By Lyonel Doherty
There were a couple of groans, but nobody was booed or catcalled at last week’s all-candidates forum at Frank Venables Theatre.
But one question from the audience about “marijuana prisoners” threw the candidates for a loop.
“Will you step forward and get marijuana prisoners released?”
Conservative candidate Helena Konanz said she wouldn’t.
“First of all, how many marijuana prisoners are there? And also, how many of them maybe did something else that they are in prison for?”
She noted that the Conservative government will not repeal any of the new marijuana policies.
“As an elected official I can tell you it’s been hell for the last few years with the fast rollout of the policies and municipalities not knowing what to do and the RCMP not knowing what to do.”
Sean Taylor from the People’s Party of Canada asked if marijuana prisoners were a “thing,” which prompted laughter from the audience.
He stated that prohibition is wrong and doesn’t work.
“I don’t look at the government’s job to legislate morality on people. Marijuana is legal now.”
Incumbent MP Richard Cannings said the question is probably referring to people who have a criminal record for simple possession in the past. He noted that people with such a record have a difficult time getting jobs or crossing the border or volunteering.
“We need to not just give them a pardon, we need to expunge their record.”
Liberal candidate Connie Denesiuk agreed that expunging those records would be appropriate.
She added that cannabis stores are starting to open throughout the riding and people will start to see a gradual reduction in the illegal market.
Green Party candidate Tara Howse also agreed with expunging people’s records.
The next question asked candidates if they thought “skyrocketing” crime in the region justified the need for people to carry handguns to protect their families.
Sean Taylor from the People’s Party of Canada said piling more legislation and putting the burden on law abiding citizens who like to shoot recreationally isn’t the answer.
He stated the People’s Party promises to abolish C-71 and draft up new firearms legislation to promote responsible gun ownership.
“The focus has to be on gun crime, not on law-abiding citizens who like to hunt or shoot recreationally.”
Cannings said C-71 is a reasonable act that primarily deals with gun sales and record checks to make sure people don’t have a history of mental illness or family violence.
Denesiuk said many hunters, including those in her family, don’t have a problem with the bill that is intended to keep Canadians safer.
“We do not want to turn into the United States.”
Howse said Canadians don’t need guns to protect their families, pointing to what happens in America. She added we only need strict regulations and proper background checks.
Konanz said the mistake is when people start to equate criminals with law-abiding firearm owners.
“Firearm owners are some of the most law-abiding citizens in Canada because they have their licences.”
She stated the Conservatives will create stronger background checks but will not punish law-abiding citizens.
The last question was: Would you fight for a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin?
Howse scoffed, saying this is ridiculous, noting there are so many scandals, this is just one of them.
“It isn’t just them, it is all of our corporations having too much influence at the attorney general level and at the prime minister’s office.”
She said we need to start moving those powers, making sure the parliamentary offices are independent from government so that objective decisions can be made.
Konanz said the issue is not about deferred prosecution agreements but unethical actions by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who kicked out two “very good women” from his cabinet.
Taylor said he wouldn’t support any such agreement, noting his party’s stance is ending all corporate welfare.
“If you don’t have what it takes to make it in the free market, you don’t get to participate in the free market.”
Cannings said Trudeau basically got rid of former attorney general Jody Wilson Raybould because she stood up for her principles. And he did the same to another respected female minister who stood up for Raybould.
“A simple ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong’ would have ended this whole thing on the first day.”
Denesiuk said the attorney general said, in her own words, that no laws were broken and that no agreement was actually offered. She noted this incident has been “catnip” for the Conservatives and the NDP because they lack a vision of their own.