With the provincial election just four days away, The Progress asked local candidates about the pressing issues of housing affordability and funding for public education.
The seven men and women running in the two local electoral districts of Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Kent were also asked to let voters know what they think is a particularly pressing issue for their riding, and the answers were diverse.
A more challenging question was also put to the candidates: Name a policy of the party you belong to that should be changed or tweaked. Here, the responses were mostly devotional or vague, save for BC Liberal Laurie Throness who stands by his opposition to harm reduction when it comes to substance abuse, a policy embraced by his own party.
(See below for the wording of the questions followed by the answers, in full, from all candidates.)
On how high real estate and housing affordability are hurting many in the Lower Mainland, and what their party would do to fix the situation, the BC Liberal incumbents stood pat on their party’s policy over the last decade and a half in power. Throness pointed to the 15 per cent Foreign Buyers Tax in Metro Vancouver as a successful measure, along with policies to help new buyers get into the market.
BC Liberal candidate for Chilliwack John Martin said the key is creating new supply, and in addition to policies to spur construction in the private sector, he pointed to funding for affordable housing recently announced in Chilliwack and provincewide.
“We have completed close to 24,000 new units of affordable housing,” Martin said. “And we provide financial assistance to more than 30,000 family and senior households renting in the private market.”
BC NDP candidate in Chilliwack Tracey O’Hara said her party aims to build 114,000 affordable homes over the next 10 years, while reducing other household costs such as MSP, ICBC and BC Hydro.
Chilliwack-Kent BC NDP candidate Patti MacAhonic said BC Liberal leader Christy Clark, as premier, has been working for “rich donors” not for citizens.
“We will impose a tax on property speculators who don’t pay income tax in the province, which will be more effective than a levy on foreign buyers introduced last year by the Liberal government,” MacAhonic said.
As for the BC Green Party candidates, Wayne Froese in Chilliwack and Josie Bleuer in Chilliwack-Kent said housing prices need to be cooled at the top with a sliding property transfer tax from zero per cent up to $200,000 up to 12 per cent for sales over $3 million. The party platform also includes spending $750 million per year to construct 4,000 new units of affordable housing annually.
On the question of what policy area needs special attention in Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Kent, the answers covered the spectrum. In Chilliwack, Martin focused on seniors’ care as did independent McKinnon, O’Hara hit the hot topic of housing affordability and Froese addressed the much-overlooked subject of First Nations relations.
“A critical part of our Chilliwack Green campaign team includes a First Nations advisory committee, and we have identified four key measures as starting points to address disparities and develop genuine nation-to-nation relationships,” Green candidate Froese said.
New Democrat O’Hara said housing affordability is the topic she has heard from voters most on doorsteps.
“The need to have this addressed has kept individuals and families in poverty and a new approach is long overdue,” she said. “One in five B.C. children live in poverty and 23 per cent of those kids are right here in Chilliwack.”
McKinnon said legislation is needed to lower gas and electricity rates for seniors.
On the subject of seniors, Martin said the BC Liberals plan is to invest $500 million over the next four years to improve care for seniors. He said since his time in office, things have improved with $3 billion invested in 2015/16 “almost double what was invested in 2001.”
In Chilliwack-Kent, Throness pointed to homelessness and the interrelated issues of crime, mental health and addictions.
“At last count there were only 221 homeless people [in Chilliwack], but they are very visible in our community,” he said. “More than a few are involved in crime, their living conditions are unsanitary, the needles they discard pose a risk to our citizens, and they contribute to a general atmosphere of disorder and unease.”
Long-term drug treatment is the solution, for Throness.
MacAhonic did not point to a specific policy area, rather she outlined her own biography and work experience. She also reiterated what she has called the “16 years of chronic underfunding of mental health and addictions,” and her party’s plan to create a new mental health and addictions ministry, as well as a poverty reduction plan.
Bleuer said she wants to be a voice for the “sandwich generation,” those still providing for kids while assisting aging parents.
“These people know every shortcoming of the education and healthcare system and are valuable sources of insight,” she said.
When asked if there was any policy in their party’s platform they disagreed with or thought needed tweaking, both Liberal Martin in Chilliwack and New Democrat MacAhonic in Chilliwack-Kent were unflinching in their support of their respective parties. The Green Party’s Froese, too, in Chilliwack said he had found nothing to quibble with adding, however, that he was not “whipped” and was in the only party that allowed MLAs to vote according to their conscience.
In Chilliwack the NDP’s O’Hara was less devotional than MacAhonic.
“I’ve chosen to focus my attentions on the issues of concern to the constituents of Chilliwack and that is more important then any minor differences between my personal beliefs and some platform points,” she said.
Bleuer said the Green Party platform is “a starting point which should be defined by the needs of the community.”
Throness offered the only real tidbit of difference, if an unsurprising one for anyone who has followed him during the campaign. The BC Liberals have elicited support for harm reduction and safe consumption sites for drug users, but Throness remains opposed. As Parliamentary Secretary for Corrections for the past four years, Throness says addictions fuel most crime in B.C.
“As I have already advocated publicly, the goal of our health ministry needs to change. Instead of ‘helping addicts live positive lives,’ I would have the health system strive to cure every addiction, just as we strive to cure every patient with cancer or any other disease,” he said.
Advanced voting continues Friday until 8 p.m. and again on Saturday, May 6 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Election day is May 9.