On the evening of April 25, the political science student association, with support from UFV, hosted an all-candidates debate for the riding of Abbotsford West. Hosted by professor Hamish Telford (great hair, great suit, rocking purple tie), it also had in attendance the incumbent Liberal candidate Michael de Jong (also in a purple tie), Kevin Eastwood of the Greens (green), NDP Preet Rai (surprisingly with a striped white and blue), Libertarian David Sharkey (with no tie at all), and Lynn Simcox of the Christian Heritage Party (who also favoured the blue and white colour scheme). The event drew a surprisingly engaged and diverse crowd of at least 50 students and community members.
Now of course, debates aren’t always the best metric for a candidate’s platform or ability, but they can give you an insight into how seriously they’re taking the race and how prepared they are for the position. It’s also a good way to judge their public speaking and interpersonal skills, which are essential tools in not just campaigns but also in governance, as you have to explain your ideas and decisions to the constituents you represent.
De Jong and Eastwood displayed professionalism and a good level of comfort on stage, citing specific policy and platforms in their answers to questions regarding everything from minimum wage to the carbon tax. While Preet Rai certainly had enthusiasm, most of his answers either failed to address specifics or were presented in a roundabout way to bring the discussion back to his favourite topic of high ICBC rates. The Libertarian candidate, who admitted he was new to the political scene, was very direct in either explaining that his party held no particular position on the issue or that their solution would be based on the principles of a “free market.” He also raised the important issue of parties and politicians needing to do a better job of fostering voter turnout and engagement.
However, as bland as local political debates can be, the energy in the room was heightened and lively due to the presence of Lynn Simcox. He did not shy from controversy, with his opening statements declaring his belief that there is only one true God, and many of his answers were either unconcerned with being controversial or even unresearched. He was against a minimum wage increase, saying that it would just lead to more income tax going to the government, as well as denying that carbon emissions were actually pollution because trees and plants need it to convert to oxygen. A few times he pointed out that he agreed with something the Libertarian candidate said instead of expanding on his own thoughts. The contributions addressed some important issues, like the role and expectations of our education system (the CHP is in favour of vouchers for parents to select which school their children go to), but also provided some energy and levity to keep everyone engaged.
Moderation from Hamish as well as the timekeeper helped keep the conversation flowing, and most of the questions were pointed and of substance. (Although I think it would be justified to argue that there were a few fluff questions designed only to give de Jong the opportunity to talk about his accomplishments.) Hopefully people who couldn’t make it might tune into CIVL’s rebroadcasts, but they would probably be better off reading into platforms or deciding for themselves where their wedge issues are. There’s only so much entertainment or intrigue you can squeeze out of candidate debates for B.C. politics; the real fun is behind the scenes.
Our system isn’t perfect, but being what it is we should take ownership of our choice of local representatives when they are chosen on May 9.