Although Monday’s all-candidates meeting for Mid Island-Pacific Rim candidates covered a range of topics, from homeless and affordable housing to the environment, the novel coronavirus pandemic was at the forefront of the debate.
During the virtual meeting—which was hosted by the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce—candidates were pressed with questions about how they will help the B.C. economy and their riding recover from COVID-19.
Liberal candidate Helen Poon reiterated the BC Liberals’ promise to eliminate provincial sales tax (PST) for a year in order to stimulate the economy. However, both NDP candidate Josie Osborne and Green Party candidate Evan Jolicoeur spoke against this.
“The Liberals’ promise to cut the provincial sales tax is not something that’s going to work for most British Columbian families, especially those of low income,” said Osborne. “The PST cut is really just going to benefit those at the top and this isn’t something that we need.”
Jolicoeur emphasized providing supports to people and small businesses that are struggling during the pandemic. “We should be implementing these supports now, not debating them on the campaign trail,” he added.
Most questions on Monday were addressed to Jolicoeur, Osborne and Poon, with only a few directed to Independent candidate Graham Hughes and BC Libertarian candidate Rob Clarke. Questions had to be submitted prior the meeting, and the Chamber of Commerce vetted questions for suitability, pertinence and fairness. Moderator Terry Deakin posed the questions to candidates.
When asked about tax breaks and subsidies for the LNG industry, both Osborne and Poon said their parties are committed to “a review” of oil and gas subsidies, while Jolicoeur said his party would put an end to the subsidies entirely.
On the topic of forestry, Osborne and Jolicoeur wanted to see a more “sustainable” forest industry with value-added manufacturing and fewer raw log exports.
Poon proposed reducing raw log exports and implementing a more efficient market pricing stumpage system to keep the industry competitive, while also criticizing the NDP’s management of B.C.’s forest industry.
“Under the NDP since the start of 2019, there have been 45 full or partial mill closures in B.C.,” she said. “That’s over 10,000 workers that have lost their jobs in the B.C. forest industry.”
One person submitted a question asking if the candidates would offer support and funding for reform under the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s Children and Youth with Special Needs program.
Jolicoeur, Poon and Osborne all offered their support. Poon said the BC Liberal party will extend supports for foster children to the age of 25, and also “dramatically” increase access to child care with 10,000 new child care spaces across B.C.
However, Hughes described the ministry as a “very flawed model that doesn’t work” and said that accountability is more important than funding. He made reference to Dontay-Patrick Lucas, a Port Alberni boy whose death has been under RCMP investigation since 2018.
“There’s huge issues here in accountability and transparency—I do not think it’s a funding issue and I do not think years of restructuring the models is where the answer is,” said Hughes. “We’re not doing well [in Port Alberni] and it’s not because of policy—it’s because of implementation of policy.”
On the topic of tourism, Hughes, Jolicoeur and Osborne all emphasized making partnerships with local First Nations. Hughes added that the riding needs to address its “core issues” before prioritizing tourism, and also proposed new right to roam laws that will allow backroad access in the riding.
Clarke stated that the province’s tourism industry will not be able to recover from COVID-19 until federal regulations are loosened.
“Ending the state of emergency would go a long way to letting businesses be free to make contracts between their companies and their clients without excessive government interference,” he said.
During Monday’s meeting, Clarke also reiterated his promise to meet with citizens from the region every Saturday in order to address their issues.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to fix them,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be dealt with and I’d like to have a crack at it.”
Another virtual all-candidates meeting for the riding will take place on Tuesday evening, Oct. 20, hosted by the Tofino Chamber of Commerce. The debate starts at 7 p.m. and will be streamed on the Chamber’s Facebook page.