It took less than 10 minutes for Afghanistan to come up during the all-candidates’ forum on Thursday night.
It took less than 15 for Conservative candidate Darrell Pasloski to mount his first attack on incumbant Liberal Larry Bagnell’s credibility.
“Of course I support the troops, and Mr. Bagnell said that he went there and the troops were well equipped, so it must have been after the Harper government took office that he was there,” said Darrell Pasloski, the Conservative candidate.
Bagnell’s rebuttal was a shake of the head — he’d travelled to Afghanistan in late 2003, before the Conservatives’ election.
During his visit to Afghanistan, the troops were well-equipped and supportive of the mission — providing protection to aid workers and facilitating the return of two million girls to school, he noted.
Why has Canada and NATO failed to pursue a comprehensive peace plan for the ongoing NATO mission, asked a spectator.
“If there was peace to be had, we would certainly have it — our diplomats are second to none,” said Bagnell.
New Democrat candidate Ken Bolton was the only candidate who wanted Canada right out of Afghanistan.
“We have to get out of that combat role as quickly as possible … we can’t bring about peace and stability with guns in our hands, we have to do it with open hands and open hearts and a willingness to listen to all people at the table,” said Bolton.
The Green Party would seek to end the current NATO mission and, instead, post Canadian troops to the country as part of a UN peacekeeping mission.
Then, less than 20 minutes into the forum, the repercussions of the US financial meltdown came up.
A Yukon College student questioned whether the US financial crisis would limit revenue for the next Parliament — and constrain the next government’s ability to fund social programming.
“The key is having an economy growing and creating jobs because it’s jobs that give the government money and it’s money that the government gives to drive programs,” said Pasloski.
“We need to have the foundation for a strong economy with lower taxes, paying down debt, balancing the budget and ensuring that we’re creating jobs,” he said.
The Liberal election platform had been costed by “leading economists” to ensure that it would not go into deficit, said Bagnell.
As well, a Liberal government would bring back a federal contingency fund of $3 billion — abolished since the fall of Paul Martin’s Liberal government.
“It helped us survive 9/11, it helped us survive SARS, and, in this particular case, with the trouble in the United States, it would go a long way,” said Bagnell.
A strong economy required government investment in carbon-friendly infrastructure, as well as social programs, said John Streicker, the Green Party candidate.
“We should be investing in Canada right now so that we keep the economy stimulated while this turmoil happens around the globe,” he said.
Bolton criticized the Conservatives’ inheriting a budget surplus and giving it away to “the banks, the petroleum companies, the insurance companies and then they chased another $40 billion after it.”
The proposed NDP budget would go into deficit, but without, Canada risks a “deficit of lifestyle,” said Bolton.
The student’s question also raised the issue of the National Childcare Program, a proposal first proposed by the Chretien government, but struck down under Harper.
Rather than a government-run child-care program, Pasloski favoured monetary benefits to parents with children under six years of age.
“I’m not in favour of creating a large bureaucracy that sucks up money through administration,” he said.
Under a Liberal government, $1.25 billion would be put back into the child-care program, creating 165,000 daycare spaces, said Bagnell.
Both the Green and NDP also supported a national childcare plan, although Bolton promised “a true national childcare program, not the one the Liberals promised in 1993 and didn’t deliver.”
The NDP plan would cost $1.41 billion and would create 220,000 spaces, said Bolton.
A spectator accused the Harper government of refusing media interviews and questions from nongovernmental organizations, and asked how candidates would “ensure that this practice of governing in secret is discontinued.”
“I think that this country needs strong leadership, OK? Because I look across at the other leaders and that’s not there — Canada needs someone right now who has the strength and has the vision and knows how to lead the country at this time,” said Pasloski in response.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a strong leader and I think the government would benefit from it,” he said.
Streicker noted that Green candidates are encouraged to deviate from the party line if it conflicts with their personal beliefs, or those of their constituents.
Bolton and Bagnell both said that they have never turned down an interview, reporter or group.
“I will never duck a question, even when you drive me nuts,” said Bolton, referring to the media.
Would candidates support federal approval of a uranium mine in the Yukon? asked environmentalist Lewis Rifkin.
“Easy answer, I would be absolutely against it,” said Bolton. He then reiterated the NDP promise to “not allow any more development in Alberta’s tarsands.”
Pasloski called for a balance between development and environmental sustainability.
It was impossible to speculate a position without knowing the details of a proposed uranium mine, said Streicker.
The Green Party is against nuclear power, but Streicker supports it.
“I’m concerned so much about climate change, even though I don’t think our first choice is nuclear … nuclear may be part of a solution in the end,” he said.
At several times during the night, Pasloski accused Bagnell of failing to “represent Yukoners” by failing to vote against the National Gun Registry — a Chretien government initiative that became notorious for its billions in cost overruns.
“I was one of the most passionate fighters against the gun legislation in Ottawa, and the votes he mentioned were budget votes mixed in with a whole bunch of other things that hurt Yukoners, so I guess he would be voting to hurt Yukoners,” said Bagnell.
Dick Harris, Conservative candidate for British Columbia’s Cariboo-Prince George riding, cites a 2006 Whitehorse Star article on his website noting, “Larry Bagnell says he supports the Conservatives’ announcements regarding the beginnings of their effort to repeal the gun registry.”
Later, another college student raised the question of tuition funding.
Pasloski rushed through the Conservative platform for education before taking “a few minutes to ask Yukoners what they want in their leadership.”
He launched into an attack on the Liberal platform for raising the GST and once again criticized Bagnell’s failure to oppose the gun registry.
“Thanks for that question on education,” said Streicker in his response, irony in his voice.
In response to a question regarding how the candidates would look to create “green-focused jobs”, Pasloski noted his support for clean technologies before launching into an attack on Bagnell’s alleged failure to oppose a Chretien health-care reform plan that would have hurt the northern territories.
The plan had ultimately failed due to the actions of northern premiers, rather than Bagnell himself, alleged Pasloski, noting Bagnell had been absent from proceedings.
“Thank you for that totally irrelevant answer to the question,” said Bagnell, eliciting laughter from the audience.
“I was there, and I set up a press conference for the premiers so they could get their point across,” he said.
One spectator asked if the Green and Liberal parties were “one.”
Bagnell and Streicker jokingly gave each other slaps on the back before each noting that their platforms were “very different.”
With US banks failing faster than first graders at a calculus exam, the state of the economy was bound to warrant another question.
A spectator lauded a recent international report stating that “Canada’s banking system was the strongest in the world” and credited it to Canada’s Conservative leadership.
“If your party had won the last election, how would you have managed our economy differently up to this point so that you would have avoided this world financial crisis?” he asked of the three non-Conservative candidates.
“The first thing we would have done is not give away $60 billion to the corporations that don’t need it … we would use that money for the people” said Bolton after warning that the financial crisis will be hitting Canada regardless.
Bagnell agreed that Canada’s economy will be hit, and said that the Conservatives “have not left us in a good position to deal with this problem.”
“It’s probably a shock to Conservatives, but spending has gone up 14 per cent … and Canada is the country of the G-7 having negative growth,” said Bagnell.
Canada’s economy is “hot” because of the Alberta tarsands, said Streicker.
He added that a strong economy is strengthening the dollar, which is weakening Ontario and Quebec’s export manufacturing sector.
Had the Greens been in power, they would have closely regulated and scheduled tarsands development, so that it grew manageably and comfortably with the manufacturing sector — instead of with one growing to the exclusion of the other, said Streicker.