In a lead up to the May 14 provincial election the Boundary Country Regional Chamber of Commerce sponsored an all-candidates meeting last Wednesday night in the Midway Community Hall.
The two-hour session saw 15 questions from the floor from the nearly 60 people who attended.
The four candidates who were present were John Kwasnica for the Green Party, BC Liberal candidate Linda Larson, John Hancheroff representing the NDP, and Mischa Popoff who has since been dropped as a candidate by the Conservative Party of BC.
According to James Wilson, executive director of the debate sponsor (Boundary Country Regional Chamber of Commerce) the fifth candidate, Independent Doug Pederson, had been invited but was unable to make it.
When Midway resident Neil Kopp asked about expanded funding for insulin pumps, all four candidates supported him. Currently the province funds the pumps only to the age of 18.
Midwellian Pat Grouette was given nothing in the way of a platform plank from any of the parties when she asked for incentives to get people to move out of the Lower Mainland to help rebalance the demographic challenges faced by rural B.C.
Comments from the candidates:
Sam Hancheroff – NDP
Hancheroff identified the NDP’s priorities as education and skills training.
Declaring support for a healthy forest industry he said that the mill is going to need more logs and offered that the NDP platform plank of reducing raw log exports would help.
Hancheroff declared that an educated society is a society that will prosper. He said the NDP plans to add value to the education sector – “Not to pay more money to teachers but to hire more teachers.”
On the use of school facilities by communities Hancheroff said that there should always be available space to make sure we have an educated society – from the very young to very old.
Hancheroff was the only candidate to offer anything when the president of the CUPE local representing school support workers noted that 92 per cent of the people she represents are part-time employees and asked for an advocate of full-time jobs that will support them, their families and their communities. “People who work in health care and education live and shop in the local community,” said Hancheroff.
There was a question about managing resources in a responsible manner, which Hancheroff answered by saying there is a need for stakeholders within the communities to help manage resources.
When asked where the NDP would find the revenue streams to pay for their platform Hancheroff said they would increase corporate taxes to 12 per cent, which he said was in line with other provinces; increase income tax on those earning over $150,000, which he claimed would only affect two per cent of the population; restoration of a three per cent tax on banks and large credit unions with over $20 million in assets; and by reallocating some budget items.
John Kwasnica – Green Party
Kwasnica got to grab the brass ring of a local family connection to Midway during his opening remarks because his uncle Buster Smithers lived in the village for many years.
On the carbon tax he said, “As a Green Party representative I have a belief that the carbon tax is necessary, although I don’t think it is being utilized properly.”
He said the grassroots movement that brought the Midway mill back into production was, “the kind of thing that we need to do around the province. The forest industry in this province is very important. I think it is on the rebound and I would like to see more towns involved in sustaining the industries that they either have or that have fallen by the wayside.”
On being effective as a member of the opposition, Kwasnica said, “Just sitting on the other side of the floor pounding our hands on the table we are not accomplishing anything.”
He said that school boards have come to rely on rental income from use of facilities by community groups and he called for a meeting of the minds at the community level to sort things out.
He said he would favour school closures if it would cut costs for a school district.
He said the Green Party is very supportive of the environment. “It is all about the air, the water and the soil. If you don’t have that, what do you have? Global warming is the most significant threat to the world economy, more so than world economic instability right now. We have to address the issue or we will continue to have instability.”
Linda Larson – BC Liberal
Larson said she supports local businesses, woodlots, community forests and job creation through delivery of services to seniors.
She sees usage fees charged by the school districts as a barrier to the use of facilities by the community and argued that schools should be more involved with the communities.
When asked directly about increased funding for education Larson said that the money that is out there already could be better managed. “I am not in favour of raising taxes to put more money into the system.
“The first dollar earned comes out of the ground,” Larson said in her closing statement. “Agriculture, forestry, mining, oil, natural gas, water – there would be no cities or jobs in the Lower Mainland without the natural resources of rural B.C. and the people who live and work here.”
Larson was the only one who didn’t condemn the practice of funneling money into general revenue. Instead she said say she would look into how much is raised through the hunting and fishing license levies and offered to get back to the questioner who had called for these fees to be dedicated to wildlife after the May election.
Larson said she supports policies that encourage investment in the human and natural resources of British Columbia, “policies that encourage people with innovative ideas to consider B.C. as a safe place to invest and build a future.”
When asked about raising corporate taxes she said, “I am not in favour of taxing the people who create the jobs too much. I believe in this last budget the Liberals did raise the corporate taxes and did raise the taxes of the wealthy. That has already happened since January.”
Mischa Popoff – Independent
Popoff said he is opposed to the carbon tax. “It puts us at a huge competitive disadvantage.”
Asked how their parties would help rural communities sustain themselves Popoff would like to see the province return to what it once was in terms of logging and agriculture. He also said it was important that environmentalists not be allowed to shut down logging again. He claimed that lobbying by the Suzuki Foundation and Greenpeace had resulted in forestry policy, certification standards and building codes that discouraged the use of lumber.
On education funding Popoff said, “To say there is chronic underfunding of education in this province is to stretch credulity. Chronic underfunding is not the issue here.”
He blamed the teachers union and the public sector as a whole – claiming that their wages, benefits and pensions take away a quarter of the revenue in the province. “You can’t run a province that way. Ugly decisions need to be made.”
Popoff jumped on the question about increasing funding for education. “Definitely not in favour of that. By any stretch of the imagination,” he said, adding that his first priority would be balancing the budget.
At one point Popoff berated the audience for their questions about education funding. “You guys have got to be joking. Teachers are well paid. They are very well paid. And all the people who have to pay the teachers are less well paid now because the economy is doing poorly. It is a vicious circle because part of the reason the economy is doing poorly is because of the public service burden on this province.”
On development of the Site C dam, Popoff said there is nothing wrong with resource development – it just has to be done equitably.