Conservative candidate John Martin (left) and NDP Gwen O'Mahoney listen as Liberal Laurie Throness answers a question during an all-candidates meeting at the Best Western yesterday.

Differences clear at all-candidates meeting

Rotary is all about fellowship, but the differences between byelection candidates were drawn out by Chilliwack Rotarians Wednesday.

The Rotary Club is all about fellowship, but the differences between byelection candidates were quickly drawn out by questions posed by Chilliwack Fraser Rotarians Wednesday.

Asked about splitting the conservative vote, BC Conservative candidate John Martin said his party is “earning the vote” rather than splitting it.

He said the BC Liberals “squandered” their once commanding lead in the province by its own policy decisions, driving out party members until “there’s not a safe seat left in the

province.”

“We’re giving those people a home,” he said.

But BC Liberal candidate Laurie Throness said his party is the coalition of conservatives that has “kept the NDP out of power” all these years, and provided a government based on free-enterprise principles.

Throness “appealed to other small-c conservatives” like himself, he said, “to keep that coalition strong.”

NDP candidate Gwen O’Mahony said she is “sick and tired” of hearing the two conservative parties “fear-mongering” while the real issue of the byelection is simply selecting an MLA “who will work for you.”

If voters don’t like what she does as the MLA, she said, they can always vote her out in one year’s time in the next provincial election in May, 2013.

Asked about the teachers’ dispute, Throness described a BC Liberal government that had “held the line” and refused wage demands made by 130 public sector unions in an effort to balance the provincial budget.

There is an “urgent need” to prepare B.C. for the impact of the U.S. debt that has now hit $15 trillion, he warned.

But Martin described the BC Liberal government actions as more child-like.

He said teachers have not always been reasonable, but the government has “the responsibility to be the adult in this relationship and that hasn’t happened.”

He said the government’s track record of “literally tearing up contracts” is “absolutely inexcusable.”

O’Mahony was asked how the “union-friendly” NDP government would pay for wage increases it would presumably approve. She said the party had in fact supported a mediator in the teachers’ dispute, and would leave contract negotiations at the bargaining table.

Throness defended the carbon tax while Martin said a BC Conservative government would scrap it.

O’Mahony said an NDP government would keep the tax, but use it to fund municipal transit.

Throness said if the revenue-neutral tax is scrapped, the government would have to raise taxes in other areas, or make spending cuts, or borrow funds.

“The carbon tax is meant to change behaviour, and that’s all,” he said.

But Martin said “nobody is driving less because of the carbon tax.”

“It’s a particularly punitive tax, especially to rural residents,” he said, because they have no other means of transportation.

“It just doesn’t add up at the end of the day,” he said. “The carbon tax is gone.”

rfreeman@theprogress.com

twitter.com/paperboy2