Climate change was a top concern for four of the five Kelowna-Lake Country candidates in attendance at a debate about the environment at UBC Okanagan Thursday night, while a sixth candidate was notably absent.
The debate, one of 100 similar debates held across the country, focused on environmental issues, and incumbent Liberal candidate Stephen Fuhr, Green Party candidate Travis Ashley, People's Party of Canada candidate John Barr, NDP candidate Justin Kulik and independent candidate Daniel Joseph were all in attendance.
Conservative Party candidate Tracy Gray was notably absent from the debate, as she was attending the 60th anniversary of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Okanagan, and Kulik in particular took several opportunities to crack jokes about the empty spot bearing Gray's name.
Topics ranged from climate change, protecting wilderness, strengthening Canada's environmental protection act, dealing with wildfires and salmon population declines.
In his response to solving the climate change crisis, Fuhr focused on the Liberal government's carbon tax, saying that putting a price on carbon is “the thing that underpins the entire effort.”
Ashley, Kulik and Joseph all agreed combating climate change is important, and Fuhr said the Liberals, Greens and NDP all generally agree on what they want the future to look like, but disagree on how they'll get there. He appeared to urge voters who want action on climate change to vote Liberal, rather than risk a minority government.
“When you have big divisive issues, and climate is a big, divisive issue, it shouldn't be but it is ... a minority government just isn't going to move the yardstick on that issue,” Fuhr said.
Kulik contended that Canada's universal health care was brought in during a minority government.
The PPC's Barr was the lone candidate in attendance who rejected the idea that human actions have impacted the planet's climate, and challenged those in attendance to debate him on the matter.
“There is no scientific consensus on the theory that CO2 produced by human activity is causing dangerous global warming, today or in the future,” Barr said, prompting boos from the crowd.
Debate moderator Rick Webber asked the crowd to be respectful of the candidates in attendance, adding “if you're going to boo somebody, maybe boo the people who aren't here.”
Kulik was the first to reject Barr's debate offer. In the lone instance of real vitriol at the event, one man told Kulik during the open question period, “you should be ashamed of yourself,” for refusing to debate the validity of human-caused climate change.
“Regardless of your beliefs, climate change is going to affect us all,” Kulik replied. “It doesn't matter if you believe it to be real or not. Regardless of your beliefs, climate change is a fact.”
“That boat sailed a while ago,” Fuhr added.
Green candidate Ashley took a different approach.
“If given the chance, I'd love to persuade you guys to understand that climate change is real. We can't just throw rotten fruit at each other and say you're wrong and you're wrong,” he said. “Let's put it at the table and talk about it like we're at a family reunion.”
The audience member who launched the attack at Kulik was apparently a local member of the PPC, as independent candidate Joseph, the former local president of the PPC, told the crowd he used to be the man's boss at the PPC.
“One of the main reasons why I left the party is because instead of the People's Party deciding to want to be an official opposition party, they decided to become a rhetoric machine,” Joseph said.
A similar debate was held in Peachland for candidates in the Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola riding, but only Green Party candidate Robert Mellalieu and NDP candidate Joan Phillip attended.