The Nelson Weekly Great MP debate featured challenges, heckles and policy. Photo: Jonty Dine

Weekly debate heats up candidate election race


On Sunday the Nelson Weekly hosted a local MP candidate debate in a pub. Editor Charles Anderson and Jonty Dine review the evening and what it might
mean for the general election.

The Weekly hosting a debate in a pub has become a signature of our organisation.

The format allows candidates to respond to one another, it allows the audience to interact with them and it has the opportunity to put those vying to represent Nelson on the spot.

Sometimes those candidates will thrive, sometimes they won’t.

Last weekend early voting opened for the general election that will occur on October 17.

To make it manageable and understandable, and to avoid 10 people on stage trying to meaningfully answer a question, we limited our event to the four main candidates whose parties are currently in Parliament.

Yes, it is a snapshot and means other in minor parties miss out, but our debate was just one of many events over the last few months.

We wanted to challenge those that we invited – Nick Smith, Rachel Boyack, Chris Baillie and Aaron Stallard on their political and personal views, so that the audience might get a better idea about what they are voting for.

Nick urged voters to trust his 30 years in Parliament – that he knows how the systems worked and how to get things done for Nelsonians.

He said that family, science-based decision making and community, were all his priorities, eliciting the first applause of the evening.

Rachel urged voters to trust in the leadership of Jacinda Ardern and her ability to navigate the country through turbulent times.

She also said that housing would be her top priority should she be elected as well as ensuring a new hospital for Nelson and a strong focus on mental health and climate change.

Aaron wanted transformational thinking in how to respond to the threat of climate change.

Chris wanted the Government to treat businesses better.

The opening question was in relation to Nelson’s traffic issues and NZTA’s varied proposals to solve the city’s transport problems.

Nick said building an inland route, formerly known as the Southern Link, was a necessity with plans for the $125 million highway being axed by Labour’s government.

His reply sparked the first interjection from both the crowd and fellow candidates challenging his inability to complete the project while in power.

Rachel said the route should not be built in order to maintain the air quality of Victory.

Aaron soon drew cheers from the crowd as he denounced the proposal to develop housing in the Maitai.

Nick and Rachel soon engaged in a heated exchange over state housing. “Labour has no [credibility] left on housing,” Nick said.

“It’s not just about supply, it’s about good supply,” Rachel replied.

On the topic of Covid-19, Chris wondered how the country would get out of a forecasted $100 billion debt hole.

Nick commended the Government on its strong response in the aftermath of the virus’ outbreak, but said the treatment of the second outbreak was sloppy and asked everyone coming to New Zealand must be tested for Covid-19.

Rachel said she was incredibly proud of the Government’s response to the pandemic.

“It is critical we get it right at the border, every New Zealander deserves to come home.”

Challenged on a letter he wrote to the Weekly in which he lamented climate change “hysteria,” Chris fumbled on his answer as he attempted to stand by his point of view.

“Climate change is real and anyone who does not accept that is on the fringe,” Nick replied.

When asked who has smoked cannabis, all candidates raised their hands except Nick Smith.

Chris did not give his support to the legalisation referendum while Aaron said it was a “big yes” from him.

Rachel said she was in a “lean yes” space, while Nick argued if cannabis was used at the same rate as alcohol, we would see the same levels of harm.

On the euthanasia referendum, Aaron and Chris both said they will vote yes while Rachel and Nick both indicated they would vote against.

Other issues debated included the Treaty of Waitangi, youth mental health and the minimum wage.

Giving their final arguments Nick said there would be a time to pass the baton but his experience was crucial for these challenging times.

Rachel said she has already achieved plenty in the region and wants to achieve more.

Aaron and Chris both said it was time for new representation in Parliament.

The performances were varied.

Nick showed that he is used to the format and formulating his arguments.

On occasion he seemed overly aggressive but that played into the tone of the event.

Rachel seemed to get flustered when heckled from the audience, even going as far to engage with them, to the detriment of the flow of her argument.

Aaron hit his stride in the format later on, offering some humour, cheek and passion into the occasion.

Chris started the event saying that he was a political newbie and that showed.

He was not even able to offer an issue that he was passionate enough about to create a potential policy of his own.

But curiously, he is the most likely to enter Parliament as number 4 on ACT’s list.

The election is on October 17 and the full debate can be watched on the Nelson Weekly Facebook page.