The first all-candidates meeting of the election campaign in the Central Okanagan turned out to be rather tame affair, with just two of the three Westside-Kelowna candidates showing up.
While incumbent Liberal Ben Stewart and NDP challenger Carole Gordon were on hand to answer mainly education-related questions at the meeting put on by the Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association, B.C. Conservative Brian Guillou was a no show.
Despite the stark differences between the Liberals and the NDP on the provincial stage, as individual candidates, Stewart and Gordon seemed to agree on many of issues, especially the importance of teachers, adequate resources in the classroom, the need for god early childhood education and nutrition for children and the need to train young people for jobs of the future.
Gordon, an elementary school teacher in Kelowna, said she has seen first hand the effect of government funding for education not keeping pace with inflation or the demand here.
She said the NDP’s promise of 1,000 more teachers and school librarians will help, especially in growing school districts like the Central Okanagan.
Stewart, whose party has said it wants to negotiate a 10-year deal with the B.C. Teachers Federation—a move opposed by the BCTF and COTA—said stability is crucial if the additional money put into education each year is to have a real effect.
In answering a question about the need for “predictable, stable” funding for school districts from local school district chairwoman Moyra Baxter, Stewart said such a move makes sense to him.
“Having certainty is the only way. We can do a better job there,” he conceded.
School district have long complained about not knowing how much it will get from the province before it has to finalize its annual budget.
One of the areas where Stewart and Gordon did not agree was on the issue of the controversial Foundation Skills Assessment tests given to students in Grade 4 and 7.
While teachers oppose the tests saying they do not provide the information the government is looking for about students, Steward said he supports them as away of gauging individual student performance. Gordon said she and the NDP oppose FSA tests and would abolish therm.
Both Gordon and Stewart said when it comes to education more than the issue of funding for classroom needs must be to be considered.
“We need to have a long-term plan that includes before-kindergarten and after-Grade 12,” said Gordon. And, she added, that should include expanding the apprenticeship program and more money for early childhood development.
“For every $1 we invest in kids, there is a $7 return down the line,” she said.
Stewart said families need help too and one of the best ways to start that is through job creation, lower taxes and as well more support for the children in the classroom.
He said by balancing the provincial budget, and eliminating the provincial debt, families in B.C. will be helped, more jobs will be created and children will benefit.
Following the meeting, some in the audience—the meeting only attracted about 60 people—said while they found the information helpful, but it had not swayed them one way or the other in terms of who to vote for.
“I’ve not decided either way but I found it helpful,” said West Kelowna resident Bridget Gumpert.
But she said she would liked to have heard more about where the NDP will get the money it plans to use for the spending it wants to make.
She said while Stewart talked about raising revenues through with the expansion of liquified natural gas from the Northeast of the province, Gordon did not say how her party would pay for a lot of the spending it has promised.
Another woman, who declined to give her name, said she lives in the Kelowna-Mission riding but wanted to hear what the Westside-Kelowna candidates were saying on behalf of their respective parties.
She said she also found it helpful and said she planned to vote in her riding based on the partys’ platforms, not on the individual candidates.
They election will take place May 14.