BY JENNIFER HOEGG
Kings County Advertiser/Register
The politicians played to a full house April 19.
All four of Kings-Hants’ federal election candidates participated in a forum at Acadia’s Festival Theatre, hosted by The Kings County Advertiser and Register, the Acadia Students’ Union and the Eastern Kings Chamber of Commerce.
Liberal incumbent Scott Brison, Conservative David Morse, New Democrat Mark Rogers and the Green Party’s Sheila Richardson participated. Editor Sara Keddy emceed the evening.
Few of the candidates managed to stay within the one- and two-minute intervals allowed for comments. A large section of the crowd began to clap over Brison, Rogers and Richardson when they went over time. During Brison’s closing remarks, a portion of the audience became increasingly loud and unruly, making it all but impossible to hear him.
Brison was first to give his two-minute opening statement. He spoke to Kings-Hants’ constituents struggling to make ends meet through debt, rising costs and who are also worried about education and healthcare.
Meeting Lori, a mother of two children with special needs in Enfield, during the campaign was a “defining moment,” he said. Liberal policies would offer support for home care and affordable drug care.
Instead of helping such families, Stephen Harper is “wasting your tax dollars on government advertising, the G20 boondoggle and tax breaks for the banks and big oil companies.”
This is the second time Richardson has shared the podium with Brison, and she said in her opening comments, “may the best person win.
“A smart economy is a green economy. It turns old industry blue collar jobs into new industry green collar jobs.”
She praised a smart economy that “ends waste” through “closed loop systems that are massively more efficient” featuring “real people building real things.”
In his opening comments, Morse said, “it’s an honour to serve and an honour to run.
“I’m doing this because I believe our Conservative government was on the right track, was doing a good job steering us through what we understand is the greatest recession we have had since the great Depression.”
Morse said the “unwanted election” shouldn’t be allowed to derail government’s economic plan and job creation, “including jobs here in Kings-Hants.”
Rogers thanked the audience for coming out and “not letting voter apathy elect the wrong government.”
Hoping for a “reasoned and constructive debate,” Rogers said, while he may be termed a “newbie” by some, he prefers “candidate without baggage.”
A lifelong Kings-Hants resident, Rogers said it is frustrating to see friends and children of friends leave for work out west, so he is running to “to promote different ideas.
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“Liberals and Conservatives in one form or another have been elected here in Kings-Hants alternately since Confederation. While some ideas have worked for the past few decades, development in Kings-Hants has been declining. That is not sustainable.”
Keddy asked all candidates whether their leader is a help or a hindrance to their campaigns.
Richardson praised “Nova Scotia-grown” Green Party leader Elizabeth May: “She stands up for true democracy... she is an excellent speaker and is inspiring.
“I do believe she takes the opportunity to put forward her own views and believes.”
Morse said “leadership is the defining question” of this election, and “the prime minister has matured in his role” and gained respect for the government’s record. Morse did not refer to his leader by name.
Rogers said Jack Layton “is leading by example.
“Jack is a strong leader. We only have to look to Ottawa to look at what he is done.”
Brison said Morse’s leader is certainly a help to his campaign, and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is “one of the least partisan leaders I have ever worked with.
“His first instinct is what is the best thing for Canada… and, once we determine that, we look at the politics.”
On behalf of the EKCC, Keddy asked about candidates’ support for further twinning of Highway 101.
Morse said infrastructure was “the centerpiece of the whole stimulus program and has... improved the economy’s performance over the last year.”
If elected, he hopes to “make sure we get the best deal with the federal government.”
Rogers, who travels the 101 twice a day, said the “twinning that has gone on under other governments is a huge benefit. As a commuter, I strongly will advocate for twinning of the highway, depending on priorities of provincial government.”
Brison recalled work he had done under previous Liberal governments to get 101 work done and said he “would commit to continue efforts.” Investment in transit services is also important, he added.
Richardson said she would support twinning, but lamented the demise of the province’s railways.
The Acadia Students’ Union’s Kyle Power lauded parties’ interest in postsecondary education, but asked about sustainable funding.
“Why is there not a dedicated and designated educational transfer to the provinces so we can hold the provinces and the federal government responsible?”
Rogers said transfer payments should come with accountability attached, and he supported “partitioning of the transfer payments” for education.
Brison mentioned the Liberals Canada Learning Passport and agreed a “dedicated transfer would protect universities and colleges from having money siphoned off.”
Richardson said “universal access to all qualified individuals is a basic right,” and the Green Party would try to eliminate barriers to postsecondary training.
Morse commented on the Liberal response to deficit reduction in the 1990s: “the way they balanced the budget was eviscerating the transfers to the province.”
He agreed funding is “essential to make sure provinces are in the position to support universities.”
Rogers urged the audience to, “between now and election day, coax, coerce, beg - but encourage - as many people as you can who may not vote to get out to vote, because our democracy needs this from you.
“It was Einstein who said, ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ This is possibly the most important election we have had.”
Morse said the choice May 2 is a “a decision about service to the people of Kings-Hants.”
He urged the audience “to elect a representative to be at the government table… somebody who knows how to get things done, somebody with 10 years’ proven performance in government.”
Richardson says “minority governments are likely to be the norm” and Canadians “need a situation where people can vote for what they want and be represented in House of Commons.
“Holding your nose and voting for the least evil doesn’t work for me.”
Brison said, “Stephen Harper is attacking the democracy that keeps us free,” mentioning the government’s defunding of Kairos and the dismissal of nuclear agency safety official Linda Keene, the veterans’ ombudsmen, the head of Statistics Canada and struggles with Elections Canada.
When Brison said, “the last thing Canada needs is another trained seal in the back row of the House of Commons applauding every time (Harper) makes a motion,” a large portion of the audience heckled and booed, while others called out “let him speak.” Most of Brison’s closing statement was inaudible.
Click here for video of the forum.
For candidates’ responses to question from the audience see page 2.