Tuesday’s all-candidates meeting for the Abbotsford riding may have seen some “politely delivered blood and guts,” as moderator Douglas MacAdams colourfully described at the forum’s end, but the conclusion saw the Liberal and Conservative candidates agree on the question voters should ask themselves heading into the polling station in two weeks.
Conservative Ed Fast had spent the better part of two hours at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium deriding the Liberals’ four years in power. Liberal Seamus Heffernan, meanwhile, had fiercely defended Justin Trudeau’s record as Prime Minister while questioning the Conservatives’ own plans.
Disagreements over climate change policy, the Liberals’ foreign affairs record, and the importance of deficits had resulted in multiple back-and-forth exchanges between the two candidates. But when it came time to make their final statements, both told voters to consider the same question: Whether the last four years had seen improvements under the leadership of the Liberal government.
Fast had gone first, asking the loudly pro-Conservative crowd how the last four years had been and who would be best to lead the country.
Heffernan closed by agreeing with Fast’s premise:
“I too would like you to reflect on the past four years,” he said, pointing to promises kept, Canada’s economy and reductions in child poverty.
The other four candidates – the Christian Heritage Party’s Aeriol Alderking, Locke Duncan of the People’s Party of Canada, Madeleine Sauve of the NDP, and Stephen Fowler of the Green Party – did their best to break up the Conservative-Liberal dichotomy throughout the evening.
All six candidates spent much of their time reciting promises contained within the platforms of their respective parties. And all six endorsed the widening of Highway 1, saying their parties would work to push the project forward. Heffernan said the province remains the one obstacle to getting the highway widened.
Throughout the evening, both Duncan and Alderking touted their respective party’s plans to overhaul Canada’s tax system. The Christian Heritage Party has a “fair tax” proposal that would see income tax ditched for a wide-ranging sales tax, while the PPC wants to ditch the capital gains tax and reduce the number of tax brackets.
But one of the most notable disagreements over a local issue erupted when Green Party candidate Stephen Fowler suggested that the government should look at funding the Rail for the Valley project that would run along the interurban line and connect Chilliwack, Langley, Surrey and Abbotsford by rail.
Sauve, though, said she would prefer to see electrified rail run along the highway, and cited Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun’s concerns about the Rail for the Valley project being unfeasible because of concerns regarding the use of a seven-kilometre stretch of track that runs through Langley. Each candidate in the meeting was granted several rebuttal cards to respond to others’ statements, and Fowler and Sauve saw fit to use their cards to debate the issue, with Fowler emphasizing a right-of-way title that proponents say gives them the ability to run trains on the line. That didn’t persuade Sauve, however, who stressed Translink’s lack of enthusiasm for the idea and the speed – or lackthereof – of the suggested trains.
Locke Duncan of the People’s Party, meanwhile, emphasized the need to improve on-ramps, while Alderking said Canada should be providing interest free loans for infrastructure projects.
The MCA crowd was most vocal when Heffernan and Fast spoke on the SNC-Lavalin affair that prompted the departure of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus.
In a statement that was briefly interrupted by several hecklers, Heffernan conceded the ethics commissioner declared Trudeau he should not have intervened, but suggested that Parliamentary rules excused some of his conduct and said the Prime Minister was trying to save jobs and believed he was acting in the interests of the nation.
Fast responded, telling the audience: “The bottom line is this: We have a Prime Minister who interfered with the prosecutorial process, which is supposed to be independent in Canada. And he said: ‘I broke the law because there were 9,000 jobs at stake. So if 9,000 jobs allow him to break the law, what other conditions would allow him to break the law?”
The candidates also frequently brought up the continued federal deficits, with Fast saying the Liberals don’t care about spending and that Trudeau broke a promise to balance the budget by this year.
Heffernan, though, said the Conservatives plan to give the rich a massive tax break and then, when the deficit persists, would severely cut social services.
The NDP and Green candidates entered the fray with some of their most-forceful statements of the night. Sauve told the crowd that a “modest deficit” can be fine, but the Conservatives’ fury about the state budget was overwrought, given the party’s own record while it was in power.
And Fowler, seated between Fast and Heffernan, wryly noted that while some may question his party’s spending plans, the deficit was created by Liberals and Conservatives. He added that tax breaks don’t stimulate the economy and that spending decisions are often driven by need.
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