If we learned anything at last Wednesday’s candidates’ forum at Prince Charles Theatre it’s that voter enthusiasm for the May 14 provincial election isn’t exactly bubbling over, at least locally.
Late arrivals wouldn’t have been scrambling to find a seat — a good three-quarters remained empty throughout the evening. Those who did attend, for the most part, people I would describe as the usual suspects, were polite and respectful. The audience didn’t appear to be overtly partisan, either. Each of the three candidates got applause for responses and there wasn’t a sound of derision during the entire event.
The format for the event was a good one. Previous forums have often focused on control, but this one gave each candidate a few minutes to introduce themselves and then it was up to the public to come up with questions. Putting Toastmasters members in charge of timing is always a good idea, and to say that the evening ran smoothly would be an understatement. In the end, only one person who spent a few minutes in line to get a chance at a microphone failed in the attempt.
MLA Michelle Mungall, the NDP candidate who rolled to victory over opponents including long-time regional district director Josh Smienk four years ago, was easily the most articulate of the group. But incumbents always have an advantage — they know the issues and the system. They don’t get caught up in questions that don’t pertain to their particular level of government.
Challengers Greg Garbula, Liberal, and Sjeng Derkx, Green, acquitted themselves very well, and kudos to them, because for both this is their first shot at public office. One Facebook comment posted after the forum suggested we should just be able to send all three to Victoria to represent us.
The most surprising moment of the evening came not from the candidates. Lister hay-beef-chicken farmer Randy Meyer got a memorable reaction when he stood to speak about the added costs to farming from the provincial gas tax. Tractors and trucks have to be fueled up to use, he said. There aren’t electric options at this time. But why, he asked, don’t farmers get credit in the form of carbon offsets for growing crops that clean the air as they absorb carbon dioxide and release the oxygen?
Surprised by the question, I paid close attention to the response of the candidates, and it was priceless. Clearly they all were thinking like many in the audience — why haven’t we heard this suggestion before? In retrospect, it seems like an obvious idea that could well be the savior of our provincial agricultural sector, but no one I have talked to since has heard the concept being raised before.
I talked later to Regional District of Central Kootenay chair John Kettle and Creston Mayor Ron Toyota and they both thought the carbon credit idea is worthy of pursuit. Mungall, Garbula and Derkx all responded positively, promising to take the proposal back to their respective parties.
As for candidates’ responses to questions, Derkx wins the award for providing the most surprising answer. Mungall and Garbula had both given Kettle the answer he wanted by promising to fight further downloading of provincial responsibilities onto local governments and communities. It’s an issue that has plagued rural areas especially for more than a decade. Municipalities and regional districts rely on property taxation to fund programs and it’s a tremendous challenge to meet expectations of local taxpayers.
Derkx, though, told Kettle that a Green Party government would not only continue the trend, but increase it in virtually all areas, health and education included. The Green downloading, though, would have one major difference, he said. It would include funding so that communities would have much more say in how and what services are offered.
The forum made up for in substance what it lacked in public attendance, and I think Creston Valley citizens and Nelson-Creston candidates both acquitted themselves admirably. Now if we could just upload that result to the provincial level.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.