In a seniors activity centre, with an audience of nearly 65, whose average age hovered around 65, incumbent Shuswap Liberal MLA Greg Kyllo said B.C.’s aging population is a significant economic challenge.
Kyllo was responding to a question about the greatest economic challenges facing the province and what the Shuswap riding candidates and their parties would do about it in a provincial election all-candidates forum Wednesday in Armstrong’s Seniors Activity Centre.
“We’re all aware that an older population is more expensive to care for than a younger demographic,” said Kyllo, joined at the forum by Kelly Babcock of the B.C. Greens and Silvia Lindgren of the NDP. “The federal government does not take age demographics into consideration in their funding formula, which means we’re under-funded about $250 million annually.
“Our focus is to grow the economy. Create more job opportunities that would then increase taxation, and with that increased taxation we’ll then have the necessary revenues to address increasing pressures.”
Babcock said B.C.’s economy is changing.
“The old ways are on their way out,” he said. “We have more technology and more automation, and that automation is going to be a big part as far as jobs for people. We can be more career-focused, and we can build what people want to do for their lives.”
Lindgren said the tech sector and education are areas that need focus, but the biggest thing the province needs to focus on is poverty.
“We have a huge problem in this province,” said Lindgren. “We’re told we’re in an era of great economic growth and prosperity, and unemployment is low, yet when I look around my community, people don’t have jobs that pay a living wage or allows them to do what they want to do. We need to deal with that situation.”
On the topic of wages, a member of the public asked about raising the minimum wage. Lindgren said if people aren’t paid a livable wage, they can’t spend money in towns.
“We need to make sure people are paid enough to pay their mortgage, get groceries, feed their kids, send them to school and make sure there’s a little left over to support the things you people do, and that’s the small businesses in towns,” said Lindgren.
Babcock said the question has been part of every election campaign.
“It’s time to make a change, there’s a reason why minimum wage isn’t working,” said Babcock. “Businesses can make up the extra costs by raising the prices in their shops. The people that get hurt are the ones making slightly above minimum wage. They don’t get raises because the minimum wage bump took care of the raise. The best raise I’ve had in 20 years is two per cent. There’s been a lot of zeroes in there. My wage doesn’t go up but due to minimum wage going up, the prices go up faster and my purchasing power goes down.
“One strategy to take care of that is would offer an annual basic income. That would help take care of that issue so people have the freedom to live…”
There were 11 questions asked from the floor in the one-hour forum, with two of them directed solely at Kyllo, including if he feels proud to be part of the “mismanagement of B.C.’s economy” by the Clark government, resulting in the provincial debt being more than doubled.
“Our philosophy is we will take on debt but we only borrow to build,” said Kyllo. “When we’re borrowing for a new port expansion or new bridge infrastructure, if that borrowing is for the asset for future generations for 30 years, I see no concern with actually taking on debt that would be commensurate with the actual life of that utility or infrastructure project.
“B.C. just produced a fifth balanced budget and we should be extremely proud as we are the only jurisdiction in North America that can lay claim to that.”
Other question topics were about hunting and fishing licences, the drug trade, legalizing marijuana and motorized vehicles on Crown lands.
Another forum is slated for Tuesday, April 25, at 6 p.m. at the Enderby Seniors Complex.
The first forum for the Vernon-Monashee riding will be held Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Lumby’s Whitevalley Community Centre.