A respectful tone dominated the discussion during the all-candidates forum held at Clearwater Secondary School on April 26.
Questions from the audience on the forestry sector, ageism, education, platform costs and the health sector were posed to the three candidates, individually or as a group.
Dan Hines, the B.C. Green Party representative, Barb Nederpel of the New Democrats and Peter Milobar, the BC Liberal representatives answered questions in respective order.
Early in the evening, the candidates faced a question on the forest industry.
All three candidates spoke about the need to diversify the forest industry.
Off the top, Hines spoke of the opportunity to use wood products in “innovative” ways.
“The future of forestry is going to be more and more in small and medium sized businesses,” he said.
While Nederpel, in the second position to answer questions, often found herself responding “ditto” to Hines’ answers, the NDP candidate distinguished herself by mentioning NDP leader John Horgan’s promise to travel to Washington within 30 days of being elected to negotiate a softwood lumber deal.
“We want to work with the forest industry to make sure that the right logs are going to the right mill and that we are using every part of the tree as possible.”
Milobar pointed to the Liberal fund to increase broadband access in rural communities to help B.C. “compete with the rest of the world” as well as removing the PST paid on hydro by forestry mills.
Education also appeared as a reoccurring topic during the forum, with each candidate mentioning the need to differentiate between urban and rural schools.
“Per-student funding is not working for us,” said Hines. “What we need to do is sit down together and actually talk about the best places to allocate our funds and do it together as a community.”
Hines emphasized Green Party promises to add $2 million of investment into schools, as well as additional funds being added to support teacher training and mentoring with regards to the new curriculum.
Nederpel drew attention to class composition: “That is something we are committed to – to make sure we have the right resources in the right schools.”
She also noted the need for additional funding for school supplies and proper tools to support the new curriculum.
Milobar, having already answered a question directed to him about education funding, discussed increased supports into rural school systems, as well as noting the impact of school closures in rural communities, saying that it should “no longer [be] allowable for school districts to charge for bussing.”
Notably, seniors care and health care hit close to home for attendees of the forum.
Hines was direct in his criticism of the current system, promising investment in affordable housing and healthcare access.
“We are not ready for an aging population. Our healthcare system is not ready for it, our housing is inadequate, our social services are not adequate, so whatever happens, whatever government gets elected, we’re going to need a major investment into this,” he said.
“It’s going to require great creativity.”
He also noted that the doctor shortage does not come with a simple fix, instead highlighting the needs for incentives and training with a focus on rural medicine.
Nederpel highlighted the need for dignified, in-home care for seniors as well as the provision of community centres to provide for the social and information needs of seniors.
She also focused on the idea of “team based care,” to lessen the need for family doctors, as well as removing barriers to doctors with foreign credentials.
Milobar mentioned Liberal programs to increase home care and visits by Interior Health, restructuring to the paramedic service, as well as helping to offset costs for communities to use in recruiting doctors, but also noted that “commitments of increased funding and all these programs come from having a very strong economy to help pay for all that.”
The forum ended with some of the most pointed statements of the night.
Milobar questioned the NDP economic policies while Nederpel spoke of broken promises by B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark. Hines asked the audience to look at the ways political parties are financed, saying donations by unions and corporations make elected parties deaf to communities and individuals.
The candidates encouraged the audience to check out their party’s full platform online.