With the federal election about two weeks away, prospective MP candidates for the Southern Interior were in Grand Forks for an all-candidates forum.
Current MP Alex Atamanenko (NDP), the Liberals’ Shan Lavell and Andrew Shadrack, sitting in for Green Party candidate Bryan Hunt, were in attendance while the Conservatives’ Stephen Hill was notably absent.
Hill responded to an email saying that he regretted not attending but gave no reason as to his absence – he said he would be attending future debates.
On the marijuana issue
“Legalize marijuana by removing it from the drug schedule,” Shadrack said.
“Create a regulatory framework for the safe production of marijuana by small independent producers. Develop a taxation rate for marijuana similar to tobacco.”
Shadrack also said that the public should be educated about the health threats on marijuana, tobacco and other drugs and there should be public consultation on the decriminalization of illicit drugs considering the high cost of law enforcement and funding for safe injection sites and treatment facilities should be provided and adequate rehabilitation.
Lavell was for decriminalization as well.
“Decriminalize this and move on with what we need to do as a country. I know that alcohol is by far the worst drug on a developing fetus,” she said and added that it would reduce the high cost of the judicial and criminal justice systems.
Atamanenko said that he and the NDP believe that they should decriminalize possession.
“Should this come up again in parliament, whatever is said reflects my views on marijuana, then I would look at the legislation and vote according to what I believe should be the right thing.”
On senior health care
Lavell, a registered nurse, said she has heard horror stories about the conditions for some seniors.
“I think we need more funding for our seniors. I’m very much about taking care of our people and I know that we have to establish some priorities, especially for seniors and care,” she said.
“Even if it’s palliative care, I think we have to look after our people and take care of that and there’s money for that.”
Atamanenko said he couldn’t understand what happened to Broadacres and proprietor Rod Gustafson and said he didn’t know why the Interior Health Authority came to its decision.
He said the NDP would establish a new designated federal homecare transfer to guarantee a basic level of homecare services to all Canadians.
“In other words, transfer federal funds to the province but designate and target it for long-term care,” Atamanenko explained.
“The other aspect of what will help seniors is if we use our bargaining power in pharmaceutical purchases. We’re calling for a national Pharmacare program, we’re also calling for an inter-generational home for available loan program to help up to 200,000 families retrofit their homes to create self-contained suites that we can have to help our seniors, especially family members.”
Shadrack said that he thought homecare should be re-established.
“It always floors me when we cut homecare because the cost of institutionalizing someone is way more than keeping them on home support.”
On pine beetle relief
Moderator and RDKB Area C Director Grace McGregor asked a question regarding a federal government promise of $1 billion for pine beetle relief announced in a throne speech in 2008 – Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced a few weeks ago that most of the money had been transferred and spent.
“That’s not acceptable when money has been committed and all of a sudden we’re seeing that the money is not available,” Atamanenko said.
“As federal representative, I would go this government and I would request a meeting with the minister. I would go and meet with them and explain why we need to do this but at the same time I would be pushing our provincial government to lean on the federal government.”
He also said that with a possible provincial election, he would get a commitment from each of the provincial parties to see what they would do.
“We would go back to Minister Flaherty to get that money because we need to diversify our economies,” Shadrack said.
Lavell was shocked and said that she would hold the government responsible.
“As a voter I want transparency; as a constituent I want transparency. I want to know what the budgets are and what the plans are,” she said.
“We have to hold the Conservatives accountable to the kind of side-stepping that’s done continually.”
On F-35 fighter jets
With the Conservatives’ proposal to purchase F-35 stealth fighter jets estimated at between $14 and 29 billion, the candidates were asked if they would stop the purchase.
Lavell said there had to be better thinking and the Liberal party had reasonable solutions to some of the problems; the Conservatives weren’t just overspending on fighter jets in her opinion.
“If you compare (the prison system) to the amount of money going into early childhood education and supporting families in the Conservative budget, they’re spending 1,000-times more on prisons,” she explained.
Atamanenko said that the fighter jet deal had to be defeated and found it odd that while the federal government said that it didn’t have money to double the Canada Pension Plan for seniors, interest-free loans for students or a national childcare program or restore the steadily-worsening health care program, it found money for the stealth jets.
“One of the reasons we’re in an election is because they weren’t forthcoming with the actual cost of these airplanes,” explained Atamanenko.
“They were found in contempt because we never got the answers as to the actual cost and now they’re saying the cost doesn’t include engines.
“We find these planes aren’t suitable for flying in northern climates and there are all sorts of questions we should be asking and my party has called for a review of this process.”
Shadrack said that there should be discussion in this country about the role of the military.
“Why do we need these planes?” he asked.
“Why are we in NATO? The Europeans don’t need to defend us from anybody; the Cold War is over. What role do we want our military to play in the world?”
The federal election takes place on May 2.