Local candidates for federal office in the Oct. 19 election may have been caught by surprise last when Prime Minister Stephen Harper dissolved parliament to kick off the campaign ahead of schedule.
That doesn’t mean they were caught unprepared.
“I’ve been knocking on doors since January,” Liberal Party candidate Peter Schwarzhoff said. “And my phone has started ringing with calls from people who had already volunteered to work with the campaign. It just means we can start doing phone calls now.”
Campbell River and other North Island residents will have a new MP in the next sitting of parliament, even though Conservative MP John Duncan will be running for re-election.
A re-drawing of riding boundaries has split the Comox Valley, leaving one riding for Vancouver Island North-Powell River and another for Courtenay-Alberni, where Duncan will run this year.
In his place, former Duncan staffer Laura Smith steps in as the Conservative Party candidate for the North Island-Powell River. She will be up against Schwarzhoff, NDP candidate Rachel Blaney and Green Party candidate Brenda Sayers.
Like Schwarzhoff, NDP candidate Blaney has been out in the community for months, knocking on doors and meeting residents, and said her campaign is ready to roll.
“We have a huge amount of volunteers who have signed up and have been banging on the door, waiting to get going,” she said. “I’m excited to start. We’re prepared.”
Blaney has lived and worked on Vancouver Island for more than 20 years and is currently executive director of the Immigrant Welcome Centre. Her background includes work on the Conference Board of Canada’s Leadership Roundtable on Immigration and on the Campbell River Social Planning Committee.
Blaney worked as an employment officer for the Homalco First Nation and is married to a former Homalco chief and councillor.
“The core reason I’m running is because I absolutely love this riding and love Canada,” said Blaney. “What motivates me to run for the NDP specifically is their policy is the most meaningful for Canada, looking out for people and making sure nobody gets left behind. I want live in a country where we have a good economy, look after the environment and where people don’t get left behind.”
Sayers, the Green Party candidate, is hoping the extra time in the coming campaign will help the Greens spread the message that they’re much more than a one-issue party, and have the platform to prove it.
“I would be honoured to serve the people of the North Island-Powell River riding,” said Sayers, a member of and former councillor for the Hupacasath First Nation. “One of the reasons I stepped forward is the Green Party allows me to speak and vote on behalf of my constituency in parliament. I want to serve the people and do as they direct me to do, whatever their concerns.”
Sayers, a financial administrator for the independent Haahuupayak School, has experience dealing with goverment at the national level.
She successfully fought to achieve full funding for the Haahuupayak School, which teaches Nuu-chah-nulth language and culture to indigenous children.
And, as councillor, she held the portfolio for the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA), and lobbied vigorously to stop a pact she says would violate the rights of the Hupacasath and of all Canadians.
“The federal government ratified it in September 2014, then the federal court dismissed it in January,” Sayers said. “When that wound down, I was looking for other ways to serve the people and fight for the rights of the Canadian people.”
Schwarzhoff also had direct experience with the government, and it is a large part of his motivation for running for the Liberal Party. A retired Air Force officer, Schwarzhoff spent 30 years with Environment Canada and was working on air quality and climate change issues when the Harper government issued its so-called “gag order” calling on scientists to cease speaking publicly on certain findings.
“That was awkward, because I thought communicating with the press and the public was an important part of what I was doing,” he said. “Every scientist I’ve ever met is dedicated to the science, not to policy and political leaders in Ottawa.”
He said some of the first orders of business for a Liberal goverment would be to establish transparency in scientific research and all other aspects of public policy, a more collaborative approach to both foreign policy and negotiations with First Nations, and a reversal of policies that have seen removal of protections of waterways and have hampered the work of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
Smith, meanwhile, believes the Harper government is precisely what Canada needs and is bidding to continue the Conservatives’ representation for the North Island in Ottawa, where she worked as an advisor to Duncan.
“What we bring to the table is strong leadership and a common-sense approach to issues that matter,” said Smith. “You look at the economy, at national security, those kinds of things are big issues. We need strong leadership at a time like this. Elections are not a popularity contest.”
Smith spent 14 years in forest stewardship after getting her biology degree from the University of Victoria, and continues to work as a civilian search and rescue volunteer. She has lived in several Vancouver Island communities, from logging camps to cities, which she feels gives her a perspective on the unique benefits and challenges of living on the coast.
“I’ve had a lifelong interest in politics, but also a strong interest in smaller communities and resource-based communities and how decisions made far away affect us,” she said.