If they came itching to talk about freighters in Stuart Channel, homelessness, the high cost of housing, electoral reform, the state of the economy, climate change, health care and a whole bunch of other issues, the 70 plus people participating in the Chemainus Residents Association’s Sept. 16 all-candidates meeting at Waterwheel Park got short-shrift.
Many of the questions the federal hopefuls might have prepared for in their briefing notes got passing notice at best or weren’t raised at all. What the people at the microphone wanted to comment on and know about most were the risks associated with COVID-19 vaccine passport programs, like the one that went into effect in B.C. just a few days before, and the threat to personal freedoms by what was portrayed as enforced vaccinations.
In most people’s estimation, the candidates, whose opening remarks were given in random order, passed or failed based on their responses to those two issues. Alana DeLong, Conservative Party of Canada; Alistair MacGregor, New Democratic Party; Blair Herbert, Liberal Party of Canada; Lia Versaevel, Green Party of Canada; and Mark Hecht, People’s Party of Canada explained repeatedly their parties’ stands on the COVID spectrum between personal freedom and public good.
“These measures are temporary. We are now at the twelfth variant of this disease,” Versaevel responded. “This is terrifying. This disease is coming to get us, if we are not very careful. We need to understand that this is a dangerous time for people who cannot be vaccinated.”
She said the main role of the federal government is to ensure consistency across provinces and territories “to provide short-term measures to ensure that we are all safe.”
“Canadians have the right to make their own health choices,” DeLong said. “In terms of keeping everyone else safe, yes, vaccines are important, but there are other things that can be done.”
She pointed to measures like antibody testing and rapid testing ‘which is still not as widespread as it should be’ to prevent transmission of the COVID virus. “So there are other ways we can stay safe without being heavy-handed.”
“We’ve been very clear in terms of our policy on vaccine passports,” Hecht said. “We see freedom in Canada as number one, violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is absolutely unacceptable, and we would repeal any sorts of mandatory vaccines or vaccine passports, full stop.”
MacGregor offered a ‘somewhat technical’ answer. “I find that when people are talking about the Charter, they tend to skip over Section 1,” he said. “Section 1 establishes very clearly that there can be reasonable limits and that rights in the Charter are not absolute.
“I regret that this issue has been politicized as much as it has, but again, I have to emphasize that we need to get as many people vaccinated as possible so we can get through this pandemic.”
Herbert pointed out that there are ‘lots of restrictions’ on our rights and liberties necessary for a functioning society. “We drive on the right hand side of the road,” he said, “and that’s a requirement.”
He compared the opposition to vaccination programs to the introduction of seat-belt laws in the ’70s. “I remember all the hooah about ‘this is an infringement on my rights,’” he recalled. “And here we are in 2021 and… everyone gets into the car, and the first thing they do is click on the seatbelt.”
Other topics that did make it to the forum floor were: affordable daycare, old growth logging, policing and services for Canadians with disabilities.
The Chemainus Residents Association videoed the candidates’ responses to questions and will be airing selections of that footage between now and the federal election on Monday, Sept. 20. Go the the federal election 2021 link at CVCAS.ca for more all-candidates meeting coverage.