Competing visions for the future of B.C. were voiced at the Kelowna-Lake Country riding all-candidates meeting last Thursday night.
The three candidates—Liberal Norm Letnick, Green Alison Shaw and Erik Oleson of the NDP—debated past government spending policies and outlined their party’s vision for the future.
For incumbent Letnick, seeking his third term as MLA, he said the best way to serve all British Columbians is to continue to grow the economy with prudent fiscal budget decisions.
The tax measures proposed by the Greens and NDP, Letnick said, will only serve to curtail economic growth.
“There is not some money tree in Victoria that is going to pay for all the promises that the (NDP and Green Party) are promising,” Letnick said.
Shaw said her party advocates steering away from past Liberal policies that she says have decimated the environment, financially overwhelmed the middle and tempered opportunities to change or expand B.C.’s economic development model.
The Greens want to bring B.C. into the 21st century with socially progressive policies, be a hub for economic innovation and sustainable growth, and adopt sound environment protection planning, Shaw said.
“I am not a professional politician. I am a business owner and a loving parent. I want to see a government that will champion the health and well-being of our citizens,” Shaw said.
“I don’t want to see British Columbians fall further behind.”
Olesen said this election is not about the past, it’s about the future.
“We want to put people first, not big business or corporations,” Olesen said.
He said the NDP propose to do that by investing in education, lifting the minimum wage eventually to $15/hour, subsidize childcare and creating more affordable housing.
“I want to work for the future of millennials and not let the generations that come after us suffer as we have,” Olesen said.
“I want a better B.C. and to stand up for constituent’s needs, not just for photo ops.”
A number of questions were posed to the candidates at the forum, held at Creekside Theatre and sponsored by the Lake Country Chamber of Commerce.
Below is a sampling of some of the issues raised and the candidates’ responses:
Olesen cited the NDP platform promise of a $10 a day childcare subsidy program to alleviate the stress parents feel finding and paying for daycare.
“We want to invest in families,” he said.
Letnick said the NDP proposal has been done in Quebec and has not been proven to be fiscally effective.
“We want to focus on increasing childcare spaces… our goal to increase availability by 13,000 spaces as of 2020,” he said.
Shaw said the Greens advocate free daycare for children under the age of four.
“Childcare is beyond creating more spaces. It’s about parents getting into the workforce and creating more affordable housing,” she said.
All three candidates were supportive of the federal government initiative to legalize marijuana and advocated to strictly regulate how it is sold, concerns being to limit exposure to children and not allow organized crime to profit from it.
Olesen said the MSP monthly charge is unfair, noting no other province charges that fee to its taxpayers.
“And the revenue earned from that fee is not being redirected specifically back into health care services,” he said. “We need to look at all our health ministry costs in terms of how to make up the revenue shortfall.”
Letnick said MSP fees generate $2.4 billion in revenue, a significant part of the province’s $50 billion budget.
“Managing our economy and generating a $2 billion surplus last year enabled us to reduce the MSP fee by 50 per cent as of Jan. 1 and not putting that into the income tax system,” he said.
Shaw said her party proposes to roll the MSP fees into a progressive tax, where people who make more money pay a greater share.
“We need those funds to fix our deteriorating health care system,” she said, noting the Greens want to create two new health care related ministries for mental health/addiction and health promotion.
Shaw said the Green Party supports invoking proportional representation to provincial elections.
“We need to get big money both from corporations and unions out of our electoral process. We need to reign in lobbying and conflicts of interest,” Shaw said.
Letnick argued that under the current system, every vote does count, election results do matter and he personally works to represent all his constituents.
“I never ask someone if they voted for me. I serve everyone in my riding regardless of how they might have voted,” Letnick said.
Olesen said the NDP were open to looking at electoral reform, but called out the Green Party’s criticism of influential campaign donors when up until recently it was accepting outside donations.
Use of foreign workers
Olesen said the NDP wants to see a balance between providing jobs to British Columbians and bringing in foreign workers, saying the priority is to meet the labour needs of the agriculture industry.
Letnick said the agri-business sector continues to thrive in B.C., and foreign workers have a role to play in that growth.
“Canadians don’t want the jobs these people are doing,” he said.
Shaw said the Greens want to look at ways to reduce the cost of buying farmland and harvesting crops to ease their financial burden.