Interim Conservative Party leader Candice Bergen had strong words for Vladimir Putin, words of encouragement for small businesses and ideas for solving inflation and the housing crisis at a Vernon townhall on Monday.
Bergen, the Official Opposition leader and MP for Portage-Lisgar in Manitoba, spoke at a virtual forum hosted by the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce Feb. 28. Though she left halfway through to attend to an urgent matter, North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold was on hand to answer questions for the final 30 minutes.
Bergen said there has “not been a dull moment” since she assumed the role of interim party leader on Feb. 2, between the trucker convoy in Ottawa and the subsequent use of the Emergencies Act, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Bergen was direct in criticizing Russian president Putin, calling him “a brutal, barbaric, I would say probably very mentally unstable individual who is very dangerous.”
She spoke highly of the Liberal government’s use of sanctions to deter Russian aggression, but said that further steps should be taken, such as expelling the Russian ambassador and recalling Canada’s ambassador in Russia.
“We also would like to have the ability for Ukrainians to come to Canada visa-free so they can come find sanctuary. We don’t think that Ukrainians want to be permanent refugees, they want to live in their own peaceful and sovereign nation. But we believe Canada can be a place of safe haven and refuge for them in the short time being,” she said.
Bergen noted that Russia Today, a Russian TV network that she called “propaganda for Putin,” is broadcast in Canada, and her party would like to see it removed from Canadian airwaves.
The crisis in Ukraine also highlights the issue of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty and the need to secure Canada’s northern territory, said Bergen.
“We share a very large border with Russia. And if we think that somehow we are immune to his aggression, I think it would be very naive,” she said.
The Ukraine situation was also a jumping-off point for Bergen to criticize the federal government’s policy on Canada’s oil and gas industry. Since Russia is a major supplier of oil and gas to Europe and is holding that leverage over Europe’s head, Bergen said Canada needs to export its oil and gas as an alternative to the oil and gas controlled by the Russian regime.
“When the current government says they want to shut down Canada’s oil and gas sector, all in the name of let’s say the environment, while at the same time allowing and seeing countries like Russia sell oil and gas to Europe, the only country that’s being helped by that kind of policy is Russia,” she said.
On the COVID-19 pandemic, Bergen said she’s been glad to see many provinces lifting restrictions and mandates in recent weeks.
“Conservatives believe that this shouldn’t be a long drawn-out process. We should follow the recommendations of our health officials, we should follow the science and evidence, and as soon as we can lift restrictions and mandates, the better,” she said.
Bergen said inflation in Canada was her party’s top priority back in December and it remains a strong priority now. She said the government needs to “stop printing money, stop the excessive spending,” and support sectors that are struggling to get workers to return to work.
In light of the fact that the average cost of a home in Canada is now more than $700,000 chamber president and townhall moderator Dan Proulx asked Bergen how Conservatives would make housing more affordable. Bergen said the solution is “probably two or three-pronged,” and has to do with expanding the housing supply.
“Municipalities have got to be able to allow developers to build houses so we have more houses on the market,” she said. “That will have an impact immediately on the value. I’ve seen it happen in my own riding.”
In the back half of the townhall, Arnold answered questions concerning small business support, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ottawa convoy and issues in the fisheries sector.
On helping businesses survive and prosper, Arnold said one important step is to get rid of the red tape that’s in their way. Businesses need better access to capital when looking to expand, and better access to the labour market, Arnold said.
He said immigration could be an answer to some of the difficulties businesses are currently facing.
“There’s been long lineups and backups within the immigration system and we need to find ways to jump over those hurdles, get people into the country and get them to work at good paying and taxpaying jobs,” he said.
Arnold is a member of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, a portfolio he’s held since January 2016. Asked what might be the biggest issue to be addressed in the fisheries sector, Arnold’s one-word answer was “sustainability.”
“By that I mean the fish populations and the fishing communities out there, the harvesters, the processors. We see continuous decline on the west coast of our salmon stocks, and along with that the decline in the number of boats that are able to fish, the number of plants that are able to process fish,” he said.
Arnold said one priority would be to limit the amount of accidental harvesting of endangered fish, and focusing the harvest on the healthier fish populations.