Sea to Sky candidates squared off at the Maury Young Arts Centre (MYAC) in a livestreamed debate on Wednesday, Sept. 8 ahead of Canada’s Sept. 20 federal election.
Without a live crowd in attendance the event felt more subdued than past Whistler debates, but the candidates did their best to make up for it with some pointed jabs and at times incendiary rhetoric.
On several occasions, the candidates offered little in the way of direct answers to the broad range of questions posed throughout the night, instead falling back on rehearsed talking points and party platforms.
On the stage at MYAC were incumbent Patrick Weiler (Liberals); former MP John Weston (Conservative); Avi Lewis (NDP) and Mike Simpson (Green Party); while the PPC’s Doug Bebb and the Rhino Party’s Gordon Jeffrey joined by video call.
Each candidate was given two minutes for opening remarks before fielding questions from the host organizations (the Whistler Chamber, Arts Whistler and Pique Newsmagazine), followed by questions from the public.
Topics covered during the two-hour event included (but were not limited to) labour, climate, the opioid epidemic, foreign home ownership and COVID-19 recovery.
Under attack for much of the night, Weiler played the incumbent role well for the most part, leaning on his record over the past two years in stating his case for reelection.
“I’ve been the hardest working MP this riding has ever seen. I’ve taken over a thousand meetings in the last year, and I’ve found new ways to engage people when we’ve had to still stay six feet apart,” Weiler said.
“I’ve been able to deliver over $130 million in infrastructure and programs to this riding, and I’ve been able to deliver on things that matter not just for our riding but for our entire province.”
Weston, for his part, put effort into emphasizing how unnecessary the current election is while pointing to failures of the current Liberal government on things like climate goals, overspending and ethics, while also touting the Conservative platform and his own record as MP of the riding.
“Patrick, as much as I admire you, for you to say you’re the hardest working, well that’s interesting—how would you measure that? A lot of people called me the hardest working, and I’m sure that there’s others who could join in that discussion,” Weston said.
“But how can you trust Liberals who don’t know how to measure, who don’t really take seriously their words, who don’t know the difference between sentiments and actions, promises and outcomes?”
Lewis, whose campaign has garnered some high-profile endorsements from climate activists like David Suzuki, seemed at times to be answering off the cuff, though his past life as a TV personality showed at the microphone.
Unsurprisingly, many questions—submitted by and voted on by the public using Slido—revolved around climate change and the environment, which is when Lewis was at his best.
An NDP government will end fossil fuel subsidies immediately, Lewis said.
“To slash emissions by 50 per cent, by 60 per cent ... or more, if we start thinking about our global responsibility to our climate debt, we need to get off fossil fuels immediately, and we need a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry,” Lewis said.
“The science is absolutely clear on that, and that means that we need to do it with a government that takes care of workers and not big corporations, and that’s the NDP.”
Simpson, Bebb and Jeffrey didn’t get much of a chance to make their case to voters in the first half of the debate, as the majority of questions were directed at Weiler, Weston and Lewis.
Things picked up during the candidate-on-candidate questions, which led to some interesting exchanges between all involved.
While Canadian Radio and Telecommunications is supposed to regulate telecom companies with the interests of the people in mind, the Liberal government has selected chairpersons that “take every opportunity to protect and cater to the big telecom companies, enabling their oligopoly, restricting potential competition and overcharging hardworking Canadians for telecom services,” posited Jeffrey in a question to Weiler.
“Last election your party platform included telecom consumer advocacy, so how do you reconcile the above with your party’s actions?”
Weiler responded by saying there’s been a “tremendous” amount of work done over the last six years to reduce cell phone bills, “and we’ve almost got there”—to which Lewis rebutted that he sometimes feels sorry for Weiler in that he has to defend the record of the Trudeau government.
“We have some of the highest prices for data and internet in the world, and cell phone service, because we have a cartel … [of] Bell, Telus, Shaw, Rogers, that are friends of the Liberals, and charge us up the wazoo for terrible service,” Lewis said.
“A public corporation is what we need; it’s an essential service and we need it in public hands … we will protect people from unfair and high prices with a cap, and we will require affordable basic plans.”
Weiler used his candidate question to point out that Weston has attended just two of six debates in the riding so far.
“You’re applying for a job to be the MP of this riding. If you owned a business, and someone showed up to one of three interviews, would you hire them?”
Weston avoided answering the question altogether, instead talking about how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has eroded faith in institutional government by missing GHG emissions reduction targets and not delivering drinking water to First Nations, among other broken promises.
With his question, Bebb took aim at Weston and the Conservatives, asking how the former MP can support things like vaccine passports in good conscience.
Weston pointed to his work launching the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which stands up for individuals “when their rights are being menaced” by governments.
“The Conservative approach is to say vaccines are indeed the best tools against the pandemic,” Weston said.
“We have to fight this thing, and we have to fight it for team Canada, so we’re encouraging everybody to get vaccinated.”
Bebb noted that Weston didn’t answer the question directly before quoting former United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
“Winston Churchill said, ‘Some men change their politics to match their principles, while others change their principles to match their politics.’ By setting policy weekly, as they have with the vaccine passport matter, flip-flopping not long ago based on poll results and focus groups, the Conservatives provide a good example of the latter—people that change their principles to match their politics,” Bebb said.
“Simply put, they’ve abandoned conservative principles in a desperate attempt to regain their position at the feeding trough.”
The second half of the debate was more Lewis/Simpson-centric, with the two candidates trading responses on a range of questions from the public, most related to environmental issues.
“If you’re serious about [climate change], there’s only one thing you can do, and that’s what Greta Thunberg says: lock yourself to the science,” Simpson said.
“You can’t argue with the physics of climate change. We are well on our way to [an increase of ] 3.5 [degrees Celsius], and if we go with the NDP we’re going to get that.”
The topic of old-growth logging also saw the two pitted against each other.
“We can’t cut down one more elder of the forest; not one more old tree,” Lewis said, pointing to the BC NDP’s strategic review of old growth commissioned last year, which has “profound truths” in it.
“[Simpson] can hang the policies of the B.C. government on my neck, but they don’t fit,” Lewis said.
“We’re in a federal election and we need truth-tellers in parliament, and you know what, when the election is over and the platforms are forgotten, it’s who represents you and speaks on the national stage for you, and I will fight for the trees.”
Simpson, for his part, pointed to federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh campaigning in B.C. with BC NDP Premier John Horgan.
“At the end of the day, there are almost 800 people who have been arrested by an NDP government,” Simpson said, to which Lewis interjected that it’s the RCMP making the arrests at Fairy Creek.
“I know it hurts to hear that Avi, but it is an NDP government which is at work at Fairy Creek,” Simpson said.
“If we don’t save that stuff, that’s our carbon sinks, we should be treating that as if it’s more precious standing than cut down by the NDP.”
For all the talk of climate change, Bebb used part of his closing remarks to argue there is no credible plan to tackle it.
“China and India are building coal-fired plants by the hundreds, and their CO2 emissions are going through the roof,” he said.
“Even if Canada reduced CO2 emissions to zero, it would make no global difference. The establishment parties are arguing over the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic.”
A recording of the event is available on the Whistler Chamber of Commerce's Facebook page.
Pick up next week’s Pique for more on the Sept. 20 election.