Approximately 250 people attended the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce All Candidates Forum for the Courtenay-Alberni riding, Wednesday night at Mark Isfeld School in Courtenay.
All five candidates were in attendance, answering questions on a range of topics, primarily surrounding business and economy.
Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce director Bill Anglin moderated the forum, reading the voter-submitted questions to (in order of seating) Barb Biley (Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada), Jonah Gowans (Liberal Party of Canada), Byron Horner (Conservative Party of Canada), Gord Johns (New Democrat Party) and Sean Wood (Green Party of Canada).
After each candidate was given time to introduce themselves, the question period began by asking each candidate their party’s plan for helping with the growth and sustainability of the small business sector.
Biley said wages, training and affordable housing issues need to be addressed in order to fix the shortage of skilled workers in the community.
Gowans stated that the Liberal government cut small business taxes from 11 to nine per cent.
He said his party’s plan is to cut clean tech companies’ taxes by 50 per cent, as well as put money into training new workers and “guarantee work for apprentices, so that they can get through their apprenticeships to become journeymen.”
Horner disputed Gowans’ tax cut claim, saying the Liberal government hiked payroll tax and had “an unprecedented tax hike in 2017.
“A new Conservative government will repeal Trudeau’s tax increases on small business investments, and we are going to also exempt spouses from Trudeau’s tax increases on small business dividends.”
Johns said housing and childcare issues are the biggest barriers for small businesses in the Courtenay-Alberni riding.
“We need to invest in non-market, affordable housing, and safe and affordable, accessible childcare,” adding that pharmacare and dental care plans for all are also important and would be addressed by the NDP.
Wood said the Green Party would establish green venture capital funds, to support green businesses, and that subsidies, as opposed to tax cuts, are the way to go.
On the issue of reviewing the current income tax system, most of the candidates concurred that a review of the tax system is not on their parties’ mandates, although Johns said the system is “rigged for the wealthy and the well-connected,” and needs a complete overhaul, while Biley said all taxes should be abolished.
As one of the oldest ridings in the country (in regards to constituents’ median age) the question of a national senior care strategy is one all the candidates have been addressing throughout their respective campaigns.
“We need a national seniors’ strategy to ensure that seniors and their caregivers are treated with the dignity they deserve, and making sure they have affordable and accessible medicine,” said Johns.
“We don’t want to live in a country where we are stepping over people on our way to work, that are left on the street, whether they be seniors or otherwise,” said Wood. “I think we all want to live in a country where we are helping those people get back on their feet.”
Biley suggested seniors’ residential care should be run by non-profit organizations. She pointed to the state of affairs at the privately owned* Comox Valley Seniors’ Village (CVSV), which she said pays its staff 22 per cent less than staff at the not-for-profit Glacier View Lodge.
“That is why you do not have proper care, and that should be a criminal offence.”
(* CVSV is part of Retirement Concepts, which was sold to Anbang Insurance out of China in 2017, and subsequently taken over by the Chinese government.)
Gowans said the Liberals will raise Old Age Security by $729 per person (per year), and will increase Canada Pension Plan survivor benefits by 25 per cent.
“And going back to the National Housing Strategy, I think it needs to put a focus on seniors’ housing, making sure they all have a roof over their heads, from coast to coast to coast,” he said.
Horner said the Conservatives recognize there is a need for “a national strategy to get accessible healthcare, to get GPs, to get nurse practitioners, in our communities, and in the rural communities that make up Courtenay-Alberni.”
On childcare, Wood said the Green Party’s proposal of a guaranteed livable income would go a long way toward making childcare affordable for all.
Biley said childcare should be considered a right for all, and should be provided free of charge for everybody who needs it.
Gowans said the Liberals are committing to an additional 250,000 childcare spaces in Canada, as well as 15 weeks’ maternity leave for foster parents, and adoptive parents.
Horner said the Conservatives will eliminate all tax on maternity and paternity leave, as well as tax credits that will help families.
“Our whole platform is about putting more money in families’ pockets so that they can have more money for things like childcare,” he said.
Johns said childcare issues are affecting employers and employees alike.
“[We] need $10 a day childcare. In Quebec they did it, and 70,000 people went back to work,” he said. “Our commitment is $10 billion over four years, and creating 500,000 safe and affordable childcare spaces.”
When asked about poverty reduction plans, Gowans pointed to the Liberals’ creation of the Canada Child Benefit, which he said has brought 16,000 children in this riding alone “out of poverty, and 300,000 across the country.”
Horner commended the Liberals for the introduction of the CCB, saying “it’s the one thing that the Trudeau Liberals did that I fully support,” and added that the Conservatives would not tamper with that program. He said the Conservatives would “increase spending to public healthcare and social programs by three per cent every year.”
On climate, and addressing a sustainable green economy, Johns said it would take a collaborative effort.
“No one party is going to solve this thing. We have to work together,” he said.
Wood said the Green Party envisions zero net emissions by 2050.
“The planet is warming up too much. We are losing glaciers, we are losing ice caps, and we really need to start curbing our fossil fuel emissions,” he said.
Biley said the transition to a greener economy should be put into the hands of the workers themselves.
“They will figure it out. We collectively have the intelligence and the ability to figure out how to do this transition, as long as it is in our hands, and not in the hands of those who see … how they can profit from it.”
Gowans said we need to set reachable targets, in five-year increments.
“We are going to preserve Canada,” he said of the Liberal plan. “Twenty-five per cent of the ocean will be protected by 2025. When we came into power in 2015 that number was one per cent. It is currently 14. We are going to do the same on land, and preserve 25 per cent of Canada’s land by 2025. Both targets will move to 30 per cent by 2030.”
Horner alluded to Canada only accounting for less than two per cent of all global emissions, and unless other countries get on-board, Canadian efforts will be marginal at best.
“Canada could be carbon neutral tomorrow and China will continue to burn dirty coal. They represent 50 per cent of all emissions. That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything. The key is to export and develop Canadian green technology that can displace dirtier options globally.”
All candidates were in favour of a national school food program to ensure all children are properly fed.
Other questions included whether parties would consider tax incentives to help with rental housing builds; homeownership affordability; the possibility of reviewing the tax code; addressing the debt; balancing of the budget; trade options with China, and the Asian-Pacific gateway; and apprenticeship program plans.
To watch the entire forum, visit https://bit.ly/2VsLjYI