More money for infrastructure projects, an aging workforce, Canada’s reliance on the oil industry, a recession, deficits and investing in small- and medium-size businesses.
All of those topics and more were raised by the three candidates running for federal office in the Kelowna-Lake Country riding as they answered questions about the economy in front of a boisterous crowd of about 200 citizens in Lake Country on Wednesday night.
When asked about the three most pressing issues facing the Canadian economy, the candidates had a variety of responses.
Incumbent Conservative MP Ron Cannan told the crowd that one of the biggest issues facing Canada is the aging workforce and the need for partnerships to continue to grow our nation’s skilled labour pool.
“There was a study done that said in the valley by 2020 there is going to be a need for 100,000 jobs and they anticipate only having about half of those filled so we need to ensure we are working with Okanagan College and UBC Okanagan to ensure students have the skills that are going to be needed,” said Cannan. The Conservatives, he said, have an $80-billion infrastructure program to help communities deal with things like aging roads.
“The government doesn’t create jobs, entrepreneurs create jobs, so we have to make sure the money is there for entrepreneurs to take their idea to market.”
Liberal candidate Stephen Fuhr hammered away at Canada’s current job creation and economic growth and said a Liberal plan would put $125 billion towards helping Canadian cities deal with infrastructure shortages.
“We are in a recession and a deficit,” he said. “We have the worst economic growth record since the 1930s and the worst job creation record since World War II. We’re going to invest money from the ground up. We’re going to put more into the pockets of Canadians with a more generous tax-free child benefit and a lower middle income tax bracket. To create jobs you invest in infrastructure. That’s the most cost-effective way that you create jobs.”
NDP candidate Norah Bowman said the first thing Canada must do is cut its reliance on the oil industry and invest money in alternative energy and innovation.
“We need an oil industry in Canada, we need to keep it going, but we also need to diversify so the NDP is proposing to stop subsidizing the oil companies to the degree they are subsidized and use some of that money to invest in alternative energy and innovation,” said Bowman. “The economy is driven by families and people going to work and school so we’re going to create one million child care spaces at no more than $15 a day.”
The economy was just one of several topics the candidates touched on during the all-candidates forum, which had pre-submitted questions, allowing the candidates to answer each query without follow up questions from a moderator or the audience.
Lake Country mayor James Baker said it’s unfortunate that the Kelowna-Lake Country race is without a Green Party candidate as he felt the Greens had some good environmental and social policies. But Baker said his municipality will work with whoever is in power, trying to access federal funding to help with infrastructure as well as with social programs such as affordable housing.
“What I’m hearing is each of the candidates and parties in our area have pretty similar policy with regard to infrastructure. All of them are saying they would certainly be contributing towards infrastructure. To a large extent things that we have to deal with at local government level, we need funding from both senior government, federal and provincial. We have certainly benefitted from it in the past whether our local candidates is in opposition or government, they have been very effective in getting things for local government.”
Other topics included questions about the chronic shortage of doctors, how the parties would help promote the agriculture industry as well as the legalization of marijuana, one of the few topics the parties were split on.
Bowman said the NDP would decriminalize marijuana immediately upon election allowing them to start the process of taking the control of pot out of the hands of organized crime. Fuhr said the Liberals will legalize marijuana but said there are more pressing issues such as the economy. Cannan said he thinks the issue needs an adult discussion but is uncomfortable with either legalization or decriminalization, saying it’s a poor message to kids to make it available the same way alcohol is.
The federal election is Oct. 19.