NDP candidates Shelley Cook (Kelowna West), right, Erik Olesen (Kelowna-Lake Country), middle, and Harwinder Sandhu (Kelowna-Mission), at back in red jacket, talk to students at Wednesday’s UBCO all-candidates forum.

Candidates speak to students

UBC Okanagan students hear directly from provincial candidates at first public forum.

The official 2017 provincial election campaign may not start for another five days but if it wasn’t clear already, the campaign is now underway.

On Wednesday, Central Okanagan candidates from the B.C. Liberal Party, the NDP, the B.C. Green Party and one independent candidate, took a UBC Okanagan political science professor up on his invitation to talk to students at the Kelowna campus. It marked the first of what will likely be many times over the next 35 days that the local candidates will be in the same room together lobbying for votes.

UBCO Assistant professor Carey Doberstein said he wanted the candidates to come to the campus to not only give students a chance to speak with them and learn about their parties position on issues, but also to help raise awareness about the upcoming election in the hope more young people will get involved and vote on May 9.

“We didn’t want to wait for the writ to drop (April 11),” said Doberstein.

The format of the “meet-and-greet” session was informal, with each party setting up a table and candidates from the Kelowna-Mission, Kelowna-Lake Country and Kelowna West (currently known as Westside-Kelowna) ridings mingling with those on hand.

Then the representatives of each party were given six minutes to address the crowd. None of the speakers stuck to their allotted time limit.

Incumbent Liberals Norm Letnick (Kelowna-Lake Country) and Steve Thomson (Kelowna-Mission) both pointed to the current government’s record on funding local projects, particularly the infrastructure on the UBCO campus, where Thomson said not only have numerous buildings gone up with the help of provincial funding, many new spaces for additional students have been created.

“This is developing into a world-class campus,” he said.

Letnick also listed recent local projects that have benefited from provincial money as well as the budget vow to cut provincial Medical Service Plan premiums in half if the Liberals are re-elected.

The highest-profile candidate in the three local races, Premier Christy Clark, was not on hand. She is looking to retain her Kelowna-West seat.

The trio of NDP candidates—Shelley Cook, Clark’s challenger in Kelowna-West, Erik Olesen (Kelowna-Lake Country) and Harwinder Sandhu (Kelowna-Mission)—all took aim at what they consider a lack of Liberal spending on important issues, such as the opioid overdose crisis, post-secondary education, housing affordability and the environment.

Sandhu questioned the legitimacy of the recent B.C budget surplus—reported at more than $2 billion—calling it the “so called” surplus.

The trio of Green Party representatives—Kelowna-West candidate Robert Mellalieu, Rainer Wilkins (Kelowna-Mission) and a representative of Kelowna-Lake Country candidate Alison Shaw—mixed their message with information about themselves and criticism of Liberal handling of environmental issues.

Mellalieu accused the Liberals of being cheerleaders for the oil industry and compared fossil fuel energy to the now-defunct Blockbuster chain of video rental stores.

“Who would have invested in them 10 years ago?” he asked.

He urged the students to support his vision of a “vibrant 21st Century Netflix economy” instead.

The one independent running locally, Brian Theisen, also voiced concern about the Liberals handling of the opioid overdose crisis and suggested the B.C. NDP may follow Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley’s lead of “doing nothing to tax oil producers.”

As for the students, they seemed happy to hear directly from the candidates.

All spoken to by the Capital News said they planned to vote, several for the first time. The participation of young voters in provincial elections has been notoriously low in the past but student interest has been growing in recent years.

Nursing student John Campbell, said he was leaning towards the Liberals because of what he considered their strong economic policy, while Maxime Laroche, an earth science and environment student, said he was leaning towards the NDP. But, he added, he wanted to learn more about the Green Party’s position on several issues.

Danielle Kyei, a fourth-year political science student, said she was keen to hear more from the candidates, particularly the NDP and Green Party candidates.

“With all the issues, such as pipelines, I think this is going to be a big year for B.C.,” said Kyei.

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