The questions were pointed and the voice levels raised Sunday in the Maple Ridge Seniors Activity Centre as five candidates made their case to win the Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge seat in Ottawa.
For instance, will any candidate make it mandatory for kids to have vaccines before they’re allowed to go to school?
None of the five candidates seeking election in the Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge riding on Oct. 19 said they would.
Vaccinating broke out into controversy recently when a measles outbreak hit Chilliwack, where a religious community opposes the practice.
Conservative Mike Murray said parents should be educated about the value of vaccines, “But mandatory – no.”
That’s a provincial issue, said NDP candidate Bob D’Eith.
“We don’t know – maybe because our scientists have been muzzled,” Liberal Dan Ruimy said. “We need to know what is the truth.”
The issue is for parents to decide, said Green party candidate Peter Tam.
The Canadian Medical Association, in August, called for parents to provide vaccination records in order to register a child in school. The intent wasn’t to make immunization compulsory, but as a means of education.
B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall opposes mandatory vaccination, but said it would be easy to add a requirement to report vaccination status at time of enrolment – which could encourage parents to get their kids vaccinated.
The three-hour affair called Engage 2015, was sponsored by the City of Maple Ridge in order to improve connections between federal and local politicians.
However, the start was delayed several minutes after an elderly woman fell and lay on the floor for several minutes. While firefighters helped out, it took more than hour for an ambulance to arrive.
Murray countered D’Eith’s charge that the federal government is cutting health-care funding to provinces.
D’Eith said the NDP’s plan to spend $300 million to open 200 health clinics across Canada requires provincial cooperation.
“We don’t want to cut the Canada Health Transfer and we haven’t cut it,” said Murray.
However, the rate of growth will slow after 2016/2017 from six per cent to at least three per cent.
On the other hand, the government of Stephen Harper is not talking with the provinces and completing the health accord, said D’Eith.
Another questioner asked about the Conservatives’ Bill C-51 act, recently passed, which gives CSIS agents the power to intervene to stop a terrorist act.
“Yes, I do support the anti-terrorism act,” said Murray. “I think we should have a measured response.”
The act doesn’t create a secret police, he added.
Critics say the bill expands the definition of security, broadens police powers, makes it too easy to share information and criminalizes free speech.
Ruimy said his party would change parts of the bill passed.
For D’Eith, Bill C-51 is the worst surveillance legislation in the western world.
“You can give into the fear of the Conservatives,” he said.
“I think it’s more about domestic opposition, than it is about terrorists.”
Another asked, if elected, would candidates vote along party lines or for the interests of the riding?
“I’m not running to back the Liberal party in Ottawa,” said Ruimy.
Balancing local needs with party dictates is one of the hardest things for an MP, said D’Eith.
“There are going to be times when you have to look at the interests of your community.”
The Conservatives have a better record of independent voting on private members bills than NDP or Liberals, said Murray.
He also said the accusation of the government muzzling scientists “is a tired, old narrative, really.”
The government will continue to rely on evidence-based decision making, he added.
“I thought it went out with [Joseph] Stalin in 1953,” replied independent candidate Steve Ranta.
“Instead of sending them [scientists] to the Siberia, you just tell them you can’t talk at international conferences, you can’t publish papers, you can’t share in the public community. That’s just shameful,” Ranta said.
Federal scientists now need communications or senior government approval, often a lengthy procedure, before they can speak directly to the media.
“The reality is if you don’t want to believe in something, fire the scientists,” said D’Eith.
There is a lot of denial in the government about things such as climate change, and that has to stop, he added.
The meeting, which drew about 200 people, mostly seniors, is the first of three leading up the Oct. 19 federal general election. The economy, a major focus of the Conservative campaign, wasn’t discussed.
Someone asked if Canada’s international reputation has changed since 2006.
“I don’t know,” said Murray. “Obviously, my view of Canada is good.”
The Reputation Institute ranked Canada first this year, he said.
“I really do support the foreign policy of our prime minister.”
That includes fighting ISIS, and he doesn’t understand opposition of that conflict.
But Canada has slipped to 68th in the world in contributing peacekeeping troops, said Ranta.
“Now we’re seen as the big bully’s little buddy and we can’t even get elected to the [UN] security council.”
Ruimy said he thought Canada’s reputation has changed.
“We were considered peace keepers. You could go anywhere you want with a Canadian flag on your shoulder and you wouldn’t have any problems.
“But sending six jet planes over to bomb farm trucks. We need to be involved, but we need to know who we’re bombing. We’re bombing families. We need to educate people, we need to empower people on that side to take care of their own country. That’s how you make changes.”
D’Eith agreed that Canada’s reputation has changed. The foreign aid budget is less than most and is weakening its climate targets.
Meanwhile, red tape is limiting the number of Syrian refugees into Canada, he said.
Canada, under the NDP, would take 10,000 refugees and have no limit on sponsored refugees, D’Eith added.
• Another all-candidates’ meeting takes place Thursday, Oct. 1, at Whonnock Lake Centre, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
• The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce also wants the candidates to compete for votes at its all candidate’s meeting, Monday, Oct. 5 at Meadowridge School, at 12224 – 240th St. All five candidates will be at that event which runs from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.