Westside-Kelowna candidates face-off at chamber forum

Agriculture, healthcare, transportation and economic issues dominated the Westside-Kelowna all candidates meeting Wednesday night.

Westside-Kelowna Liberal incumbent Ben Stewart speaks at the Westbank and District Chamber of Commerce's all candidates forum Wednesday

Agriculture, healthcare, transportation and economic issues dominated the Westside-Kelowna all candidates meeting at Westbank Lions Community Centre Wednesday night.

The forum, sponsored by the Westbank and District Chamber of Commerce and the BC Fruit Growers Association, brought out more than 50 residents who had the opportunity to submit their own questions for the three candidates.

Liberal incumbent Ben Stewart used his opening statement to criticize the NDP government of the 1990s.

“Many people have asked me why I entered politics,” said Stewart.

“It’s simple: After I endured the 1980s recession and then opened a business in the 1990s, I understood what a negative impact the NDP government had on the province and the economy.”

NDP hopeful Carole Gordon opened by talking about her own experience teaching and working with non-profit organizations. She said decisions by the Liberal government have led to the “highest inequality that we’ve seen in a long time.”

“We’re continuing the highest levels of inequality and child poverty in Canada and we’re letting Ottawa make decisions on pipelines that threaten our coast and increase tanker traffic,” said Gordon

Conservative candidate Brian Guillou said he believes “B.C. can do better.”

“In the last 20 years the total provincial debt has risen from $17 billion to $63 billion,” said Guillou.

“Something needs to change.”

The candidates were asked what specific measures they’d take to help small businesses thrive in the area.

Guillou said the government needs to create an environment where small businesses can succeed.

“We can’t have an environment where everyone is leaving the Okanagan or province,” said Guillou.

Gordon said the NDP will establish a local business first procurement process and won’t increase small business taxes.

“That provides stability—it’s a certainty for them,” said Gordon.

Stewart gave a few examples of how the provincial government has helped small businesses, including changing laws to help craft distillers and introducing a $2 million replant assistance program for the tree fruit industry.

When asked what the biggest transportation challenges within the riding are, Stewart talked about Westside Road, which was named BCAA’s 2013 worst road in the province.

“The residents out there, although they are not getting all of the improvements we’d like to do, they’re steadily getting increased improvements,” said Stewart.

He added the province will likely have to plan for a second option to cross Okanagan Lake at some point in the future.

Guillou said money that was spent on the Westside Road Interchange Project could have been better used improving Westbank Centre’s ongoing problems with the couplet, which makes it difficult to access town centre businesses.

Gordon said she and Adrian Dix walked the couplet area with Mayor Doug Findlater and they understand the problem the divided highway has created.

She added more changes can be made to improve bus transit.

One audience member asked where the candidates stood on the issue of decriminalizing and/or legalizing marijuana.

Gordon said she is favour of decriminalizing marijuana, while Stewart and Guillou shied away from taking a firm stance and noted it’s a federal government decision.

The provincial election takes place May 14.