During an Oct. 14 virtual meeting the five candidates for Fraser-Nicola dug into issues including the survival of small businesses, affordability for seniors and whether to bring court back to Hope.
On supporting struggling local businesses
Candidates addressed a question from the Hope and District Chamber of Commerce, on the tax burden B.C. businesses face most of which the chamber said are “created by one level of government or another.”
Independent candidate Mike Bhangu took aim at the government’s decision to shut down some businesses during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, calling it “completely irresponsible.” “I will fight to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said, adding if elected he would fight for a plan where businesses can keep their doors open even amidst a pandemic.
Bhangu added that small business is “on the verge of extinction” and proposed to reduce the tax load by 50 per cent as well as deal with high commercial and residential rent.
Cutting the provincial sales tax (PST) for an entire year, one of the BC Liberals’ flagship election promises, was one way incumbent BC Liberal candidate Jackie Tegart cited to help small businesses. Transitional loan guarantees are another.
Tegart took aim at the taxes introduced under the BC NDPs leadership, as well as their decision to hold an election and to announce relief funding during the election.
Dennis Adamson, electoral director for the Fraser Valley Regional District running as an independent, said small businesses have had a lousy few years with COVID-19 and before this forest fires. There is a need to diversify the local economy, including bringing in new jobs in tech and clean energy.
As businesses are the “backbone” of the local economy, Adamson urged people to keep their dollars local and keep their friends and neighbours in business.
“If we want these small businesses to be there when we need them, we’ve got to stop jumping into our cars and driving down to Chilliwack to Walmart or Superstore,” he said.
Aaron Sumexheltza, candidate for the BC NDP, recalled the NDP’s balanced budget, “the lowest unemployment here in Canada, and…a competitive tax environment.” The NDP plan going forward, Sumexheltza said, is grants for 15,000 hard hit small and medium sized businesses, a 15 per cent tax credit for hiring new employees and $8-billion to kickstart the economy.
Candidate for the BC Green Party Jonah Timms said there is a need to address the heart of the issue – affordability for B.C. residents – something he said the two big parties who’ve formed government have never done fully.
“Liberals want to keep us in the past with regressive taxes and tax breaks and the NDP are content with tinkering around the edges,” he said. The Greens on the other hand, Timms said, have in their platform a $300-million rent subsidy program.
Timms added that processing of resources locally, as well as investing in infrastructure to ensure goods can get to market are focus areas for the Greens.
Where is Richmond Hill?
Candidates, save for Dennis Adamson, did not appear to know where Richmond Hill was or what the significance of building a walking path connecting Silver Creek and Hope is.
“I’d be the first to tell you I’m not sure where Richmond Hill is,” Tegart said, yet referenced her party’s promise to repair Othello Road to the tune of $6 million should the party form government.
“Sounds like somebody is trying to buy an election there,” Adamson said, then proceeding to describe the road and the project to the other candidates.
“Since (the District of Hope) incorporated they had to pay for their own roads, they had to pay for part of the policing. And that has made the taxes high,” he said, adding that it was positive that the town was seeing growth.
Court could come back to Hope
All candidates agreed that should they get elected, they would be open to advocating to bring court back to Hope for a day or so.
The question, from a resident, asked whether the successful candidate would be open to bringing court back locally in order to make the court more accessible for those who have to appear before it, as well as freeing up resources of police and of Chilliwack courts.
On reducing cost of living
Hope area seniors have had to come out of retirement, one resident said, due to the cost of living. The question was how candidates would adress cost of housing where the government “seems to be one of the primary drivers behind it.”
Timms pointed to the Greens’ renter support program, which would help people to pay their rent. He added that “sustainable funding initiatives and funding mechanisms” need to be found for small communities and the small non-profits whose services many rely on.
Sumexheltza reminded viewers about the NDPs elimination of the Medical Services Plan (MSP) premiums as well as reducing childcare fees. “We’re committed to lowering ICBC rates by 20 per cent starting next year,” he said.
Sumexheltza added that families and single people who earn underneath a certain threshold will receive a one time deposit – $1,000 to families with a household income below $125,000 and $500 to singles earning less than $62,000 annually. And rents won’t go up under an NDP government, he said, until the end of 2021.
“Hope is full of minimum wage jobs,” Adamson said. “The kids in the schools, they don’t strive for anything higher because they don’t see it in their community. Minimum wage is not a living wage.” If elected, Adamson said he would push to bring in better paying jobs and new businesses.
Tegart said she has heard from people across the district who say there is a need for supportive housing for seniors. In the Liberals’ economic restart plan, there are items including building seniors housing across the district, a $7,000 tax credit for seniors to help them stay in their homes. “Seniors are very much on the top of our agenda,” she said.
Bhangu, who has made the treatment of seniors in the so-called “golden years” a key part of his campaign, said seniors are struggling economically and as a result they are struggling mentally and socially.
If elected as an independent, Bhangu said he would fight for a $500 subsidy for all seniors.
“The system is broken. We are not taking care of the weak, we are not taking care of those individuals that are attempting to start a family, and we are not taking care of those individuals that have retired,” he said.
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