Candidates seeking the MLA position for the Shuswap addressed voters in a virtual forum on Oct. 7.
The B.C. government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that made an in-person all-candidates forum impossible was discussed during the online event organized by the Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce, as were topics ranging from the environment to local infrastructure and the impacts of the snap election called by the BC NDP.
Along with 50 0r more viewers and Adam Meikle moderating on behalf of the chamber, candidates Greg Kyllo, Sylvia Lindgren and Owen Madden made their cases to voters.
Lindgren, running as an NDP candidate, was the first to offer opening remarks. She used the time to accuse the BC Liberals of creating affordability issues for B.C. residents while working in service of the wealthy over their 16 years as the governing party. She went on to rail against the privatization of care for seniors and tax cuts for the wealthy, while saying measures taken by the present NDP government such as the speculation tax, and measures to improve access to childcare, were an inspiration for her.
“A vote for me is a vote for a plan that leaves no one in B.C. behind,” she said.
Representing the BC Green Party, Owen Madden, formerly a prosecuting lawyer in Ireland who came to specialize in environmental law, and now an organic farmer in Enderby, said he was impressed with the way Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau and the other Green MLAs have held the NDP accountable in their coalition government. He repeated an indictment of the early election from Furstenau, stating an emergency like the one created by COVID-19 is a bad time for a disruption of government and calling the election was a self-serving and unnecessary move by BC NDP leader John Horgan.
Incumbent Greg Kyllo of the BC Liberals, addressing the digital forum from a brightly-lit office with campaign signs behind him, echoed the Green candidate’s statement that the early election was unnecessary. He called it, “The worst double cross imaginable for the Green Party.”
Kyllo also recounted his previous two terms as MLA and other political and business experience, saying it has been a pleasure to serve Shuswap residents.
Candidates grappled with a pair of questions asking for projections on the future of the four-laning of the Trans-Canada Highway to the Alberta border, and the Salmon Arm West highway upgrades.
Regarding delays around the Salmon Arm West project, Lindgren laid the blame at the feet of the Liberals, who she said did not complete geotechnical assessments and strike a bargain with First Nations while still in government, leading to changes in the project’s scope and completion date.
Madden called his regular drives from Enderby to Revelstoke on the Trans-Canada Highway “hair raising,” and added the other two parties should not blame delays to infrastructure projects on a lack of funding while they are also offering tax breaks to liquefied natural gas (LNG) companies.
Kyllo expressed the highway’s importance as a passenger and trade route and went on to contrast the NDP’s promises to accelerate four-laning of the highway with the projects completed while Liberals were in power.
Lindgren added the contract for the Salmon River Bridge replacement was awarded and work is expected to proceed this fall.
Candidates were asked if they believe climate change was affecting communities in the Shuswap.
Lindgren raised the issue of the wildfires in California affecting the supply of imported food, as well as the work being done thinning forest fuels near Salmon Arm to protect it from fire.
Madden said his own farm was affected by wildfire smoke in 2017 and 2018, and then again this September as smoke drifted up from the U.S. He said neither of the other parties has followed through on meeting their reduction targets for gasses which cause climate change.
Kyllo agreed that forest fires have a big impact and reminded the audience that the BC Liberals introduced the carbon tax in 2008, making B.C. the first jurisdiction in North America to do so.
Questions about supports for small-scale agricultural and cannabis growers, and for a tourism industry strained in the face of COVID-19 gave the candidates an opportunity to lay out their approach to small business as a whole.
Kyllo said the Liberals plan to support small businesses by reducing red tape. He said the present government should look at the tax structure, particularly the employer health tax, brought in to replace medical service plan premiums, in order to help B.C. businesses compete with those in other provinces. He also detailed the Liberals’ plan to freeze the provincial sales tax for a year and reduce it to three per cent the following year.
Lindgren noted the Shuswap relies heavily on tourism money for its small businesses and does a good job of advertising itself as a destination. On the topic of craft cannabis growers, she said the NDP was in favour of legal cannabis well before legalization.
Madden detailed the Green Party’s plan to subsidize 20 per cent of rent for businesses, with less than $50,000 in monthly rent costs. He added his party would maintain B.C. as a tourism destination by preserving the environment and also by managing its provincial parks well.