By Kevin Nimmock

Pioneer Staff

Kootenay-Columbia NDP candidate Wayne Stetski sent out a challenge to the ridings other candidates on July 3rd, announcing his intention to make debates across the riding a priority.

Stetski challenged the candidates to join him in forming a debate committee, composed of a representative from every candidates team. According to Mr. Stetski, the end goal of the committee would be to ensure all the candidates are available to attend eight debates.

We are all asking the people of this area to choose us to be their representative, he said. This is a job interview, so we all have to show up.

According to Mr. Stetski, debates with all the candidates must occur in Revelstoke, Golden, Invermere, Kimberley, Cranbrook, Fernie, Creston and Nelson. In 2011, Conservative MP David Wilks did not attend four of the seven debates, including the debate in Invermere.

David Wilks must commit to be at an all-issues debate in every major community, Mr. Stetski said. Claiming that you have another event booked cannot be an excuse for not showing up.

In response, Mr. Wilks said he and his campaign team are in no rush to form a debate committee with the other parties.

Right now, I am focusing on travelling around the riding and doing my duties as a member of parliament, Mr. Wilks said. With regards to the NDP candidate, rather than worrying about debates, what he should be doing is explaining to constituents how the NDP plans on paying for all the things they are saying they are going to be providing to Canadians.

Wilks suggested he will focus on debates after the writ is dropped, which will happen between late-August and early-September. In response to concerns from Mr. Stetski about his attendance record at the debates in 2011, Mr. Wilks said the campaign results speak for themselves.

Through the campaign strategy that we used in 2011, I was elected by the constituents of Kootenay-Columbia with 57.9 per cent of the vote, so that will tell me that I was successful in becoming the MP, and that I have continued to do a good job over the last four years, Mr. Wilks said.

Of the current candidates, the only one who also ran in 2011 is Bill Green of the Green Party. Mr. Green attended six debates, missing only the one in Invermere.

I think that all-candidates forums are just about the best opportunity for interested voters to meet the candidates, learn about the party policies and ask questions, Mr. Green said.

Mr. Green accepted Mr. Stetskis proposal, further challenging his fellow candidates to do 11 debates across the riding.

Part of that speaks to the new part of our riding, which is the Kaslo, Nelson and Salmo area, so I think we need to make some efforts very quickly, Mr. Green said, adding that debates should be held in Kaslo, Salmo and in either Gray Creek or Crawford Bay.

Though the emphasis in Mr. Stetskis challenge is on the candidates working together through appointed representatives, Mr. Green said it is most important that the committee is in tune with the local groups that organize debates throughout the riding.

It is not the candidates that schedule these things ultimately, it is local hosting groups, so we need to work closely with them, Mr. Green said. They need to work out the timing and the agendas that work best with their communities.

Don Johnston, the Liberal Party candidate, also readily accepted Stetskis challenge. Mr. Johnston said he is in favour of anything that improves access to candidates for community members across the vast riding, which is one of the largest in Canada.

The reality as a candidate is that you quickly find out that you spend a lot of time on the road and not nearly as much time talking to people as you would like to,

Mr. Johnston said.

Faced with the decision of debating in either eight towns or 11 towns, Mr. Johnston said he is more focused on access than the exact number of debates.

Nobody should have to drive more than 50 or 60 kilometres to access the political process, Mr. Johnston said.

While a lot of information about the candidates can be found online through personal and party websites, Mr. Johnston said nothing beats the experience of attending a debate.

The internet has changed a lot and it is a wonderful tool, but it is not the same as being in the room, listening to the person speak, and seeing how they interact with the other candidates and with the audience, Mr. Johnston said.

As of July 13th, both Mr. Johnston and Mr. Green had appointed representatives to the committee, but Mr. Wilks said he would wait until July 17th, the deadline Stetski set in his challenge, to make a final decision. Mr. Stetski said having all the candidates participate in the committee will show the public that they are worthwhile candidates.

People get quite discouraged at times with what happens in parliament and legislature, when parties struggle to work together, Mr. Stetski said. I think having all four of us parties work together to attend these debates shows that we can work together when it is public interest that is first and foremost.

Read the Invermere Valley Echo for regular federal election coverage including in-depth interviews with the Kootenay Columbia candidates leading up to the 42nd Canadian federal election on October 19th.