VERNON - Close to 500 people packed the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Monday night, not for a ballet or a concert, but for political discourse.
The all candidates forum was anything but dull, and like any good show at the performing arts centre, parts certainly got people going.
All four North Okanagan-Shuswap candidates were grilled on a variety of topics, but the member of Parliament-hopeful most under fire appeared to be Conservative Mel Arnold. Some of the questions aimed at the Salmon Arm businessman revolved around his lack of attendance at forums, bombing in Syria, and Bill C-51.
Arnold’s answers — that he’s dividing his time between attending forums and knocking on doors; that ISIS is the true threat and ‘we have to stop that festering evil in its tracks’; and that C-51 protects Canadians — were met with a mixed cacophony of applause and heckles from the audience.
Candidates were given the opportunity to rebut their peers’ statements, and Jacqui Gingras, NDP, made a point of responding to Arnold’s comments about the crisis in Syria.
“The idea that we are going to keep bombing to bring about peace is the most outrageous idea,” Gingras said, generating loud applause.
Gingras said Canada has an international responsibility to assist refugees, and also stressed the importance of aiding the disadvantaged here at home, such as First Nations.
Other questions pushed the candidates to assess the job done by former MP Colin Mayes and explain how they would stay grounded in the community — not in Ottawa.
“He’s done at least as well as the rest of the Conservative caucus,” Green party candidate Chris George said in reference to Mayes.
Gingras and Liberal Party candidate Cindy Derkaz both agreed the riding can have an MP that does better, while Arnold insisted Mayes was an accessible and caring representative.
As for staying connected to the community and representing its best interests, George reminded voters his party is the only one that doesn’t employ a party whip.
“I can actually do my best to represent my people,” he said.
Candidates were also asked to give an elevator pitch for stimulating the economy in 90 seconds or less. Derkaz focussed her response on investing in social infrastructure — building daycares and seniors homes — as well as on green energy programs.
“This must happen right away because people need jobs and the environment needs a solution,” Derkaz said.
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