Liberal, NDP, Green and Conservative candidates squared off over spending promises Wednesday in Kelowna.
The quartet of Kelowna-Mission candidates Liberal Steve Thomson, Green Rainer Wilkins and Conservative Chuck Hardy, as well as Kelowna-West NDP candidate Shelley Cook appeared at a luncheon all-candidates meeting put on by the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce.
In response to a question about taxing the wealthy in this province, Thomson slammed NDP spending promises as not fully costed out, saying they contain $6.4 billion worth of uncosted commitments. That drew the only rebuttal of the meeting, when Cook, filling in for Kelowna-Mission NDP candidate Harwinder Sandhu who could not attend due to a previous commitment, said the $6.4 billion figure being used by the Liberals to criticize the NDP election platform includes promises her party has not made.
“It’s not true,” said Cook of the figure. “When (the Liberals) talk about a $6 billion hole, they are taking about things we didn’t talk about in our platform.”
Thomson said both NDP and the Green Party election promises will raise taxes and drive up the provincial debt, something his party is trying to lower.
The two also had very different takes on the current state of taxation in this province, especially as it affects the middle class.
While Thomson said B.C. has the lowest personal income taxes in Canada for people earning less than $120,000 per year, Cook said middle class taxation in B.C. is the highest in Canada.
She said her party would bring back a special tax bracket for high-income earners that the Liberals abolished in 2013.
Wilkins questioned where the money the province is currently collecting goes, and agreed with Cook the top three per cent of wage earners in this province have benefited from the Liberal government over the last four years. Wilkins sad the government must do a better job supporting everyone, not just corporations and those he described as the “ultra-wealthy.”
“It benefits us financially in the long run when we find a way to take care of people and make sure everyone has a fair shake in this province,” he said.
Hardy agreed, adding taxes should be eliminated for those over 65 years of age.
Thomson described the question of taxation as one of the defining questions of this election because it contrasts the Liberal, NDP and Green positions. He plan to freeze Liberals will freeze personal income taxes.
The candidates also waded into the issue of how to deal with marijuana in light of the federal government’s plan to legalize it next year.
With the province to be the one to decide how it is distributed, the candidates were asked about business opportunities related to the sale of marijuana.
Cook said an NDP government would work with municipalities and wants to see “green standards” and best practices to give people choice and ensure health and safety.
Thomson said health and safety have to be paramount and a regulatory framework needs to be created. He said an expert panel would be put together to make recommendations to government.
Wilkins said the sale of marijuana should be looked at in a similar way to the distribution of alcohol and tobacco and everything must be done to ensure children do not get it.
Hardy said the government must work with municipalities and small business should be encouraged when it comes to marijuana production across the province. Production should not be limited to a few large companies, he said.
The comment came a day after the City of Kelowna moved to ban the retail sale of marijuana from so-called “dispensaries.”
The provincial election is May 9.