Candidates had a chance to compare and contrast their messages this week as the first debate took place.
A candidates’ meeting was held Thursday at Vancouver Island University’s Malaspina Theatre, with climate change at the centre of much of the conversation.
Five candidates participated – Paul Manly of the Green Party, John Hirst of the Conservatives, Michelle Corfield of the Liberals, Brian Marlatt of the Progressive Canadian Party and Geoff Stoneman, an independent.
Three candidates did not participate – Bob Chamberlin of the NDP, Jennifer Clarke of the People’s Party of Canada and James Chumsa of the Communist Party.
Chamberlin was at a meet-and-greet at VIU before the debate, but then went downtown to host a town hall with party leader Jagmeet Singh on Thursday night. Chumsa said he wasn’t allowed to participate and he and party leader Elizabeth Rowley directed a few shouted complaints to the moderator before they left the theatre.
Manly was first to offer introductory remarks and set the tone for the evening’s primary theme.
“Our future is at stake in this election,” he said. “We are in a climate crisis and we need to address that crisis in a serious matter.”
He cited the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report that suggests there’s an 11-year window to keep global warming to 1.5 C.
“We need to change what we’re doing and we have to do it fast,” he said.
Manly said the Green Party has a plan to build a nationwide electricity grid powered by hydro in some places and renewables in others. Canada doesn’t need to burn carbon for energy, he said.
“We have the sun, we have the wind, we have the tied, we have the earth. We have all these things. So it’s a matter of political courage and the will to be able to move forward.”
Corfield said the Liberal government has taken “significant action” to protect the environment, mentioning carbon pricing, a single-use plastics ban, spending on public transit, investment in wind and solar power, the $1.5-billion ocean protection plan and other initiatives.
“A re-elected Liberal government will protect the environment and I will advocate that Nanaimo-Ladysmith be a location that is an attractive place to start and grow a business that produces zero-emissions technology,” Corfield said.
Hirst said that if Canada meets its Paris commitments, that only amounts to half a per cent of worldwide carbon-dioxide emissions.
“So I believe … as global citizens we need to take the lead and make a difference on the global stage the way Canada always has,” he said.
Hirst added that he sees potential for tidal power in British Columbia.
“We need to create the opportunities locally and there’s a lot of potential here,” he said. “The Conservative platform for the environment is about encouraging green technology.”
Marlatt said there was a lot of rhetoric in the discussion around the environment.
“The terms ‘climate crisis’ and ‘climate emergency’ are political terms, they’re not science…” he said. “Human-induced global warming is a reality. It does cause climate change, it is going to occur. We have to adopt the science of natural hazard mitigation to address the consequences of climate change.”
Stoneman said a hydrogen-based economy can put an end to fossil fuel emissions while maintaining energy supply. He said Canada’s oil and gas workers are “vital” and there will be a place for them in a new economy.
“We can help them out by shifting from one fuel to another,” he said. “We don’t have to abolish an energy industry to help the environment. We can be a carbon-free, zero-emissions country by 2035 if we shift fuel source. It’s there, it’s Canadian technology, it’s real.”
Asked about jobs in a post-oil-and-gas economy, Corfield noted that Nanaimo’s economic drivers have changed a few times over the years and said job creation can happen here with new opportunities in maritime freight, for example.
Marlatt said ending fossil fuel subsidies can be done to an extent, but not entirely, and cautioned that transition to a new economy doesn’t take place in a vacuum.
“We know that if we start to shut down large areas of our economy without having a replacement, we’re simply not going to be able to continue to have the standard of living that we do today,” he said.
Hirst said the Green Party’s platform as it stands has been criticized by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and said that wasn’t even factoring in financial impacts of climate action such as halting fossil fuel development and increasing the carbon tax.
“Can you guarantee that Canadian lives will not be destroyed by your irresponsible economic policies, and furthermore, how can Canadians trust the Green Party if their own costed platform has no relation to reality?” Hirst asked Manly. “The basic arithmetic is simply wrong.”
Manly responded that taking care of people properly saves money in the long run.
“That’s good fiscal policy when you pay for things that actually have a return on them,” he said.
He questioned whether Canada can meet its international commitments under the Conservatives’ environmental platform.
“We have an obligation to meet those targets,” Manly said. “The Conservative plan is not a plan, it’s a ‘trust-me’ plan.”
Other topics covered at the debate included post-secondary tuition, healthcare and party leadership. Blackface was mentioned only once as an aside.
There will be another all-candidates’ meeting Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Beban Park social centre.