The final all-candidates’ forum, held Tuesday evening in Cumberland, included a wide variety of questions from Comox Valley residents.
Presented by the Cumberland Chamber of Commerce at Cumberland Cultural Centre, the two-hour forum was moderated by Nick Ward.
From the question of whether photo radar should be re-established, to how each candidate would encourage more young Comox Valley residents to vote, to their stance on the future of the Comox Valley landfill to what candidates would do to stop hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in B.C., the evening covered a wide range of topics.
But, economic growth possibilities in Cumberland and the Valley and candidate views about local healthcare services each came up more than once.
One attendee asked the four candidates to explain three practical plans they have to create employment and investment in the community.
Liberal incumbent Don McRae pointed out the 1,900 jobs expected from the North Island Hospitals Project and over 400 jobs expected from the John Hart Generating Station Replacement Project, plus he said he wants to focus on growing the construction industry in the Comox Valley.
He also said there’s room for agricultural growth in the Valley, noting he was a former minister of agriculture.
“There’s an opportunity to take the 60 per cent ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) land in our community that is being underutilized, an opportunity to see that evolve into becoming jobs for young people,” he said. “We just need to make sure that people go into farming, that farming can be profitable.”
Green candidate Chris Aikman said innovation, preservation of human capital, natural resources and the environment, and planning for the long term are the three things to focus on. He added the John Hart project, for example, should be built to one day accommodate wind power from the Cape Scott Wind Farm.
Conservative candidate Diane Hoffmann said she would look at local resource opportunities and focus on growing areas like forestry, but she said her focus would be listening to what the community’s ideas are and take those back to government.
NDP candidate Kassandra Dycke said clean energy and tourism would be important areas, but forestry would be the first one she should look at. She said the industry needs reinvestment, with a focus on growing secondary industry in the community “so that we’re not shipping out jobs with raw logs across the ocean.”
On the issue of health-care services in the Comox Valley, McRae noted an opportunity for St. Joseph’s General Hospital to become a “senior centre of care excellence” once the new Comox Valley hospital is completed. He said he would work with the Vancouver Island Health Authority and the Diocese of Victoria (owner of St. Joseph’s) to explore the idea of assisted living and hospice-type care at the facility.
“It is something that I am making my No. 1 priority as my local ask for our community going forward,” he added.
He also said he would continue to advocate for more money from VIHA, and getting a Comox Valley resident on the VIHA board would be a high priority.
Dycke said investing in home care is of “prime importance” and she would ensure residential care is the best is can be.
She also said there needs to be “smarter spending” in health care, noting one emergency room visit can cost $700 and there needs to be better care alternatives in the community to avoid costly hospital visits. She called the 176 recommendations in the ombudsperson report “our call to duty.”
Aikman said the system needs to be more efficient, and noted he would rather focus on investments in home support or supportive living than residential care for the elderly, noting he considers these choices “much more humane” in terms of end-of-life care.
Hoffmann said she would talk to community members and stakeholders to find out what they would like to see.
The candidates also spoke about Compliance Coal’s proposed Raven Underground Coal Project, as they did at the previous all candidates forum in Courtenay.
McRae wants wait to see the environmental assessment which is underway, Dycke is concerned, noting the proposal represents a “very significant risk” for the Valley, Aikman is against moving it forward and Hoffmann said she understands there is community concern and she plans to meet with these residents more about the issue.