Candidates from left, incumbent Gord Johns, Barb Biley, Sean Wood and Jonah Gowans / George Le Masurier photos
Courtenay-Alberni candidates address climate crisis in forum
At the only federal election forum in the Courtenay-Alberni riding focused strictly on the climate crisis, four of the five candidates showed up and answered questions from a panel of four and an audience of about 300 voters.
Incumbent NDP MP Gord Johns, Liberal Jonah Gowans, Green Sean Wood and Barb Biley representing the Marxist-Leninist Party spent nearly two hours on stage at the Florence Filberg Centre Oct. 4 in a deep dive into what actions the next government should take to fight climate change.
Conservative candidate Byron Horner refused to attend, and offered no explanation for his absence.
The candidates who did attend found agreement on some issues such as the need to create equality for the most vulnerable as Canada’s transitions to a greener economy, lowering the voting age to 16 and ending federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
But Wood said the other parties were just “handing out gifts” during the campaign by suddenly promising to end to oil and gas subsidies. He credited the Green Party and its leader Elizabeth May — “the most ethical and trustworthy leader” of all the parties — for getting the topics into the national conversation.
Johns detailed $48 billion in tax breaks and other gifts to corporations that his party would invest in green energy technology.
He also criticized Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau for promising in 2015 to cut fossil fuel subsidies but failing to follow through.
“The NDP put forward a motion (to end subsidies) six months ago, and the Liberals voted no. We proposed declaring a climate emergency, and the Liberals said no. Then they tabled their own (climate emergency) bill and the day after that approved purchasing the TransMountain pipeline,” he said.
That just shows “who pulls the strings,” according to Biley.
“Decisions aren’t made in Ottawa, they’re implemented in Ottawa. They are made by fossil fuel companies,” she said. “How can you declare a climate emergency and then buy a pipeline.”
Wood said government has failed to act more quickly on climate issues because the major political parties “whip” their MPs to vote as their party executive tells them to vote. And he took a shot at the provincial NDP.
“The NDP promised no Site C, no LNG, no fracking, that they would get fish farms out,” he said, but they didn’t do it. “The Green Party doesn’t whip its elected members. The constituents are our bosses. That’s how it should be.”
In her closing statement at the forum, Biley followed that idea by saying small parties raised the level of political discussion because the major parties break promises “over and over again, and just expect us to suck it up.”
“We should follow the example of youth in hitting the streets, of women taking back the night, of our coastal forest workers refusing to take concessions and assert our own plan for climate action. Empower yourself now,” she said.
She said Canada must transform its political system so it genuinely represents the people, not the parties.
Johns said in his first term as the Courtenay-Alberni incumbent MP, he has fought for the coast,” and brought conservation and other climate issues to the conversation in Parliament.
“Sixty percent of our communities are progressive. But without electoral reform, we split the vote,” he said. “Because of that, Conservatives can win this riding.”
Earlier Johns received the largest audience response of the night when he said, while addressing how previous Conservative governments gutted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, “The first thing we should do is not let the Conservatives govern again.”
John said he was one of about 30 MPs of the 356 total in the House of Commons who attend an All-Party Caucus.
“No one party will solve the climate crisis,” he said. “It’s going to take everyone.”
Wood said his party’s polling shows support for candidates in the riding was neck-and-neck, and that the Conservatives weren’t as strong as “everybody else.”
“Don’t vote against something, vote for who you want,” he said.
Liberal Jonah Gowans said no political party has all the best ideas. The Liberal Party of Canada has a history of taking the best ideas from wherever and adopting them.
The forum was a collaboration of the Cumberland Forest Society, Project Watershed, K’omoks First Nations, Climate Strike Canada, Dogwood, the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership and the United Church.
The assembled panel that asked the first questions of the candidates included Nalan Goosen representing youth of the Comox Valley, Celia Laval of the faith community, Caelan Mclean of K’omoks First Nations and Don Castledden and David Stapley of the Conservation Partnership.
Disclosure: The author moderated the climate forum.
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