Climate change is the most important issue in the federal election, say two of the five candidates in the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.

The Liberal and Green contenders both said voters in the riding, which includes central Kelowna and all of West Kelowna, often bring up the topic when they’re on the campaign trail.

“Climate comes up time and time again at the door as your number one issue,” Liberal candidate Mary Ann Murphy told about 150 people who attended an election forum Wednesday night at the Westbank Lions Community Centre.

The Liberals’ climate change plan includes a carbon tax, banning coal extraction by 2030, offering tax breaks for companies that cut their carbon footprint and ensuring zero carbon emissions nationwide by 2050.

Green party candidate Robert Mellalieu said politicians should be frank with voters about what he said would be the challenges in responding to climate change.

“But it is now time to vote for the planet,” Mellalieu said.

For his part, Conservative candidate Dan Albas said ensuring Canada’s economic competitiveness was the most important election issue. He said that would be achieved under a Conservative government, in part, through a mix of tax cuts and a return to balanced budgets.

But Albas also expressed frustration with what he said was his opponents’ ongoing attempt to paint the Conservatives as a party that doesn’t take climate change seriously.

“I’m not sure how many times I have to say this, but climate change is real, and it’s caused by human activity,” Albas said.

Still, Albas noted Canada produces only 1.7% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Canada can best respond to climate change by focusing on pollution-reducing technologies rather than introducing carbon taxes that Albas said would do little to address the challenge and only make everyday life less affordable for Canadians.

The candidates sparred on issues such as the SNC-Lavalin controversy, the Liberals’ expulsion from cabinet of former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, political correctness and foreign aid.

Murphy described the SNC-Lavalin affair and Wilson-Raybould’s dismissal as an “unfortunate event.”

“Despite this one episode, (I) still believe this is the best party to lead the country,” Murphy said.

But NDP candidate Joan Phillip, who, like Wilson-Raybould, is an Indigenous woman, said the concerning thing about the SNC-Lavalin controversy was not just the way Wilson-Raybould was treated, but that the federal Liberal cabinet appeared to have disregarded well-established principles concerning the justice minister’s independence from political influence.

On foreign aid, Albas, Phillip and People’s Party of Canada candidate Allan Duncan all called for a reduction in the amount of money Canada sends to other countries.

Albas noted that China, re-instated as a recipient of foreign aid by the Liberal government, has a space program. He said the Liberals wrongly believe that foreign aid can “curry favour” with repressive governments like China’s, but current tensions between the two countries belie that notion.

Phillip said Canada should do more to address problems experienced by Indigenous people and other disadvantaged groups, and should spend less time criticizing countries like China for human rights abuses.

“They need to look after their own backyard. Otherwise, they can zip it,” Phillip said.