Kelowna West byelection candidates square off

Kelowna West byelection candidates square off

The five candidates zeroed in on ICBC’s financial woes at an all-candidates forum Wednesday night

The ailing health of B.C.’s auto insurance corporation, who’s to blame and what should be done about ICBC proved to be popular topics with the five candidates running in the Kelowna West byelection Wednesday evening during an all-candidates forum.

Seizing on news earlier this week that ICBC is looking at a projected loss of $1.3 billion, all five candidates—B.C. Conservative Mark Thompson, B.C. Liberal Ben Stewart, Shelley Cook of the NDP, B.C Green Robert Stupka and Libertarian Kyle Geronazzo—weighed in. Thompson and Cook blamed the former Liberal government, Stewart said the current NDP government knew about ICBC’s financial troubles in the past but has done nothing about them since coming to power last year and Geronazzo called for ICBC to be scrapped altogether.

Accusing the former Liberal government of Christy Clark of raiding ICBC coffers to balance past budgets, Thompson said the current government should pay ICBC back the more than $1 billion he says was taken from the it in the past by government.

The candidates also waded into the issue of housing affordability, with Stupka saying while more supply is needed, so too are rules to stop property speculation. Stewart said development approvals by municipalities need to to dealt with quicker and Cook said the current government is looking at new short- and medium-term housing for the homeless, closing loopholes that allow for large rent increases and new rules to curb speculation.

“We will be hearing more as this rolls out,” she said.

If there was one area of agreement by the candidates it was on the need for an health care centre for West Kelowna. All the candidates said they support the idea, despite Interior Health shelving the plan a few years ago.

“If West Kelowna was a city anywhere else in the province, it would have its own hospital,” said Thompson.

While he said the idea of an urgent health care centre in West Kelowna should be revisited, Stewart praised the former Liberal government he was part of until 2013 for increasing the health care budget from $9 billion when it came to power in 2001 to $22 billion by the time it was replaced by the NDP last year.

He touted local health care spending as well, including, hundreds of millions to expand Kelowna General Hospital, add a cancer centre, a new medical school and a cardiac care centre.

On the issue of transportation, Stupka said the region needs to look at alternative forms of transportation and he praised Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran’s recent call for investigating light rail for the valley.

“We need to be open to new transportation options,” he said, adding building more roads is “1950s transportation planning.”

The quintet also sparred over the issue of proportional representation when it comes to electoral reform.

While the government plans to send the issue to a referendum later this year, both Stewart and Geronazzo said they were opposed to moving away from the current “first-past-the-post” system, while Thompson and Stupka said they support adopting proportional representation for future B.C elections. Cook said she would support the will of the people in the referendum.

All the candidates expressed concern about the opioid overdose crisis gripping the province.

Cook said government’s “four-pillar” approach of prevention, education, harm reduction and treatment is the correct way to go.

Stupka said a holistic approach is needed to address the situation but Stewart, while conceding it is a major crisis, said he did not feel decriminalizing all drugs, as suggested by B.C. outgoing chief medical health officer, is the answer.

Thompson called for the government to appoint a cabinet minister to deal with the opioid overdose crisis and had to be reminded by Cook that a ministry for mental health and addictions was created by the new NDP government.

Stewart’s decision in 2013 to step down as MLA for the riding to allow Clark to run after she lost her Vancouver-area seat in the provincial election was brought up by Thompson, who referred to Stewart several times as a “quitter.”

Prior to stepping down in 2013, Stewart won two elections in the riding.

The byelection will go Feb 14.

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