Candidates speak to the Gazette

MP hopefuls in the North Island-Powell River riding answer the Gazette's questions

The federal election is just two months away on Oct. 19, and the decisions the voters in this riding make for who will represent them in Parliament is an important one. There are four Member of Parliament candidates in the running for the North Island-Powell River riding. As an area that is rich in natural resources with strong First Nations culture, and containing some areas that are experiencing economic strain due to industry curtailment, this is a complex region teeming with different issues and perspectives.

The North Island Gazette interviewed each MP to ask what makes them the best fit to represent this riding, and how their parties’ platforms aligned with the needs of this riding. Those not registered yet to vote can do so on the Elections Canada website.

What about your background and skill set do you think makes you a good fit to represent this riding?

Peter Schwarzhoff, retired Environment Canada meteorologist and air quality researcher, Liberal Party

Schwarzhoff says he has strong ties to Campbell River where he grew up in a pulp and paper mill family. He also thinks that his 30 years working as a scientist for Environment Canada gives him a solid understanding of how government works, the importance of science, and an understanding of how valuable the environment is. “It is possible to have a prosperous resource economy without ruining the environment.”

Laura Smith, political advisor to Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan since 2008, Conservative Party

Smith came from a forestry family and worked in the industry for 14 years with a focus on resource management, which she says helps her to understand how to balance support for the local economy with protecting the environment. Smith also says that her six years working for John Duncan has given her valuable experience with a variety of issues related to fisheries, resource development and veterans. Smith attend NISS for a few years, lived on Gilford Island, and even attended school by float plane.

Brenda Sayers, financial administrator of Haahuupayak School, entrepreneur, activist, Green Party

Sayers has a business and accounting background and a lot of experience with the process of acquiring funding. One thing she is very proud of is a 10-year project that saw her get full funding for the Haahuupayak School. She is very involved in her First Nation community, and raised awareness about the implications of Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) on Hupacasath rights and those of all Canadians. “I believe in justice for our communities.”

Rachel Blaney, executive director of the Immigrant Welcome Centre, executive director of the Multicultural and Immigrant Services Association of North Vancouver Island, New Democratic Party

Blaney has lived in Campbell River for 17 years and feels connected to the area, and thinks that she has an understanding of the diverse issues going on. As the executive director of the Immigrant Welcome Centre, she has grown it seven-fold and enhanced services.

The health and protection of freshwater and ocean resources is an important issue for those living in coastal areas. If elected, how would you address this in the North Island-Powell River riding?

Schwarzhoff says that the approach to protecting environmental interests need to change. “We’ve lost trust in governments to protect our long-term interests,” he says. He feels his role as a government scientist has prepared him for this, and he wants to see more Environment Canada and DFO scientists, as well as an increased effort to protect our waters. He says he is not opposed to mining, he is opposed to water pollution. He feels that the trust the DFO once had has been lost. “A big part of my goal is to restore this.”

Smith says that she would want to see more emphasis on the environmental review process, something her background in resource management has prepared her for. Smith says that it makes her uncomfortable when politicians start to pick and choose projects before that review is done. She says it is important for the environmental review process to take place and be taken seriously, and that projects need to be said no to if after the review the risks don’t seem mitigated. “It’s all about having that review.”

Sayers says that two very important things for her would be to look at reinstating Bills C38 and C45 in order to enhance protection for water and fish. “I think those things are critical to reinstate and bring Canada back up to the standard we once were.” Sayers also says that she would like to remove the presence of tankers off the coast.

Blaney says that the Conservative government reducing the Coast Guard Service is not okay. “We need that service,” she says, in order to make sure people who live on the water are being protected. She says the rules about protecting waterways have decreased considerably under the Conservatives, and she wants to change that. “We are from the coast, we understand what is going on and we want to be heard.”

Diversification of the economy is important in our riding, especially in more rural towns that historically relied on a few natural resource-based economies. What will you do to promote diversification?

Schwarzhoff says that the Liberal Party’s child care benefit will put more money into the middle class. “If you give money to somebody in the middle class they will spend it locally or they will pay down some debt,” he explains. He also says his party will pay into infrastructure, invest in post-secondary and skills training, and support green energy. He also says that in the North Island wind and tidal energy development could be a great way to diversify. Schwarzhoff also thinks that if marijuana were legalized, there is huge potential to grow the crop, expand labour and explore other opportunities related to it on the North Island.

Blaney says that stimulating small businesses is crucial for diversification. She thinks that by lowering the federal tax from 11 per cent to nine per cent for small businesses, small businesses could be better supported. Blaney also thinks we need more innovation in our riding, and an increased focus on how we can do this.

Sayers has some very specific ideas about how the economy could be diversified with an environmentally friendly focus. She suggests retrofitting houses and businesses to make them more energy efficient, land-based fish farms (like Kuterra) as opposed to open-net, micro-hydro electricity and solar energy – all initiatives that could create jobs.

Smith says this is an issue she has thought a lot about. She says that the historic boom and bust cycles on Vancouver Island show the importance of having a diversified economy where there is not so much emphasis on a single employer. “Our approach is to create an environment in which businesses can thrive.” Smith also thinks that making it easier for international business to function in our country could be beneficial, and steps towards this include lowering taxes and red tape.

There are many First Nations in the North Island-Powell River riding. How will you incorporate more First Nations views into decisions made in the area, especially when it comes to development?

“A prosperous future requires that we collaborate with First Nations,” Schwarzhoff says. He thinks that the Indian Act needs to be left behind, as each nation is ready, and cites the spirit of reconciliation around the Kelowna Accord. He believes in consulting with each First Nation and finding out where they are, and moving at their pace.

Blaney says that the NDP is committed to reviewing the recommendations set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “We know that when we all do better, we all do better,” she says. Blaney also feels she has a personal connection as she grew up around First Nations and her husband is a former Chief and current council member of the Homalco First Nation. “It’s time for a change, for there to be more respect and to move forward in a positive way.”

“I think it’s really important to have an ongoing dialogue,” says Smith. She says that incorporating First Nations views is all about relationships and really listening. She says she is very encouraged by what some First Nations are doing in terms of building their own capacity, resource base and self-sufficiency.

Sayers says that her position as a First Nations woman and her experience in the court challenge against FIPA has shown her what happens when the government does not respect First Nations. She says that the courts