Conservative candidate Mark MacDonald

Conservative candidate Mark MacDonald

Election 2015: Candidates meet to make one last pitch to voters

Nanaimo-Ladysmith candidates got a last chance to try to convince voters at the final all-candidates' meeting Wednesday.

Nanaimo-Ladysmith candidates got a last chance to try to convince voters at the final all-candidates’ meeting.

Wednesday’s debate at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, hosted by the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, was by far the most well-attended all-candidates’ meeting with more than 600 people in the ballroom.

Questions on any topic were fair game and there was discussion on subjects such as deficits, local job creation, immigration and foreign affairs.

There was quite a bit of back-and-forth on the role of a local Member of Parliament after NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson said her party’s MPs stand up for their communities first.

“The NDP caucus makes its decision-making based on a consensus model…” she said. “There’s a dialogue and the New Democratic principles are ones that I can stand up with, can stand with, but my first obligation is to you.”

Conservative candidate Mark MacDonald said the last two years, NDP MPs voted 100 per cent with leader Tom Mulcair and predicted Malcolmson would do the same.

“If she gets in, she’s going to toe the party line because that’s what NDP candidates do,” MacDonald said. “They will not represent you, they’ll represent the party.”

Later, he was asked if it was party policy to direct tax dollars to Conservative ridings and said it wasn’t.

“You need to get somebody in there that knows which arm to twist to find the funding … You need to know the right people to talk to, you need to know how to make deals,” he said.

MacDonald contrasted the records of Nanaimo’s outgoing MPs, NDP Jean Crowder and Conservative-turned-independent James Lunney.

“Two-thirds of this riding has been under NDP control for 11 years and has the highest level of youth poverty here in south Nanaimo. I lay that right at the feet of the NDP. We’ve gotten nothing from the previous NDP,” MacDonald said, adding that Nanaimo received funding for a water treatment plant, airport, and the port “because you had an MP in the north part of the city that looked after the whole city.”

“Let me add to that list of Conservative legacies,” rejoined Malcolmson. “Voting in favour of closing down coast guard stations. Voting in favour of eroding fisheries habitat protection.”

Tim Tessier, Liberal candidate, set a tone for the debate when he went on the offensive in his opening remarks.

“Mr. Harper is done. His economy is a mess,” Tessier said. “The rhetoric and his bullying throughout this campaign is disgusting and that’s not the Canada that I grew up in, nor do I want my children and grandchildren to grow up in.”

Regarding the Liberals’ deficit spending plan, Tessier said Canada is 20 to 50 years behind in infrastructure investment and there isn’t enough affordable housing and seniors residences, for example.

“Investing today and paying the bills today when we have record-low interest rates makes sense,” he said. “It’ll spin off and create a whole economy on its own which creates jobs.”

Paul Manly, Green candidate, had different ideas on spurring the economy, starting on Vancouver Island.

“We believe that we need to move away from rip-and-ship primary resource extraction and get it back into value-added…” he said. “Making sure that we get good jobs for our resources and use our knowledge base and our skill base to build a resilient economy.”

MacDonald lauded the Conservatives’ record on the economy.

“Clearly, cutting taxes is working,” he said. “The economy is chugging along just fine, thank you very much.”

Malcolmson disagreed, saying Canadians are feeling a scarcity. She added that there is also a cynicism about government.

“We’ve seen the senate scandal, spending scandals in the news every day and that makes people frustrated about how their tax dollars are being spent,” she said. “The government tells us we can’t spend it on Pharmacare or an inquiry into disappeared women in our community, but instead we see the government bribing us with our own money, spending advertising money on TV to talk about its own record. It’s wrong.”

In his closing statements, MacDonald criticized the Liberals’ deficit-spending plan and the history of provincial NDP governments and cautioned voters.

“While Canada’s economy is stronger than most, make no mistake – the global economy is fragile. We need to stay the course,” MacDonald said.

Tessier urged people to feel good about their vote.

“The lessons I have learned over the past months, the people that I have spoken to, the emotions that I have heard, the tears that I’ve seen, that’s what this is about…” he said. “What solves the problem is some compassion and passion and moving towards a better place.”

Malcolmson got a bit choked up in her closing statements as she related a story from the campaign trail of primary students in Chemainus asking her questions about having food, shelter and family.

“Those were killer questions and they get right at the heart of some hard times in our region, especially the last 10 years,” Malcolmson said. “And they put a fire in my belly again to bring real change to the federal government and real change for and with our region.”

Manly was last to speak and drew the event’s only standing ovation when he told voters they have a chance to “do what a million people across Canada want” and elect a Green MP.

“Everybody’s been talking about change in this country. We have seen radical change in the last nine years and we are going to get our country back,” he said.

The federal election takes place Monday (Oct. 19). Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.