‘What should the population of Canada be?”
The unexpected question came from Dawson City’s Sebastian Jones during Thursday’s CBC all-candidates forum at the High Country Inn.
Jones was one of a half dozen callers from across the Yukon who phoned in questions to the three federal candidates.
His question provoked a titter from the audience of about 150.
Following all the predictable rhetoric from the NDP, Liberal and Conservative candidates, the population question was a welcomed surprise.
It forced the candidates to think on their toes.
How many people should live in Canada?
And how would each party achieve such a goal?
It was NDP candidate Pam Boyde’s turn to answer first.
Analytical, almost scientific, Boyde mentioned “carrying capacity,” thinking as an environmentalist about the impacts of human civilization and industry on the world in which they live.
Liberal incumbent Bagnell was loose enough to joke when moderator Dave White directed the population question his way.
“Well, Melissa and I hope to work on that next year,” Bagnell replied, with a smile to his fiancé, Melissa Craig, sitting in the front row.
That won a full-throated laugh from the crowd. But then Bagnell turned serious.
Canada must accept refugees, to provide solace for oppressed peoples around the world in pursuit of a growing multicultural society, he said.
“Canada is stronger for the diversity we have here,” he said.
Conservative Sue Greetham drew from her experience as an environmental consultant to answer the population question.
“Having been a developer and a planner in the past I always think of demographics, I always think of infrastructure, I always think of resource bases,” said Greetham.
“My mind goes there automatically. If I were to plan or consider an amount, I would consider resources first.”
The forum represented Greetham’s first big moment in the spotlight.
A political neophyte, she does not have the campaign experience of Boyde and Bagnell, who squared off in the June 2004 federal election.
Her lack of experience showed.
On most policy questions, she read from the party platform, often tracing the words with her finger as she read.
She only lost her place once, searching for an answer about First Nations education.
The silence was deafening.
“I have met with many, many First Nations people and I really appreciate the reaching out for solutions,” said Greetham, recovering.
“I feel the goals and I’m starting to see the real gap, the…”
She paused, catching herself.
“I’m not going to say that at all.”
But she was stronger on questions about the economy.
“We would like to allow capital gains on small business transfers to be deferred to an alternate investment, to continue the needed Canadian reinvestment in our country,” Greetham said, speaking freely.
“There are a lot of investors coming from outside of Canada, and we would like our money to stay in Canada and be invested in our own resources, here.”
Boyde, on the other hand, put in a strong showing throughout.
“The NDP believe in balanced prosperity between wealth creation and how it is shared,” said Boyde during opening statements.
She had two minutes, and she used them to equate social investments with strong economy
“We need, in this territory, a strong, diversified economic base,” Boyde said later, explaining the NDP economic strategy.
“We’d like to make trade fairer. Through the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) agreements we’d like to ensure that there is a full public review to look at how it is impacting our economy, because we have seen in the past that we have taken the short end of the stick on NAFTA.”
And Bagnell was clearly at the top of his game.
He’d spent the day alone with Craig, telling his veteran handlers to leave him alone.
They didn’t have any idea what he was going to say.
Bagnell played the experience card.
“For the past five years, as your member of Parliament, I’ve gained immense experience in a huge federal system of over a quarter-million employees, and the Yukon never achieved so much,” he said.
Bagnell also took credit for things achieved under the Liberal government.
“The unemployment rate is half of what it was when I came into office,” he said.
“Another thing I’ve fought for, we’ve connected the whole Yukon through the internet, so we can participate fully in the knowledge-based economy.”
The forum took many questions from the floor.
It was hard to tell how stacked the event was; there were lobs from devout politicos of every stripe.
Questions were often obviously crafted to highlight the strengths of a particular candidate.
But some honest questions were posed, like that from Don Steyn, who tore a strip off all MPs.
“I’ve been voting for 45 years, never missed an election,” said Steyn.
“Governments have been going downhill ever since I started voting.
“The way they act in Parliament, they’re nothing but a bunch of kids.
“They yell, they scream, they act like nothing matters.”
He gave Bagnell some respect — “I know it’s not you, you’ve served the Yukon well.”
Nevertheless, he asked for integrity in Ottawa
“You’re right, I think it’s awful,” said Bagnell.
“Someone came to me a few years ago and asked me to go in there and bang my fist and tell everyone to behave.
“I did that, but it didn’t work.”
However, Bagnell professed a good relationship with many MPs, pointing to the Yukon’s devolution agreement he guided through a parliamentary committee in one afternoon.
When the candidates waffled, White did his best to get straight answers.
There could be another minority government elected Monday, he said, and asked the candidates whom their parties would prefer to work with.
None were willing to name a preferred partner.
“I wouldn’t presuppose the outcome of the election,” said Boyde.
“We’ll see how the numbers fall out on January 23rd.”