Two voices were missing from the only local all candidates meeting Monday night, but one absence was duly noted by facilitator Cynthia Berge.
“Diane Janzen accepted the invitation and was indeed the catalyst to keep this (meeting) moving forward,” Berge said during her opening remarks. However, days later, Berge says the Liberal candidate phoned and emailed to apologize that she couldn’t make it after all.
“She gave me the Liberal platform to read but I’m not going to do that,” Berge said. “I’m not trying to be evil spirited, but that’s just what I’m doing.”
Conservative Mark Strahl declined the invitation, citing prior a commitment.
Berge is a director of the Action Committee for Environmental Stewardship Society, which was formed over the last couple years by local political activists. ACES has lobbied particularly hard against Mission MLA Randy Hawes regarding gravel projects in Lake Erroch.
The meeting was not advertised except by word of mouth, and email. About 35 people, including the four attending candidates, sat in a conversation circle in the Harrison Mills Community Hall. ACES planned the meeting to discuss environment issues, but the tone often turned to issues of civil rights and war involvement. Residents tossed unscreened questions at the candidates that ranged from fair taxation to Bill C-36 and pharmaceuticals.
Western Block candidate Clive Edwards received several rounds of applause during his answers, especially when asked about Bill C-36. Some audience members said the bill would strip individuals of their personal rights and freedoms, allowing police to seize herbal medicines the government deems problematic.
“We (the Western Block) can’t form government but we can howl like a banshee about this. They are trying to nibble away at our freedoms one step at a time,” Edwards said.
Green Party candidate Jamie Hoskins added that “we need to be concerned about the over-reaches of our government” but that consumers also need to be protected from products that aren’t safe.
Gwen O’Mahoney told the audience she was wanting to learn more about the bill, but expressed concerns about how the bill “infringes on people’s rights and contradicts our Charter.”
Marxist Leninist Dorothy-Jean O’Donnell also spoke out against the bill, calling out big pharmaceutical companies.
“This really is a movement for empowerment of the people,” she said.
The meeting revealed a mutual respect for two particular candidates — O’Mahony and Hoskins.
Both consider themselves advocates for the environment, and both have been present at past ACES events. They nodded and smiled at each other’s positions on issues, such as gravel removal, and referred to each other on several responses.
But when asked by a resident how to encourage the federal government to make the environment a number one priority, they each stood by their party.
“I think the best way is to vote Green,” Hoskins said. “And I mean it, because every vote is a message.”
O’Mahony had a similar statement.
“My party has been environmentally progressive for years,” she said. “This is an election where there could be an upset.”
Election day is Monday, May 2.