties
Murray Rankin starts, and he brings down the house, saying, “We must get rid of Bill C51”. Cheryl Thomas, the Liberal, applauds (!!!). Rankin spends his five minutes trashing Bill C51, saying he was proud to be an NDP MP when Mulcair came out against it at a time the bill had over 80% of public support.
Cheryl Thomas says C51 “is and was a crappy bill”. Oh boy. How’s she gonna spin this when her party voted for it?
She goes on to say the Liberals “made a choice…to be parliamentarians”, which, huh? She does kinda get me back when she says the Liberals want to clarify in law that CSIS is not a police force, which C51 obscures. That is, to Trudeau’s credit, an important distinction.
What Thomas fails to do, though, is explain why C51 was at all necessary. It’s clear she doesn’t believe it was, and that she is not in agreement with Trudeau, which is frankly encouraging if people like her are in the party.
Jo-Ann Roberts is next, and she says, to Thomas, “You almost got an applause before saying the Liberals will repeal *parts of* C51”. I belly laughed.
Roberts lauds May’s instant condemnation of #C51, a reference to Mulcair’s waiting two weeks. (He wanted to consult with multiple legal experts first, which, how un-Prime Ministerial of him)
Round 4 goes to Murray Rankin by a country mile. The Liberal candidate applauding and agreeing with his stance more than her own kinda, y’know, helps.
Policy Area 5: Electoral Format
Cheryl Thomas says this will be the last election conducted under First Past The Post if the Liberals are elected, which is frankly great to hear with the Liberals starting to beat the crap out of everyone in Ontario. She highlights how beneficial to the Green Party this would be.
Jo-Ann Roberts talks voter suppression by proxy, saying how negative ads and messaging create a climate of cynicism and apathy. Good point.
Roberts then asserts that almost half of Green supporters have no second choice, citing one Ekos poll. This is a cherry picked and dishonest figure. Ekos asks people (by party affiliation) what their first and second choices are; they don’t specify “none” as a second choice in any poll I’ve seen of theirs.
Nanos, on the other hand, does specify that, and they consistently have less than 15% of Green supporters selecting “none” as a second choice, far less than “almost half”. In fact, their latest poll shows 89% of Greens as having a second choice. So Roberts’ use of data is either dishonest of misguided; either rubs me the wrong way.
Murray Rankin says the NDP is committed to instituting mixed member proportional representation.
Round five is a tie between Thomas and Rankin, and a tie goes to the incumbent.
Winner: Murray Rankin, based on incumbency and the fact that Thomas outperformed Roberts in spite of Roberts’ likely being the only real contender to Rankin in this riding.
Murray Rankin did a fine job, particularly on housing, and was very decisive on civil liberties and proportional representation. I like his direct and lateral approach to making housing more affordable for youth and seniors alike. He has been a fiery opposer of Harper in the House of Commons, and so has given me no reason not to want him re-elected.
I agree with Jo-Ann Roberts on a lot of her general stances on issues, though I don’t think she communicated concrete aspects of the Greens’ plan as well as Rankin and Thomas did. That of course doesn’t mean concrete elements aren’t there, or that Roberts wouldn’t be a good MP. I give her the benefit of the doubt that she was misinformed in her provably false assertion that nearly half of Green voters don’t have a second choice, but the misinformation doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in me either. Still, if you’re a hardcore Green supporter, you can vote for her with impunity, as the Conservatives are nowhere in this riding, and someone needs to be advocating for student debt forgiveness and basic income.
Cheryl Thomas was phenomenal, and while she won’t win in Victoria, what she succeeded in doing was convincing me that Canada will be just fine if the Liberals are elected. I thought she hedged a bit on C51, but her problems with the bill were reassuring, and her knowledge of the Liberals’ infrastructure plan made me feel excited for Canada. The “Liberal Tory same old story” maxim plays well out here, but it falls apart on closer inspection.
We have three decent, progressive candidates in Victoria, so vote to your heart’s content.