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Yukon candidates talk addictions, electoral reform, and sing at final forum

Yukon's 5 federal candidates met Wednesday evening for CBC Yukon's elections forum. It was the last gathering of all the candidates before Monday's election.

5 federal candidates met Wednesday evening for CBC Yukon's election forum

Yukon's federal candidates at CBC Yukon's election forum on Wednesday evening in Whitehorse: Jonas Smith (Conservative), Lenore Morris (Green), Larry Bagnell (Liberal), Justin Lemphers (NDP), Joseph Zelezny (PPC). (Abby Schneider/CBC)

The opening statements were typical enough, at first.

Liberal Larry Bagnell touted his record of helping constituents and building relationships in Ottawa. The NDP's Justin Lemphers talked about making life more affordable for Canadians. Green candidate Lenore Morris spoke of protecting the Earth's finite resources, and Joseph Zelezny of the People's Party called the other parties "four flavours of the same thing."

Then, Conservative candidate Jonas Smith decided it was time to sing.

"I've actually lost count of how many of these forums we've done over the last month, but we have yet to celebrate the country that all Canadians are part of building, and living in," Smith said.

"So I would actually ask all of you to join me, and rise in observing the national anthem."

And everybody stood, and sang through Smith's allotted 90 seconds.

Smith used his allotted time for an opening statement to lead the room in singing the national anthem. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

It was an odd start to what would be the final all-candidates forum in Yukon before election day. CBC Yukon hosted the event in Whitehorse, and questions for the candidates came from the audience on hand, and people watching the discussion online.

They touched on issues ranging from taxes and deficits, to electoral reform, to the drug crisis, to reconciliation and the use of the word "genocide." 

'They made a promise'

Each participant was given time to respond to each question, but there was no back-and-forth debate between them. Nevertheless, one candidate was more often on the defensive than the others — the incumbent Bagnell, who is seeking a sixth term as MP.

Although, Bagnell's party and leader were more often criticized than Bagnell himself. 

One audience member asked about electoral reform, and asked why he should trust the Liberals "this time" — a reference to the party's broken campaign promise from 2015 to drop the first-past-the-post system.

"We should never have said categorically that ... it's not going be first-past-the-post," Bagnell replied.

"We should have said something like, 'We'd study the systems, and whatever and whatever.' So I've apologized a number of times for that."

Morris shot back, saying the promise wasn't the problem.

"The problem is that they should have delivered something. They made a promise, and they should have kept the promise ... I feel very betrayed as a Canadian," she said.

Lemphers and Zelezny both favoured some sort of reform, while Smith spoke in favour of the status quo.

"I think it is no coincidence that the parties that most actively and vocally advocate for changing the systems are the parties that continuously are unable to attract a plurality of Canadians to support their platform," Smith said. 

Drugs and addictions

One audience member singled out Smith for a question about the drug crisis, and his party's record when it comes to safe injection sites and other harm-reduction programs.

"I do not support public money going to buy drugs, or buying alcohol. I do not support wet shelters, I do not support safe injection sites," Smith responded.

"I think we need to help people get better. And so part of the way to do that, is to make sure the police have the tools they need to stop people from selling the poison on our streets."

That comment drew groans from some in the audience.

"You can disagree all you want, but that is my position," Smith said.

Questions from the audience touched on issues such as drugs and addictions and electoral reform. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Lemphers countered that it's a question of addiction, and supporting people who are suffering.

"We need to invest in people being able to get the supports within their communities ... I believe that it's time to take the stigma out of drug addiction," he said, to applause.

Bagnell also drew applause as he spoke in favour of harm reduction.

"Addictions is not a criminal matter, drugs is not a criminal matter, it's a health matter ... that's how we should treat it."

The word 'genocide'

Another question touched on the final report from the national Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and its use of the word "genocide." Candidates were asked whether that was the right word.

Morris and Lemphers said it was. Smith suggested that arguing over words was a distraction, and Bagnell's answer focused on the Liberals' record on Indigenous issues. 

"We called the inquiry, after many years of people asking, and supported all the calls to justice," Bagnell said.

Zelezny, meanwhile, said he "didn't know the full story."

"I don't know if that's the right word, I'm not the expert. I know there's been a lot of drama and politicization of things," he said.

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