Northeast B.C. federal election candidates square off at debate

Resource development and how to balance it with environmental preservation was a theme Wednesday when three candidates vying to become the Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies squared off in an all-candidates meeting in Prince George.

In his opening address, incumbent Conservative Bob Zimmer emphasized getting the region’s resources to market and continued the theme when asked about what his party would do to combat climate change.

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“Our party supports our environment, but we also support it with the understanding that we can’t kill our economy to do that,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer stressed exporting “green tech” to high-pollution countries like China along with natural gas to replace that country’s dependence on coal.

“We think we need to prove more Canada to the rest of the world,” he said.

On climate change, Liberal Mavis Erickson read out an extended list of initiatives her party would pursue, including declaring a national climate emergency and phasing out coal.

People’s Party candidate Rob Vaillant dismissed man-made global warming is a “nonentity.”

“We’re not going to do anything in regards to global warming,” he said. “If the provinces want to do that, we’ll go ahead and let that happen.”

On specifically how to move resource projects forward, Erickson played up the Liberals’ grand bargain that would see revenues generated from such projects as the Trans Mountain pipeline put towards developing a green economy.

“We’ve all seen the fires and we’ve seen a lot of change in our weather in the north and there’s much to be done in that area,” Erickson said.

Zimmer blamed delays in getting Trans Mountain off the ground on overregulation and said the Conservatives would “put the sign back on the front of the door to say that we are open again.”

Zimmer was the only one to mention the Canada-U.S. Softwood Lumber Agreement, saying it needs to be renewed to encourage lumber producers to stay north of the border rather than setting up shop in the U.S.

Vaillant suggested meeting goals for reducing carbon emissions is a lost cause and went on to say his party would scrap the west coast tanker ban and use the Constitution to declare pipelines a national interest.

Erickson, who was once chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, was at her best when a question on Indigenous issues came up.

She claimed the Liberals have done more for Indigenous people in its last term than has been done in the history of the country and contrasted party leader Justin Trudeau’s acceptance of the term “genocide” from the final report from the missing and murdered women inquiry with Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s refusal to do so.

The Liberals have lifted over 87 boiled water advisories on reserves, she also noted.

Zimmer appeared to break rank from the Conservatives’ position on the need for the MMIW inquiry, saying a task force is needed to “get to the bottom of it.”

The comment produced a retort from Erickson when given the chance.

“Well, I’m glad to see Bob has changed his mind since the last debate,” she said. Vaillant said the People’s Party would amend the Indian Act to allow privatization on reserves.

Two candidates, Katherine Kendall (Green), Marcia Luccock (New Democrat), were absent. About 250 people attended the debate, held at UNBC.

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