The Merritt and District Chamber of Commerce hosted an all-candidates forum on April 24 at the Culture Club for the Fraser Nicola MLA candidates.

About 50 people attended and heard from candidates Michael Beauclair, Conservative; John Kidder, Green Party; incumbent Harry Lali, NDP; and Jackie Tegart, Liberal, make opening and closing statements and answer a variety of questions from the audience.

Topics ranged from the whether candidates supported the proposed pipeline projects to what improvements can be done for rural health care to what can be done about semi-trailer trucks on Highway 5A.

Etelka Gillespie, chamber of commerce office manager, said the event went well and was a great opportunity for constituents to hear from the candidates.

“It was tough to nail down a date because of trying to get all the candidates together,” she said. “The date we did go with worked because we knew all the candidates were in town for the radio forum. A couple of the candidates, especially the ones travelling from Ashcroft, thought it was a good idea to stay in town to continue campaigning in Merritt and finish off with a forum that evening.”

Gillespie said they received lots of great questions from the audience. She also noted that the Culture Club turned out to be an excellent venue.

“It was our first time doing it there and it worked out great,” she said. “A lot of people who were there had never been to the Culture Club before and were impressed that Merritt has a place like that.”

Beauclair, the Conservative candidate, enjoyed the process and was glad to take part.

“I think it went pretty well,” he said. “There were some pretty tough questions but I did my best to answer them. If I didn’t know enough, I cut it short. People have concerns in Fraser Nicola about health care, education, the environment, packaging ­- that was one that came out of the blue.”

Beuclair said the BC Conservatives have come out in favour of both proposed pipeline projects: Kinder Morgan and Enbridge.

“We know people are concerned about the environment and the economy,” he said. “We are pro-pipeline. We think the advantages of the pipeline outweight the environmental risks. That means that industry will have to pay the piper if something does happen. They’ll be held accountable.”

The question about packaging came from long-time Merritt resident Andrea Rogers, who is concerned about excess packaging in store items. She told the Herald that she has long been an advocate of the environment and is a strong supporter of the Green Party.

“Back in 1956, they would do mosquito fogging and the trucks would come down the street in front and then go around and do the back street,” she recalled. “I would run out to the front street and stop the truck and tell them, ‘Don’t spray here. I don’t want spray in my yard.’ I would hear them turn at the church and come up the back alley. I stopped them again and said, ‘We don’t want that here. Even then I was an ecological activist I guess.”

Rogers agrees with Green candidate Kidder, who advocates removing packaging at the store and leaving it behind. Overall, she was impressed with the candidates, although she’s sticking with the Greens.

“I thought the forum was really good,” she said. “They all spoke up well and were all really well prepared. I thought it clarified a lot of what they thought about things.”

Kidder was also impressed with the forum and enjoyed butting heads with the other candidates.

“I love these things,” he said. “They’re really fun to do. You get to hear different opinions from all the candidates. The problem I have with all-candidates meetings is that the audience tends to already be committed, so it doesn’t reach out really well to the people who are looking for information. It reaches out to those people who already support the individual candidate. I think that’s a problem – you need a lot more people engaged. That said, there was a lot of good questions from people and lots of good answers.”

Kidder said that the important issues in this election will be determined by the Liberals and the NDP because, “they’ve got the money, they’ve got the platforms, they’ve got the stuff. They’re tending to define it as ‘we’re the good guys and the other guys are bad.'”