The five Kootenay-Columbia candidates in the upcoming federal election met on Wednesday in an online forum designed to address economic and social issues.
The forum, hosted by the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce and Nelson at its Best, solicited questions from 10 subject-matter experts in Nelson. They then asked those questions of the candidates using a system in which not all candidates were asked all questions. The candidates did not know in advance which questions they would be asked.
In attendance were Rana Nelson (Green Party), Wayne Stetski (New Democratic Party), Sarah Bennett (People’s Party of Canada), Rob Morrison (Conservative) and Robin Goldsbury (Liberal).
Throughout the evening the candidates all agreed that the country needs affordable housing, economic recovery, a cleaner environment, solutions to climate change, affordable childcare, reconciliation with First Nations, a solution to the opioid crisis, and more jobs.
Whenever a candidate spoke in generalities about these or other subjects without naming a specific plan or cost, which was most of the time, their comments are not included below.
Labour shortages because of COVID-19 measures
Goldsbury said $10 per day childcare will soon become a reality under the Liberals and that immigrants should be fast-tracked for employment.
Morrison said people need to be weaned off of CERB if there are jobs available, and the government should make it easier to hire temporary foreign workers.
Stetski said he supports the $10 per day childcare program, and that the tourism industry needs to be given more certainty regarding the Canada-U.S. border. He said people going to work under a wage subsidy program is preferable to them staying at home.
Nelson said that the Green Party would provide 300,000 new housing units over three years and a guaranteed annual income for those in need.
Stetski committed to 500,000 new housing units over 10 years in partnership with the provinces, including 80 new housing units in Nelson. The NDP would bring back 30-year mortgages and introduce a 20 per cent foreign ownership tax.
Goldsbury touted the Liberals’ national housing strategy and said the government has tripled investments in homelessness and launched a rapid housing initiative. She listed programs designed to encourage multi-generational living, construction on affordable homes, and rent-to-own programs.
Small business recovery from COVID-19
Stetski said the NDP would continue federal relief programs such as the current wage and rent subsidy programs.
Bennett said “COVID is over” and that businesses will benefit from fewer restrictions, fewer subsidies, and lower corporate taxes.
“We need to take off our masks, stop unnecessary subsidies, and get people back to work,” she said.
Stetski said the NDP would forgive up to $20,000 in student debt and that university education should be free.
“You should be able to go from kindergarten to university all paid for as a public system,” he said.
Public health measures during COVID-19
Goldsbury said, “Vaccines work, and this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Bennett said “natural immunity” is more potent than a vaccine, which she added is actually genetic modification therapy. Vaccine passports are a way to track and trace citizens, she said.
Morrison said he is against mandatory vaccines but did not address vaccine passports except to say they are a provincial responsibility.
Nelson said she agrees with the current restrictions.
Stetski said it would not be legal to make vaccines mandatory, and said he favours a national vaccine passport rather than separate provincial ones.
Stetski said his party would reduce emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, eliminate subsidies to fossil fuel companies, create a million green jobs by renovating infrastructure and buildings, and move to electric vehicles as well as more rural public transportation.
Morrison said economic recovery is needed to raise the tax dollars for innovation in green energy and renewables. He said emitting industries would be taxed to contribute to this. He said he has been working with a Columbia Valley trucking company that will be pioneering the use of hydrogen fuel, and he said he is promoting an electric train to run between Trail and Cranbrook.
Morrison added that contrary to popular belief, a Conservative convention did not deny the existence of climate change. He said the federal government needs to help B.C. with wildfire management.
Nelson said the Green Party would oppose the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline and would ban fracking.
Bennett said climate change is a fact of life but should not be considered a crisis and that markets will adjust to it. She said governments should scrap carbon taxes.
Goldsbury said that moving forward with $10 per day daycare will result in the hiring of 40,000 more early childhood educators.
The candidates were also asked about opioids, the cannabis economy, racist hate crimes, and reconciliation with First Nations. They agreed these were important issues and said their party would definitely do something about them, but did not name specific actions they would take.
Stetski and Nelson both said they would implement proportional representation in federal elections. Stetski said an NDP government would ban conversion therapy.
Morrison, to counter criticism of his lack of an office in Nelson and the rarity of his visits, said he was considering it before the pandemic hit and constituency offices closed. Instead, he hired more staff to better serve constituents rather than pay office rent, he said, adding that that during his term as MP he has visited Nelson 18 times, and three times during this election campaign.