The question came from a teenager, one of the youngest members in the crowd of close to 100 at a North Okanagan-Shuswap riding all-candidate’s forum Wednesday night at Lumby’s White Valley Community Centre:
Do you have a problem with democracy today, and, if so, what would you as an individual do to fix it?
“I’m really concerned about the direction of our democracy,” said Liberal candidate Cindy Derkaz. “The Liberals are in favour of electoral reform and are committed, within 18 months of being elected as government, of bringing in legislation to make this election the last first-past-the-post election.”
NDP candidate Jacqui Gingras questioned the Conservative party’s Fair Elections Act as being fair.
“It actually makes it less fair to participate in our democracy,” she said. “That act needs to go. With electoral reform, we need to make sure we have a voting system that people see their votes count and contribute to the outcome.”
Chris George of the Green Party said proportional representation has been part of his party’s platform since he became a member.
“The Greens have led the conversation on this topic and it’s now of national importance,” said George. “We would do specific things to enhance our democracy, like cutting the Prime Minister Office’s budget by 50 per cent. That would force the prime minister to be accountable and report to parliament when he needs money for programs or staffing his office.”
Said Mel Arnold, Conservative candidate: “Democracy is not as threatening as a lot of people like to promote. The first-past-the-post system was provided as a choice to B.C. residents. The majority do not want it…Our MPs are able to vote. We have the least whipped votes of any ruling party. (Former MP) Colin Mayes said he was able to vote against party lines eight times in his career. Other parties, no. They have to vote with the party lines.”
Along that line, one member of the audience asked the candidates if they thought they’d be able to express their own opinions within their party and truly represent their riding.
“I intend to be a powerful voice, your voice in Ottawa,” said Gingras. “I may not agree with my party on everything but I’m very tenacious when it comes to matters of principle and representing others. I’m going to Ottawa to help make a party, not be absorbed by that party. I feel very strongly about that.”
George said the Green Party believes in ‘me.’
“If it comes down to a budget bill or a matter of confidence, I get to use my best judgment and that means the party has confidence in me that I’m going to make the right decision,” he said.
“If I have to vote against the party on a confidence motion or budget motion, as long as I feel I can justify that decision based on doing what is right for constituents in my riding, my party isn’t going to have a problem with it.”
Derkaz, a retired lawyer, said she could “never be a trained seal jumping up and clapping for things I did not believe in.”
“I believe I will have a say in this riding,” she said. “I truly believe Justin Trudeau’s leadership style is inclusive and collaborative. I’ve spent the last 40 years trying to determine if someone is being square with me or not. As your MP, I’ll have lots of chances to represent you to the best of my ability in caucus without being muzzled.”
Arnold said his experience in working with and on provincial and national organizations would help him be a loud voice in caucus.
“I’ve learned how to negotiate for what’s important for me and my constituents in B.C.,” he said. “Those types of things are what you learn through experience and I’ll carry that experience forward to the caucus chambers.
Candidates faced a total of 13 questions on topics such as firearms, working for people with disabilities, water, climate change and Bill C-51 in the two-hour forum.
Moderator Joe Deuling did an excellent job of handling hecklers, making sure the candidates were given a chance to answer each question.