FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Four of the five candidates for Peace River North in the upcoming provincial election were at the Lido this afternoon for a dress rehearsal of sorts for tonight’s debate.
BC Liberal candidate Dan Davies and independent candidates Bob Fedderly, Rob Fraser, and Jeff Richert took to the stage to answer questions from Grade 10 students at the Energetic Learning Campus. BC NDP candidate Rob Dempsey was not able to make it to the forum.
The four candidates were asked a number of questions on the topics of Education and First Nations relations, while time constraints limited the questions on the topics of Site C, Immigration, Marijuana legalization, and Job growth in the region.
The ELC’s students brought the tough questions from the get-go, as the first asked the candidates about a lack of doctor recruitment in Northern B.C. and a lack of spots open to residents at post-secondary institutions that are reserved for foreign students. Davies stated that he would work on adding more open spaces at post-secondary institutions, especially at UNBC. Fedderly and Richert both offered that post-secondary institutions need more funding, while Fraser suggested that the government should look at the outcomes it desires and implement strategic plans to get them reached, including a reduction in tuition for rural students.
On the topic of First Nations relations, all four of the candidates expressed their concern that more needs to be done to increase the graduation rate of First Nations students in the province, including consulting with aboriginal leaders, school boards, and First Nations education authorities. Richert added that the return of the Aboriginal Education program at Bert Bowes Elementary, which was previously cut due to lack of funding, was an important first step. Davies offered that the AHCOTE program at NLC, and the recruitment of First Nations teachers was another important step, and added that the provincial government has seen the graduation rate of First Nations students rise from 50 percent to 65 percent since 2001.
The question of how to deal with the softwood lumber dispute, which erupted earlier this week, saw perhaps the largest variety of answers from the four. Davies stated that the government was continuing to fight for Canadian companies while also increasing efforts to diversify exports, adding that the government is looking at increasing trade with China and India. Fedderly offered a solution that raw log exports to the United States should be halted, explaining that exporting raw logs only results in fewer jobs north of the border and more in the U.S. Fraser’s opinion on the topic was that the provinicial government defers too much decision-making in forestry policy to large multi-national companies that own most of the mills in Canada, and that our country needs to give more decision-making power to communities. Richert offered perhaps the most combatant view, stating that efforts to diversify markets have failed, and that a diplomatic solution needed to be made to fight President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, saying that the U.S. is “picking on the little guy.”
All five of the candidates are scheduled to appear on stage at the Lido Theatre once again this evening for another debate, which will also feature questions from attendees. Doors open at 6:00 p.m., with the debate starting at 7:30 p.m.