Candidates vying for the Vernon-Monashee MLA position in the fast-approaching provincial election responded to voters’ questions during an all-candidates forum Thursday night.
Hosted by Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce Oct. 8 through Zoom, the virtual forum saw the riding’s four candidates — incumbent BC Liberals Eric Foster, BC Conservatives Kyle Delfing, BC NDP Harwinder Sandhu and BC Greens Keli Westgate — answer questions on a wide variety of topics, with chamber general manager Dan Proulx serving as moderator.
After brief opening statements, each candidate was given two minutes to answer questions posed by the chamber and event sponsor, the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, before turning to questions submitted by viewers. Topics covered included support for the agricultural sector, child care spaces, climate change, mental health and addictions services, electoral reform and much more.
Foster said his party’s support for agriculture would come through increased funding to growers and more tree planting, while Delfing pointed to his party’s plan to eliminate the carbon tax and instead focus on regulating emissions. Westgate focused on shifting towards regenerative agriculture, protecting the long-term sustainability of soil and creating incentives for small-scale farms.
The candidates were asked to discuss support for child care, with Westgate highlighting the Green Party’s plans for free care for children under three, as well as fairer wages for child care workers. Foster criticized the NDP’s $10 daycare model as “undoable,” but said the need for more public and private child care spaces is clear, adding he believes spaces could be added to existing schools at less cost per space than constructing stand-alone buildings.
Sandhu said the BC NDP has created 20,000 new child care spaces and highlighted two new centres coming to Coldstream, while also pushing back on Foster’s claim that her party’s child care model isn’t feasible.
“33,000 families are already paying $10 a day, and we are committed to expand further on this program,” she said.
On climate change, Sandhu pointed to the NDP’s Clean BC Plan and the 300 million trees planted this year. Westgate spoke passionately on the topic, citing the Greens’ plans to halt the Site C dam project and decentralize energy with a focus on renewable sources.
“I’m running because none of the other parties are treating the climate emergency with the urgency that it requires,” Westgate said in her opening statement. “We need to have an environmental lens on everything we do from this point forward.”
On the topic of mental health and addictions, all candidates agreed community-based support is a priority for the area. Foster said there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there needs to be “wrap-around” services for housing, hospitalization and clinics. Delfing cited the Conservatives’ plan to review how tax dollars are spent in health care.
“Investing into our people is a good idea, but when you make an investment you want to make the right investment,” he said.
Sandhu, a Vernon registered nurse, said she regularly sees the effects of mental health and addictions, but has also seen progress since the NDP instituted the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions — a first in the country.
The candidates were divided on the topic of blanket 10 p.m. alcohol cut-offs for restaurants and clubs during the pandemic. Westgate and Sandhu were in favour, though both empathized with the challenges business owners face. Delfing was most strongly opposed, suggesting it hasn’t prevented people from gathering in more informal locations. Foster said he prefers punishing offending businesses rather than taking a blanket approach.
The discussion got heated during a question on the work candidates will do to make local constituents’ voices heard in Victoria. Both Sandhu and Westgate accused Foster of neglect for local constituents, with Sandhu saying Foster “only shows up at election time.”
Foster promptly raised his hand for a chance to rebut.
“I take offence to that statement, as I go to as many charity events and community events as I can,” he said. “For you to say that I show up at election time only, you better talk to some of the people that actually go to these events.”
One question took aim at a more local issue: supporting efforts to expand Ellison Ellison Provincial Park through the acquisition of the Chelsea Estate lands. All candidates were in favour of the idea to varying degrees, with Delfing offering the caveat that increased traffic in the area would need to be managed properly.