Personalities of Central Okanagan federal election candidates on full view at first forum - InfoNews

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Personalities of Central Okanagan federal election candidates on full view at first forum

Green Party candidate Robert Mellalieu was the most entertaining candidate at the federal election forum Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Kelowna.
September 09, 2019 - 3:11 PM

KELOWNA - The first Central Okanagan federal forum of this election season introduced several new candidates, but not all of them made a great impression.

Some new and some familiar political names effectively used humour, others showed they're smooth talkers and one showed he was not at all prepared.

But will any of that affect how you vote on Oct. 21? That remains to be seen but you'll have at least three more opportunities to see how candidates perform. On Saturday, Sept. 7, 11 of 12 candidates in two ridings (Kelowna-Lake Country and Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola) faced off at the Mary Irwin Theatre in Kelowna for the forum moderated by Chris Walker of CBC.

The format of the forum gave each speaker only one minute to answer complex questions, which limited their ability to show their full understanding of the issues. But it did give some insight into their characters and styles.

The forum, sponsored by organizations representing retired federal workers and teachers, provided four questions on seniors’ issues in advance. After a break – in which some of the smallish audience left – candidates were given one minute to answer questions submitted from the floor.

John Barr, People's Party candidate for Kelowna-Lake Country
John Barr, People's Party candidate for Kelowna-Lake Country

That’s when John Barr, People’s Party candidate for Kelowna-Lake Country, showed his lack of preparedness. He was asked what his party would do to get pipelines built.

“What will I do?” he replied. “Gee, I don’t know how to answer that question. I’ll answer it as best I can. I understand that (party leader) Maxime Bernier has means in which to enforce, based on the economic means of the country, that these pipelines get built. That’s my answer.”

When pressed by Walker to explain what those means are, Barr said: “I don’t know what those means are.”

Justin Kulik, NDP, Kelowna-Lake Country
Justin Kulik, NDP, Kelowna-Lake Country

Far more prepared was 18-year-old Justin Kulik for the NDP in Kelowna-Lake Country, who not only had numerous facts and figures at his command but was one of the few to go on the offensive.

When asked how the NDP would pay for Pharmacare, he turned his answer into an attack on the Liberals.

“They say they’ve supported universal Pharmacare since 1993,” Kulik said. "They spent many of those years in government, and many of those in a majority government. The question is: Why haven’t you gotten it done? The answer is: Because it’s a carrot they’re dangling in front of you for elections that they’re going to pull away on Oct. 22.”

When asked one of the toughest questions of the night — whether he supported detox for addicts before they are housed — he won the loudest applause of the night for his answer.

“I support taking the scientific approach to doing whatever makes the most sense,” Kulik said. “Study after study has found that requiring people to detox before housing them is not effective. What has been found is that by giving them a place to call home is the first step in allowing people to integrate themselves into society.”

That was one of the more serious moments of the evening.

On the funny side was Green Party candidate for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, Robert Mellalieu, who has carried that flag several times before. He ended each of his prepared statements with some variation on: “Vote for compassion. Vote for dignity. Vote for Rob.”

He quickly used that as a prop to get laughter out of the audience by trying to get them to say it with him or telling them they knew the rest of what he had to say.

When asked why he wants to take on the tough job of being an MP who will be away from home a lot of the time he, again, got the laughs by saying “my wife says I should go as often as I can.”

Conservative MP Dan Albas, Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola
Conservative MP Dan Albas, Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola

When it came to the incumbents, Conservative MP Dan Albas (Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola) was challenged on his position on physician assisted dying and asked by Walker for his personal opinion – which he refused to give.

“I believe that, when you send a member to Parliament, that person cannot simply just say ‘I’m going to vote with my conscience,’” Albas responded, going on to say an MP had to respect the wishes of he people.

Liberal MP for Kelowna-Lake Country Stephen Fuhr
Liberal MP for Kelowna-Lake Country Stephen Fuhr

Incumbent Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal Stephen Fuhr was asked if proportional representation would be part of his platform, which he didn’t specifically answer.

“It is no secret that I told certain people in this community – certain groups of people — that I would advocate for PR and that’s exactly what I did,” he said. “That’s my job as a Member of Parliament. They got representation on that issue they wouldn’t have got any other way. Ultimately, the decision was made not to move forward and I completely sympathize that the ramp down after a ton of work was done was fairly abrupt. I think that was fair comment. For my role as a Member of Parliament, my job is to take those voices forward and I’m proud to say I did it and I did it in a very public way and I would do it again.”

Travis Ashley (Green candidate for Kelowna-Lake Country) did not attend, sending in a video of his opening comments saying he had committed to cater a wedding before becoming a candidate. Conservative candidate for Kelowna-Lake Country, Tracy Gray, was only able to attend the first half of the forum, due to a prior commitment.

At least three more forums for candidates of both ridings are scheduled:

  • Thursday, Sept. 19, 7 p.m. at Kelowna Senior Citizen’s Society hall, 1353 Richter St. (Sponsored by the Canadian Federation of University Women)
  • Saturday, Sept. 21, 2 to 4 p.m. at Kelowna downtown library (Sponsored by Amnesty International Kelowna, Kairos B.C.-Yukon, Citizens for Public Justice and Okanagan Regional Library)
  • Wednesday, Oct. 16, 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. at Coast Capri Hotel (Sponsored by Kelowna Chamber of Commerce)

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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