Central Okanagan Liberal MLAs (from left) Ben Stewart, Renee Merrifield and Norm Letnick. (Barry Gerding - Black Press Media)

Central Okanagan Liberal MLAs (from left) Ben Stewart, Renee Merrifield and Norm Letnick. (Barry Gerding - Black Press Media)

Central Okanagan MLAs: NDP giving cold shoulder to business sector

Added costs and taxes punitive against employers, say Liberal trio

The NDP provincial government continues to make life more costly for B.C.’s business community and introduce drastic policy changes with an absence of consultation, according to Central Okanagan’s three Liberal MLAs.

Speaking at the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Friday (Dec. 10), the trio cited changes regarding logging of old-growth timber, a more centralized hub and less individual funding for children with autism, childcare services moving from a private to state-run system, adding five sick days for B.C. employees without any supportive funding to employers and need for more affordable housing as issues where the government has remained secretive and stifled public and legislative debate.

Renee Merrifield, MLA for Kelowna-Mission and candidate for the BC Liberal Party leadership vote Feb. 3-5, 2022, said B.C.’s ability to compete in the business sector is eroding compared to other provinces.

“A software developer in Ontario will make $27,000 more in salary than in B.C.,” she said, citing the uneven playing field B.C. employers face.

Merrifield said the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on cracks in provincial policies that don’t adequately support the business community while continuing to increase or add more taxes.

“We saw the five sick days policy coming but the expectation was there would be compensation provided by the government for that added business cost. Instead, the business community has been asked to suck it up,” she said regarding the extra employee cost burden.

On the autism policy front, Merrifield quoted a doctor who told her it will take back progress on providing support for autistic children back decades.

“This is a huge misstep. Ontario did a similar thing a few years ago and now they are trying to undo it. And again there has been a lack of consultation in arriving at this step,” she said.

Regarding daycare, Merrifield said 6,300 new spaces in the last four years, and 4,000 of those were accounted for by the private sector daycare operators.

While Ben Stewart, MLA for Kelowna West, talked about the old-growth forest policy which was announced with complaints from the Council of Forest Industries about a lack of consultation on how it will impact sawmills and timber supply around the province.

Stewart said the forest industry requires two things – a degree of certainty and access to short- and long-term timber supply.

“The lifeblood of the forest industry to survive is access to fibre,” he said.

Norm Letnick, MLA for Kelowna-Lake Country, took a less polarized stance in his presentation in keeping with his role as the deputy speaker of the legislature.

Letnick noted the push-back from the Kelowna Chamber and other business owners helped to alleviate the provincial health restriction public gathering limitations dropped in the Lower Mainland but for a time were extended for the Interior Health region.

“We did not understand why that happened at the time but the voices of those who raised objections to that were heard,” Letnick said.

He also noted the economic impact of COVID-19 and the extreme weather events of the past month is still being tallied, but expectations of those costs are projected to reach $7.5 billion, on top of a provincial budget that has already increased 35 per cent in spending over the past four years.

Asked what they are optimistic about for 2022, Letnick said the election of a new Liberal leader will create a more dynamic opposition while entering a three-year timeline to prepare the party for the next provincial election.

For Merrifield, beyond her candidacy for Liberal leader, she hopes to see a return to normal with COVID-19 evolving from a pandemic to endemic health state.

“There is a sense of desperation out there to be able to connect with one another again…mental health issues are exacerbated by our (pandemic) isolation,” she said.

Stewart said he looks forward to a return to tourism and personal travel flow as the pandemic eases off and damage to the highways caused by the November atmospheric river storm is repaired.

READ MORE: Central Okanagan MLAs take on new roles

READ MORE: Kelowna MLAs respond to snap election

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