Candidates in the Mid Island-Pacific Rim riding took their provincial election campaign to their newest constituents Thursday evening , and promised voters that every voice would count if they are chosen in the May 9 election.
Five of the six hopefuls in the sprawling, coast-to-coast riding participated in their final all-candidates meeting before a modest audience of 50 people at the Lighthouse Community Centre in Bowser . The community was added to the newly named riding, which remains centered in Port Alberni, when the provincial electoral map was redrawn following the last election in 2013.
Asked by a member of the audience if he would visit the people of Royston and other rural communities surrounding the Comox Valley after his election, Robert Clarke of the B.C. Libertarian Party popped up from his spot at the table on the centre’s stage.
“Absolutely,” the Port Alberni resident said. “I was just up there the other day in Cumberland talking to some kids, and we rolled through Royston and had some lunch. It was awesome and I would go back there and see the people.”
Clarke was joined by incumbent Scott Fraser of the B.C. NDP, Alicia La Rue (B.C. Green Party), Julian Fell (B.C. Conservative) and Dan Cebuliak (B.C. Refederation) at the meeting, organized by the Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association and moderated by Bill Veenhof, Area H director and chair of the Regional District of Nanaimo.
B.C. Liberal Party candidate Darren De Luca did not attend. MATA organizers said he chose to attend a meet-and-greet with supporters going on at the same time at a nearby golf club.
His absence left the Liberal government defenseless against attack, and Fraser leveled several broadsides at the party’s handling of public education, resource extraction and the environment, corporate donations and health care in the hour-and-a-half long meeting.
With polls showing the NDP leading the Liberals on Vancouver Island — but Green Party gains chipping away at that advantage — Fraser also took a shot at B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver’s support of former Liberal premier Gordon Campbell and warned that the two parties retain ties.
There seemed a general consensus the next government will be formed by either the NDP or the Liberals, but the other candidates on stage said they offered valid alternatives to the current direction and climate of B.C. governance.
“We’re not going to form the next government; we’ve only got 10 candidates,” admitted Fell, who said the B.C. Conservatives are a provincial, grass-roots party unrelated to the federal Conservatives. “But maybe we can shake things up.”
“The important thing for the Green Party is to bring a minority government,” La Rue said. “Then we can bring balance to the legislature by being a swing vote.”
Both La Rue and Fraser highlighted party platforms and budgets with an emphasis on education, health care and the environment. Clarke said the the ending of prohibition of cannabis and its production, sale and taxation would pay for much of B.C.’s fiscal needs.
Cebuliak shared a Refed vision of a constitution created by citizen referendum, which would limit the powers and rights of the government. He highlighted party candidates’ involvement in the 2011 recall to overturn the HST as an example.
Fell preached a message of fiscal prudence and limited government regulation of business, adding the B.C. Conservatives would end “free rides” and gifts to donor groups.
“You cannot spend what you do not have, and you cannot have what you cannot afford,” he said.
While language differed, the candidates were generally unanimous in opposition to a Port Alberni-Courtenay connector highway — “There’s no business case for it,” said Fell — and to “fracking,” the hydraulic fracturing of underground rock to extract natural gas.
“It’s mind-boggling we’re all in agreement,” La Rue said, sweeping her arm to indicate the five candidates on stage. “And yet, the government is still talking about LNG.”
The riding’s new composition was also a point of discussion in a venue that was not in the riding in the last election. Mid Island-Pacific Rim stretches from the west coast communities of Bamfield, Ucluelet and Tofino to the River’s Edge community south of Parksville. It also includes east coast communities stretching from Qualicum Bay north to Cumberland, that were carved from both the Parksville-Qualicum and the Courtenay-Comox ridings following the 2013 vote.
“I talked to the boundaries commission and tried to get them to back off, because they were breaking up the social and economic fabric of the Comox Valley,” said Fraser, who has served as MLA for 12 years in ridings variously called Port Alberni-Qualicum and Port Alberni-Pacific Rim. “But they made the decision based on population changes and didn’t listen to me.”
All of the candidates noted increased campaign travel resulting from those changes, but vowed that contact with constituents would continue following the election. Fraser said he has already committed to opening a second MLA constituent office on the east side if re-elected.
Fell, the lone candidate not based in Port Alberni, represents Coombs and Errington on the Regional District of Nanaimo board of directors.
“Ucluelet, for me, is like the other side of the moon,” said Fell. “But you have a responsibility to represent everybody, and that’s just what I would do.”