Four years ago, the Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon riding saw one of the tightest battles in Canada, with Liberal Jati Sidhu narrowly edging Conservative Brad Vis.
Sidhu and Fast are each back in 2019, along with four other would-be MPs. But if there’s significant tension in the contest, it didn’t show at Thursday’s all-candidates meeting. The riding includes the large swath of Abbotsford north of Maclure, Upper Maclure and Bateman roads, but turnout was relatively sparse with less than half of Matsqui Centennial Auditorium’s seats occupied. (Elaine Wismer, the Marxist-Leninist candidate in the riding, was not present.)
And aside from an exchange between NDP candidate Michael Nenn and cross-town Conservative candidate Ed Fast, who was watching from the crowd, Thursday’s meeting saw the five men largely focus on talking about their platforms and individual experiences. There were none of the fiery clashes that were apparent in Tuesday’s meeting for the Abbotsford riding, which saw Fast attack the Liberals and Seamus Heffernan fiercely defend his party’s record in office. Indeed, while the SNC-Lavalin affair was a flashpoint in that meeting, the scandal was only mentioned in passing once – by People’s Party of Canada candidate Julius (Nick) Csaszar in his closing statement.
On immigration, the Green Party’s John Kidder said his party stands for increased immigration and that temporary foreign workers deserve to be allowed to apply for citizenship. Michael Nenn of the NDP said the country needs a “compassionate, fair immigration system,” and that his party wants to improve credential recognition and family reunification. Csaszar said Canada needs fewer newcomers because it drives up the price of housing, and that a greater share of those who do come should be economic immigrants. But Liberal Jati Sidhu said Canada still needs more people, pointing to northern Canada. Brad Vis, of the Conservatives, meanwhile said his party supports family reunification, but that confidence in the country’s immigration system has declined under the Liberals and needs to be bolstered.
The Trans Mountain Pipeline was mentioned several times, with Nenn and Kidder stating their opposition to the project. Kidder said the fact that the private sector abandoned the project suggested that buying the pipeline doesn’t make business sense. But Sidhu said the pipeline will make the country money and that the proceeds will be spent on renewable energy. Vis said his party supports the project and eliminating the carbon tax would bring down the gas tax. Csaszar took that position a step forward, saying the PPC wants to “build pipelines everywhere.”
The candidates became notably engaged during a question about the gang problem in the Fraser Valley.
Vis, to whom the audience question was directed, says organizations like Archway Community Services need more resources. He also touted his party’s promise to help Crown prosecutors determine if a suspect is in a gang.
Kidder, though, says that punishment is only one tool. He said financial incentives drive many to the lifestyle and that can be addressed by legalizing drugs. Sidhu touted his past service on the Police Board and cited anti-gang programs the Liberals have funded. Csaszar said tougher laws are need for those caught with loaded illegal guns. Nenn, meanwhile, said addressing social issues and investments in education can stop youth from becoming involved in gangs.
Asked about infrastructure funding, Nenn said new taxes on the rich and corporations would pay for projects including the needed sewer pipeline between Mission and Abbotsford. Sidhu, who has been criticized by the Conservatives for his handling of the matter, said the federal government had provided an initial sum of funding for the sewer pipeline, but that rising costs mean the district must apply for more money.
Vis followed and focused on Highway 1, vowing that its expansion would be among the Conservatives’ infrastructure priorities. Sidhu then jumped back into the conversation to promise that “the day the B.C. government is ready to put their fair share – 33 per cent – in, within a month we’ll come with 50 per cent to make it six lanes all the way to Whatcom.”
The candidates closed with emotional appeals to the audience.
Vis asked for the trust of voters, while Sidhu said being an MP had been the highlight of his life and he hoped to continue. Nenn told voters to consider whether the Liberals and Conservative had delivered over the past, while Csaszar said people are “struggling” and his party would bring change. Kidder, meanwhile, asked voters to think of the future of today’s young people when they cast their ballot.