Yellowhead candidates in the upcoming federal election agree on the severity of the mountain pine beetle infestation in Jasper National Park, but representatives from two of the major parties have varying opinions on why more hasn’t been done to this point.

Liberal Party candidate Ryan Maguhn took aim at the Conservative Party during a Sept. 28 all-candidates debate in Hinton, saying that a systemic attack on the freedom of researchers and continued funding cuts to Parks Canada have left JNP less able to deal with the pine beetle.

“We see those same scientists that remain working for Parks Canada threatened, suppressed. They just sent an open letter from multiple former members of the Parks service complaining about the treatment they have and the intellectual freedom because ultimately what we’ve seen is what this government wants to hear is more important to them than what they need to hear,” said

Maguhn, adding that the Liberal Party is committed to restoring Parks’ funding and providing additional money for research.

Conservative Party candidate, Jim Eglinski, said during his turn at the microphone that he had previous experience with pine beetle in British Columbia. At that time he said there was a recommendation to burn part of a park to get rid of the beetle, but that scientists there said no, that they could contain the problem. He said that several partners, including the forestry industry, are doing an admirable job in trying to contain the problem around the region now, but that all stakeholders have to work together to encourage Parks to take an active role in combatting the beetle in JNP.

“We are working with Parks Canada to address this situation, but there are differences within Parks Canada,” he said in a 30-second rebuttal.

Ken Kuzminski of the New Democratic Party told the gathering of around 75 people that climate change has led to the spread of mountain pine beetle to the region and collaborative action is needed at all levels of government in response to the issue.

“This is beyond a natural process,” he said, adding that it isn’t getting cold enough to freeze the beetle out. “The winters aren’t getting as cold as they used to.”

The Hinton debate featured all five candidates, including Maguhn, Eglinski, Kuzminski, Cory Lystang (Libertarian) and Sandra Wolf-Lange (Green)—and is the first in a series of community forums across the constituency leading to the Oct. 19 general election.

The pine beetle debate at the forum came on the same day that Rob Baron, general manager of Hinton Wood Products, told a full room for the Hinton and District Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting that the pine beetle situation in the park is concerning.

“It is a significant concern for us and there’s lots of people working hard on that,” he said.

When asked if the mountain pine beetle had affected their harvest plans in the one-million acre forest management area, Baron said their cutting activity is definitely higher than normal.

“Right now we’re experiencing what is an uplift cut to try and get ahead of mountain pine beetle, so we’re logging pine beetle susceptible stands,” said Baron, adding around 1.5 million cubic metres of forest will be harvested this year.

The Hinton All Candidates Forum was co-organized by the Hinton and District Chamber of Commerce, the Yellowhead Labour Council and The Hinton Voice. Another forum was held Sept. 29 in Grande Cache and yet another is planned in Jasper, Oct. 5.