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Harrison Mills meeting questions federal candidates on local issues

Residents asked what candidates would do about drainage, the Kent quarry and the cultural hub
From right to left: Nick Csaszar, John Kidder, Jati Sidhu, Michael Nenn and Brad Vis at the all-candidates meeting in Harrison Mills Thursday, Oct. 3. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon candidates faced a full house at the all-candidates meeting in Harrison Mills Thursday (Oct. 3).

Coming on the heels of an all-candidates meeting in Mission the night before, the meeting saw five of the six candidates sit in front of a crowd of more than 50 to answer questions ranging from childcare to local drainage concerns.

Nick Csaszar (People’s Party of Canada), John Kidder (Green Party), Michael Nenn (NDP), Jati Sidhu (Liberal) and Brad Vis (Conservative) all attended the meeting. Marxist-Leninist candidate Elaine Wismer did not.

RELATED: Local candidates discuss homelessness, political promises

With such a large crowd, not every question was able to be answered by the candidates. However, many of the questions that were asked focused on timeless and emerging issues in Harrison, Agassiz and Harrison Mills.

Harrison’s proposed cultural hub

Tuesday night’s council meeting in Harrison (Oct. 1), which saw resident Ed Wood bring forward a petition against the proposed civic building and sale of the overflow parking lot to help pay for it, has struck a chord with some residents.

RELATED: Tension high over Harrison cultural hub petition

One brought her concerns to the all-candidates meeting, asking what they would do about the grant application to the federal government, which if approved would pay for more than half of the proposed building.

Nearly all candidates said that it was impossible to speculate on what exactly they would do, given that many weren’t familiar with the topic and haven’t been at the meetings.

Both Vis and Nenn said they would have to meet with both sides; Nenn, Kidder and Csaszar all agreed it was the Member of Parliament’s responsibility to advocate for the residents.

Kidder said he was well-aware of the controversy around the proposed building, and added that if the residents said no, then the Member of Parliament should too.

Sidhu said it seemed like a municipal issue, and then spoke at length about the money his government had already brought into Harrison Hot Springs for infrastructure projects over the last four years. Audience members began to shout over his comments, asking “what about the people?”

This kind of interaction between Sidhu and the audience members happened several times throughout the evening, with a number of questions being pointed directly at Sidhu and the Liberal government’s decisions over the last four years.

The proposed Kent quarry

Like many of the questions asked about local concerns throughout the evening, the provincial government is the primary level of government responsible for decisions the proposed quarry on Hot Springs Road. However, long-time quarry protester Harold Bruins asked what the candidates position was on the quarry, and if they were opposed, what were they prepared to do?

RELATED: One year later, still waiting on Kent quarry decisionAll candidates said they were opposed to the quarry application, and indicated they would stand with the residents in the village. However, most admitted the final decision would come from the provincial government, and that federal jurisdiction was largely limited to potential impacts on waterways.

Nenn and Kidder both said there needed to be better engagement and discussion between stakeholders and the levels of government on this issue. Vis said it spoke to a broader issue of needing better maps of the country’s land so Canada could move forward with a scientific approach to these problems.

Unlike the other candidates, Csaszar said that mining and gravel extraction should be a federal issue — in contrast to his many statements earlier that the government needs to become smaller and remove itself from the responsibilities of other levels of government. He said the federal government should have this jurisdiction to say no, “and in this case we would.”

Drainage in the District of Kent

Agassiz farmer and former councillor Ted Westlin gave more of a statement than a question, speaking at length about the dangers of globalization and issues around drainage in the Agassiz area. Eventually, his statements formed the question: how would the candidates deal with a lack of local presence on these issues?

Csaszar spoke about the issue of globalization, saying that the heart of the question comes down to Canadian sovereignty and “we’ve given that up.”

Nenn largely spoke about the dangers of putting too much power into international trade agreements with investor state provisions, saying that “it’s a race to the bottom.” Kidder agreed, bringing up the SNC-Lavalin scandal as an example of multi-national corporations making a mark on our Canadian government, adding that under the Harper Conservatives, having someone like Jody Wilson-Raybould speak out never would have happened.

Vis mentioned that it was a number of Conservative policies that allowed Wilson-Raybould to act the way she did, then spent a majority of his time speaking about the struggles of local farmers who want to drain the ditches they dug. Sidhu’s comment was in a similar vein, saying that he has met with the District of Kent many times and was working help them establish a five-year drainage plan.

Health care in Harrison Mills and Sts’ailes

Sts’ailes Chief Ralph Leon spoke up during the meeting to ask how the candidates would support bringing high quality health care to an area where residents can have to travel quite a distance for care. The Sts’ailes First Nation is currently working to develop a health care centre off-reserve, Leon said, and they are in discussions with the province about getting it underway.

Csaszar spoke most passionately about the role of First Nations in the country, although not speaking a great deal about health care. He said his party would remove the Indian Act — “you’re not even people the way I read it” — and work with First Nations to develop new legislation.

Nenn and Vis spoke about wanting to be part of Sts’ailes’ success and advocate for health care in the area. Kidder agreed, adding that traditional First Nations medicine is not covered by health care, although traditional Chinese medicine is, and that needed to be rectified.

Sidhu spoke at length about the Liberal government’s efforts to remove boil advisories on First Nations lands across the country, and their commitment to bring more doctors into Canada.

Area C director Wendy Bales added to Leon’s question, asking what the candidates would do about the opioid crisis.

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Both Kidder and Csaszar had personal experience with the opioid crisis: Csaszar said his son had died because of it, while Kidder saw it from the pharmaceutical side with his first wife struggling to get pain medication until she was in palliative care.

Csaszar and Vis both spoke about the need for stronger rule of law around opioids. Although Csaszar wasn’t specific, Vis said this had more to do with giving Canada’s border service agents the tools they need to deal with imported drugs.

Nenn spoke about the need for not only treatment but prevention when it came to the opioid crisis, as people get into the situation from a sense of hopelessness about the future, as well as the over prescription of pharmaceutical drugs.

Sidhu spoke about the Liberal’s previous funding and efforts in regards to the opioid crisis, and said those would continue into the future if elected.

Childcare, fish farms and bitumen

Remaining questions from the evening were less focused on specific local issues, although they touched on concerns to the area as a whole.

A substitute teacher working in Agassiz but living in Mission asked what the parties would do to support affordable childcare, while the daughter of a couple who had undergone medical experiments asked whether each of their parties plan to appeal class action lawsuit decisions.

Questions around fish farms, reducing the deficit and managing the pipeline tended to prompt party-line answers from the candidates, with many referring to platform promises made by the parties as a whole. In these questions, and others, candidates often made reference to mistakes they felt other parties, and particularly party leaders, had made. However, many times the candidates also pointed out places where they agreed with the candidates of other parties.

The meeting took just over two hours, and candidates stayed late to answer additional questions from the public.