Candidates in the Kootenay-Columbia riding were in Golden Tuesday evening for a forum to discuss election issues.

Candidates discuss foreign workers, Highway 1 and tie-dye shirts at forum

Canadian Federal Election: A mostly cordial forum did contain one notable dispute between two of the Kootenay-Columbia candidates.

The All-Candidates Forum in Golden was a mostly cordial, non-confrontational affair with all four candidates getting a chance to offer their perspectives on issues facing both Goldenites and Canadians as a whole – with perhaps one notable exception.

The incident involving David Wilks of the Conservative Party and Wayne Stetski of the NDP came out of a visit that all four candidates made to Golden Secondary School earlier in the day.

Stetski, a staunch advocate that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives need to be removed from Ottawa when Canadians go to the polls on Oct. 19, displayed a tie-dye t-shirt with the words “Heave Steve” written on the front. Wilks, who has served as the MP for Kootenay-Columbia since 2011, was not amused and made that known during his opening remarks of the forum.

“(It) was disrespectful and an assault upon our electoral system…if the NDP candidate will do that in front of Grade 8 and 9s, I shudder to think how he would act in the House of Commons,” Wilks said.

He elaborated further following the forum.

“I just don’t think that schools are the place to do that. It’s a captured audience, the students can’t go anywhere, they’re forced to be there…I just think that it’s completely inappropriate. That should be a non-partisan area,” Wilks said.

Stetski says he received the shirt from an individual while on the campaign trail and that its message falls in line with his own.

“I just want to…assure David Wilks that my tie-dye t-shirt will be retired when Stephen Harper is retired,” Stetski said the next time he was given a chance to speak.

He later objected to Wilks’ assertion that displaying it at the high school was inappropriate.

On the opposite side of the podium to Wilks and Stetski sat Liberal party candidate Don Johnston and Green Party candidate Bill Green (Libertarian Party candidate Christina Yahn was unable to attend). In contrast to their colleagues, Johnston and Green appeared to get along just fine, with Johnston repeatedly expressing his agreement with Green on numerous issues.

“The reality is that there’s a lot of coherence in the policies of the Liberals and the Greens. When somebody says something that’s clearly directly in line with your policies I think it’s worth acknowledging that,” Johnston said following the forum.

Green says that while there are some similarities between the two parties, he also sees some clear differences in their respective platforms.

“Don did speak about the middle class…what about poverty reduction?” Green said afterwards. “Our focus isn’t on the middle class, it’s about getting rid of poverty in this country.”

Issues surrounding the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) were brought to the forefront as a problem affecting the local tourism economy.

Johnston lamented that policy decisions are often made that don’t reflect the realities of communities across Canada, believing that changes to the TFWP is one of those instances. He stressed that workers needed to be thought of in the long-term, rather than the short-term.

“If you’re going to bring temporary workers in, you have to create a path to citizenship so that people become more invested in being here and becoming part of the community,” he said.

Stetski believes that Temporary Foreign Workers are a great part of the riding’s rural communities and says that other solutions need to be made.

“They were an important part of the economy, they were also very important to our communities…we have to protect Canadian jobs, absolutely, but we have to get back to a Temporary Foreign Worker Program that works for businesses in Kootenay-Columbia, including right here in Golden,” he said.

Wilks says he will aim to find a solution to the problem in this riding if re-elected, saying he will continue work with Senator Nancy Greene to present a program that will mirror the agriculture workers program that he says has worked effectively in Canada.

The need to twin the Trans-Canada Highway was another important discussion point for locals, with all candidates echoing its importance and WIlks calling it his number one priority since being elected to Ottawa. He cited a $5 billion proposal that he made for highway twinning.

Stetski also expressed how important the issue is for this region.

“There have been too many deaths on the Trans-Canada Highway with too little action, quite frankly. We need a long-term plan that brings together the province…as well as the federal government for the National Parks portion,” Stetski said.

Green stressed rail infrastructure as a way to improve safety and limit the number of transport trucks using the highway.

“The Green Party, in our platform, has identified $300 million to invest in the critical parts of our railway system across Canada. What is more critical than Rogers Pass and Kicking Horse Pass?” Green said.

The Forum in Golden was the fourth stop on the candidates’ lengthy tour of the riding, which will feature discussions in all the major centres of Kootenay-Columbia in advance of the federal election next month.