Accusations of lying, dirty tricks and stealing credit made for fiery political theatre last week at the final Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca candidate forum in Colwood.
The Church of the Advent was packed April 20 with a vocal audience that wasn’t shy to boo or jeer when a candidate was obfuscating or just plain avoiding a question.
Conservative Troy DeSouza, Green Shaunna Salsman, Liberal Lillian Szpak and New Democrat Randall Garrison had their knowledge and opinions tested on questions surrounding transportation, support for the CBC, national day care, sewage treatment and military spending, as delivered by University of Victoria policial science professor Dennis Pilon.
DeSouza, a veteran third time candidate for the Conservatives, stressed that an overpass at McKenzie Avenue and the Trans-Canada Highway is an immediate solution to ease highway gridlock, a project that has become the cornerstone of his campaign. He positioned it as “about families spending more time together and people being able to get to work.”
“Transportation needs multiple solutions. Anyone stuck in the Colwood crawl knows the time to act is now,” he said.
Garrison, also a veteran third time candidate for the NDP, focused on the need to finish the E&N rail trail and to fix and upgrade the E&N line for commuter and freight rail. Szpak, a Langford councillor and first time federal contender, called more roads “a 1960s solution,” and pushed light rail, transit lanes and improved roadways.
Some of the questions elicited party positions. On health care, Garrison talked about developing an national prescription drug policy and better home care support. Szpak said the federal government must increase support for people caring for sick relatives.
Salsman, a first time political candidate, said part of the health care solution is funding more doctors and nurse training.
A pointed question on support for gay marriage, abortion and legalized assisted suicide tried to pry open the candidates’ personal perspectives on hot topics.
Szpak, Garrison and Salsman offered support for the first two and wavered on the need for assisted suicided. DeSouza raised eyebrows and eared jeers by offering only his party’s position: “The prime minister said he would not reopen the abortion debate,” and would maintain marriage and assisted suicide laws as they exist.
The real fireworks came during candidate Q&A with each other.
DeSouza took aim at Garrison and suggested the NDPer didn’t have concrete, deliverable solutions for traffic woes. Garrison, without missing a beat, offered fixing up the E&N rail line and completing the E&N trail system.
Garrison accused DeSouza of dirty tricks by sending out a postcard in the riding suggesting that NDP policy is negligent on illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
DeSouza didn’t back down. “I’m not apologizing for NDP’s lax policies and being soft on crime,” he said. “I believe criminals should be put in jail.”
Szpak took aim at DeSouza, accusing him of taking credit from outgoing MP Keith Martin’s successes in attracting stimulus dollars to projects in Sooke, Colwood, Langford and Esquimalt.
“Lillian didn’t get the memo,” DeSouza quipped back. Prepared, he read out a list of thanks and kudos from mayors and West Shore Parks and Recreation for his efforts to bring federal money into the riding. DeSouza turned the tables and accused Szpak of calling him a lair.
“I never called you a liar,” Szpak said, sidestepping what she called his “bouquet” of endorsements. “I said, I can’t stand someone taking credit for others’ work.”
At other points, Szpak went on the attack against the Conservatives, noting the contempt of Parliament issue and offering caution about those who say the people don’t want an election.
DeSouza warned against a coalition Liberal-NDP-Bloc Quebecois government. “Maybe they would make Jack Layton the minister of finance and Gilles Duceppe minister of national unity,” DeSouza quipped.
In her best comeback of the night, Salsman offered a compromise: “Maybe Elizabeth May should run the country.”
The candidate forum was organized by the WestShore Chamber of Commerce.