The four contenders for the Chilliwack-Hope riding faced off in a debate on Monday night, hosted by the Hope & District Chamber of Commerce.
Among the issues discussed were debt reduction, poverty and environmental protection.
BC Conservative Party candidate Michael Henshall addressed the audience first holding up a ball and chain with $57 billion written on it representing the provincial government’s debt.
“You can’t tax and spend people into prosperity. Look at Greece as a recent example – you end up bankrupt and this is the direction that B.C. is heading right now and we have a plan to turn it around,” said Henshall, pointing out that thousands of people have been leaving the province in the last few years to work in Alberta and Saskatchewan. “When we raise our taxes too high, it makes our products uncompetitive with jurisdictions around us. We need to reduce our taxes, actually get business going and bring back good paying jobs to British Columbia.”
Henshall said legislative reform is needed and his party would have committees scrutinize government expenditures annually during the fall sitting.
Laurie Throness, who is running for the BC Liberals, asked voters to be fair and objective when looking at the government’s record. He acknowledged that his party has made mistakes, but said the Liberals have apologized and paid for them in many ways.
“Look at the big picture,” said Throness. “We have balanced our budget, we have a triple-A credit rating, personal and corporate taxes are among the lowest in Canada, we have relatively low debt load proportionate to the federal government and we have a plan to pay off our debt.”
Independent candidate Ryan McKinnon pointed out that there’s inefficiencies and unnecessary spending in government, particularly in the Ministry of Children and Family Development. As a major champion for child protection reform, he said some of that money could be better spent on economic stimulus, and services for mothers and fathers that are losing their children.
“Money is going to the wrong areas,” said McKinnon. “There’s too much fat that needs to be trimmed.”
When it comes to the environment, the candidates said they would oppose a garbage incinerator in the Fraser Valley and would like to see public input considered before making oil pipeline decisions. Henshall pointed out that the long-term economic and environmental benefits of pipelines need to be examined.
“Everybody has concerns when you’re talking oil and water,” added BC NDP candidate Gwen O’Mahony. “Right now we don’t have a say over pipelines in B.C. That decision is made in Ottawa. We need a made-in-B.C. process.”
O’Mahony pointed out that her party would invest carbon tax revenue, which is currently “being used to give tax breaks to corporations,” into transit infrastructure and building a greener economy. The NDP also would pass a poverty reduction strategy, which includes a B.C. Family Bonus, building 1,500 affordable housing units each year by leveraging the existing $250 Housing Endowment Fund, and tying income assistance to inflation.
“Change takes time, one practical step at a time, but it can be accomplished,” she said.