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BC Election 2017  

Leaders head to head on TV

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark is defending the time it took her government to cool Vancouver's scorching housing market, telling voters watching a TV debate the Liberals wanted to make sure they didn't wipe out the equity people have built in their homes by acting rashly.

But Clark says measures the government took, including a 15 per cent tax on foreign buyers in Metro Vancouver, have worked by slowing rising house prices.

British Columbia's May 9 election campaign passed a pivotal moment Wednesday night as the three party leaders participated in the final debate, outlining their differences on housing, the economy and leadership.

NDP Leader John Horgan accused the Liberals of waiting too long to come to the aid of families trying to put a roof over their heads, while Green Leader Andrew Weaver said the government's policies have turned housing into an investment vehicle.

The leaders debated for the first time last week on radio, which was largely remembered for a testy exchange after Clark touched Horgan on the arm and told him to calm down, causing the NDP leader to ask his Liberal counterpart not to touch him again.

The debate on Wednesday featured more three way clashes, but the moderator asked Horgan directly about his temperament, asking if he has anger-management issue.

Horgan says he gets angry when he sees government inaction on a range of issues.

The campaign has defined distinct choices for voters from the three parties.

The Liberals are trying to maintain a 16-year grip on power with a platform that would cost $157 million in new spending over three years. Clark is promising a personal income tax freeze, a small business tax cut and four more balanced budgets, building on a string of surpluses in the last five years.

The Liberals have run a largely stay-the-course campaign so far, highlighting their stewardship of Canada's top-performing economy.

Horgan is running on the slogan "It's time for a government that works for you," a swipe at the Liberals over political donations from corporations and wealthy individuals. Clark has fired back on Horgan on political donations after it emerged some of the NDP's senior campaign staff were being paid by the United Steelworkers Union.

Horgan also supports a daycare program that would cost $10 a day, a significant increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the elimination of medical services premiums, something the Liberals have promised to halve, starting in January.

Weaver is promising to double the tax on foreign home buyers and extend it across the province, while also providing free daycare for working parents who have children under the age of three.





Don't put the issue to bed

A pair of mayors have publicly expressed concern to the Interior Health Authority over staffing and a perceived removal of beds at the South Okanagan General Hospital, with hopes of keeping the issue at the forefront in the area.

Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff signed onto the letter penned at Oliver Town Hall, also signed by Mayor Ron Hovanes, which raises local concerns over beds at SOGH. Late last month, the hospital's chief of staff Dr. Peter Entwistle resigned from that position in protest of a potential removal of six physical beds from acute care.

Those six beds complement 18 funded beds in the hospital's acute care wing, and IH has told Castanet that if the unfunded beds were removed, it wouldn't affect hospital operations, despite Entwistle's protesting.

Hovanes says councillors in Oliver decided to write a letter to IH detailing their concerns and asking officials with the health authority to visit town hall to talk about the plan moving forward and assure councillors that there won't be a reduction in service at SOGH.

"As we were writing that letter, Carl Meadows from Interior Health phoned within the next day or two," Hovanes said. "He and the chief of staff from the Penticton hospital ... they came to our council meeting and the Osoyoos council meeting and they did offer assurances that our hospital is running well, it will be maintained and staffed. The capital projects that are planned are going forward.

"They're doing their very, very best to schedule the emergency room and to look at a longer-lasting solution for the staffing of the emergency room."

According to the letter, those six beds were removed from SOGH about five years ago, and to this day the mayors say health care in the area has been affected.

Now that IH officials have paid a visit to both councils, Hovanes says there remain some issues, including differences of staffing between Penticton Regional Hospital and SOGH, such as how many hours and how they are paid.

"Those are logistics that Interior Health is working on and trying to make it work," Hovanes said. "We have something like 17 or 18 doctors in Oliver and Osoyoos, but not all of them participate in the emergency room operations ... so there have been times when it's fallen on the backs of a few to keep the emergency room open."

On that note, the letter poses a question to the health authority: who is obliged to keep the ER staffed and running?

"We've sort of been led to believe from Interior Health that a joint responsibility between Interior Health and the local doctors that participate in the hospital," Hovanes said. "But some of those logistics and those types of things are something that they have to work out themselves."

Entwistle's resignation, according to Hovanes, was the spark that got conversations going around the issue, which Hovanes acknowledges isn't unique to SOGH.

IH has reportedly agreed to return to the town halls in six months to provide an update on the issue.

"I think that's good as well. We said as a council we want to make sure this isn't something that just goes away and is forgotten," Hovanes said. "Emergency rooms in hospitals has been an issue for some time. Princeton is one. Princeton, over the past, they've had their emergency room shut down a number of times."

Castanet reached out to IH for a comment on the letter on Tuesday, and received the following statement late in the day on Wednesday.

"Interior Health did receive a letter from the mayors of Oliver and Osoyoos regarding South Okanagan General Hospital today. We look forward to reviewing the contents of the letter and responding in due time."

An IH spokesperson said a full statement would be provided in the future.

In a public notice on its website, the Town of Osoyoos notes that it works with other authorities and governments to encourage physicians to work in the area, and attempts to foster an economic environment that does the same.



Campaign trail: Day 16

A look at some key developments from Day 16 of the B.C. election campaign for each of the parties:

LIBERALS

  • Liberal Leader Christy Clark reacts to new U.S. duties on softwood lumber by calling on Ottawa to ban the shipment of thermal coal through British Columbia, a move that would hurt producers south of the border.
  • Clark says she has considered the coal ban before, but as trade relations with the Trump administration sour she is "free" to take action without damaging negotiations on softwood lumber.
  • Clark says a ban is in line with her push for a liquefied natural gas industry, arguing if China were to shift from coal to LNG it would have "a massive impact" on greenhouse gas emissions.

NDP

  • NDP Leader John Horgan gave a muted response to Clark's proposal, saying there are a range of moves that could be taken on softwood lumber.
  • Horgan says if the NDP wins the election, he would speak with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about energy, raw log exports, "a whole host of issues that I believe we have to play on this negotiation."
  • Horgan campaigned in Burnaby on soaring housing costs, promising to make housing more affordable by closing loopholes in the rental tenancy act and building 114,000 new units.

GREENS

  • Green Leader Andrew Weaver backed Clark's lobbying efforts to ban thermal coal, but accused the Liberals of waiting too long to take that position.
  • Weaver says he has suggested stopping the expansion of thermal coal exports but couldn't get support from the other two parties in the legislature.
  • Weaver says he hopes Clark's move "is more than just election politics."


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Debate night for leaders

Leaders of British Columbia's political parties will enter living rooms across the province tonight as they take part in a televised debate.

Liberal Leader Christy Clark says the event will give her a chance to talk directly to voters about the choices they face come election day on May 9.

NDP Leader John Horgan says while tonight's debate is important, candidates should always champion issues that matter to the public, and he plans to speak about how he's managed to do that over the last four years.

The event follows a radio debate last week that featured acrimonious exchanges between Clark and Horgan.

At one point, Horgan asked Clark not to touch him after she put her hand on his arm and told him to calm down.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver says he plans to avoid engaging in similar clashes in this debate and will stick to policy instead of personal insults.

The debate will air 6:30 to 8 p.m. PT on Global, BC1 and CKNW.



Candidates tackle #1 issue

Castanet News reached out to candidates running in the ridings encompassing the Central Okanagan. These include Kelowna-Lake Country, Kelowna-Mission and Kelowna West. Each candidate was given the same six questions, and asked to respond by Monday, April 24.

Here are the answers to question two from those who replied. 

Questions 2 - What do you believe is the number one issue facing constituents in the Central Okanagan in this election. Why, and how would you propose to tackle it as MLA?

Shelley Cook, NDP - Kelowna West  -  Complex issues like access to affordable housing and healthcare, the two main issues facing the Kelowna West riding, are by nature interconnected. As MLA for Kelowna West, I will address these issues by: 1) building an urgent care centre in West Kelowna and expanding in home support for seniors and people with disabilities, and 2) building affordable housing (i.e.: rental, supportive, assisted living, seniors, co-op) in partnership/cooperation with the municipalities of Kelowna and West Kelowna.

Building an urgent care centre in Kelowna West will allow residents to access much needed health services in their home community. In turn, this will reduce the backlog in emergency care, improving access to healthcare on both sides of the lake.

Seniors and people with disabilities want to stay in their own homes for a long as possible. Expanding in-home care also frees up spaces in residential care, reducing reliance on KGH/clinics. Expanding the availability of assisted living units in Kelowna West will also have the effect of reducing KGH/clinic backlog because people will be receiving much of their required medical care in their homes.

Chuck Hardy, BC Conservatives - Kelowna-Mission  -  There can't be just one thing. People first, keep jobs in B.C. for all of us, and safe Jobs,  Infrastructure, roads rutted and not safe, bases can't handle weights of the trucks. Managers with too many bonuses has to stop. Put people in place that know what they are doing.

Harwinder Sandhu, BC NDP - Kelowna Mission  -  I have talked with many people in Kelowna and people tell me over and over again that affordability is the number one issue for them.

The BC NDP has a great platform to address this issue. We will eliminate MSP premiums, freeze BC hydro rates, and stop Christy Clark’s 42% increase to ICBC premiums. We will give a $400 grant to renters and will immediately raise all income and disability assistance rates by $100/month.

We will encourage and support assistance recipients as they re-enter the workforce, by allowing them to keep an additional $200 a month earning exemption.

We will establish a $10/day childcare program, increase the minimum wage to $15/hour, eliminate student loan interest, and we will provide a $1000 completion grant to each student.

We will work towards keeping medication costs down.

We will create a comprehensive poverty reduction plan. Currently under Christy Clark and the Liberals, BC is the only province without such a plan.

We will create more good paying jobs with a sustainable economy.

Rainer Wilkins, Green Party - Kelowna-Mission  -  Affordability and job creation for the emerging economy. The BC Greens do not accept donations from Corporations or Unions because we put the citizens of this community and province first and our policies and platform reflect this. Banning corporate and union donations to political parties would create a positive shift in our provincial government’s policies.

The economy is a major issue in the 2017 B.C. provincial election, with the incumbent B.C Liberal government running primarily on the strength of the province’s economic performance. However, the B.C. Liberal’s measures of success — GDP growth and job creation — paint an incomplete economic picture. It ignores that GDP growth has been driven by a red-hot, but limited housing market, that the benefits of this growth have primarily gone to the already-wealthy, and that the jobs that have been created are frequently part-time, insecure and unevenly distributed throughout the province.

The BC Green Party believes that the economy is not an end in itself. Instead, the economy should promote the health and wellbeing of the people of B.C. At present, the B.C. economy does not live up to that measure of success.

The world is changing. Between automation, exponential advances in technology, climate change, global political instability and resource depletion, B.C. needs a strong vision and an actionable strategy in order to succeed amidst these rapid, tectonic shifts. However, the piecemeal approach of both parties does not provide the agility required to succeed under these fast-changing conditions.

The B.C. Green Party is the only party that is presenting a platform that ensures opportunities created today are also available to the next generation. The key objectives of our platform that will run through this release and the ones to come are:

Economic security. Sustainability and intergenerational equity. Responsible government.

Norm Letnick, BC Liberals - Kelowna-Lake Country  -  We are one of the fastest growth areas in the country and, along with the benefits that come to citizens with growth, also comes the challenges of keeping up with the public infrastructure necessary to maintain and improve our quality of life.

That's why, since becoming your voice in Victoria eight years ago, I've been advocating hard, with my colleagues, for local investments like the new cardiac surgical centre at KGH, Highway 97 expansion, a connector road from Glenmore to Hwy 97, more transit hours, safety medians, new schools, money for water, the rail trail, tree fruit replant, the Okanagan Centre for Innovation, expansions at Okanagan College and UBCO, more access to day care, more family doctors, and much more.

To "tackle it," I am committing to continue the fight to bring more private and public sector investment and jobs to our community. I'm focused on policies that expand the economy and jobs like investing in our fast growing high tech and agriculture industries rather than policies that increase taxes.

Raising taxes, as proposed by my two challengers, will only serve to shrink our long term economic and job prospects thus creating hardships on families and making it more difficult to deliver on those key investments in health care, education, roads, etc. that we all want and need.

Alison Shaw, Green Party - Kelowna-Lake Country  -  Kelowna-Lake Country residents want to be able to live and work in their community. They want a chance to get ahead and own a home. If there’s one issue that effects everyone, it’s the need for a thriving local economy. Making sure there are full-time jobs being created now and into the future in our communities so that people are earning and spending locally and
driving our local economies forward. I believe that when BC communities do well, BC does well.

We need to recognize that the world is changing and that this creates opportunity. The policies of the Green Party capitalize on this opportunity for BC residents. The Green Party's jobs plan addresses the needs of the 21st century economy by supporting innovation and entrepreneurialism to create good paying jobs in communities. Research shows small businesses are the economic engines in thriving communities.

BC was ranked as having the worst performing economy for our emerging generation of professionals (20-40 years). People are working harder for less. Over Christy Clark's term, median full time income has dropped $1,200, while the cost of housing has soared out of reach. Supporting and encouraging
opportunities for our young people to stay in our communities is critical. Building a skilled workforce for the 21st century will be key.

So will affordability. Our housing strategy has the strongest measures to end speculation and flipping,
bringing this neglected issue under control. Policies for free childcare and early childhood education, to further take economic pressures off families and help them participate in growing a stronger BC economy.

The Green Party is the only provincial party that has their eye on the future. The platform provides a fully costed vision for BC that is fiscally responsible and comprehensive. It integrates proactive responses to social and environmental challenges we face in the 21st century. The vision is something that speaks to BC
values.



Rumble at the Sicamous

Dustin Godfrey

While it was largely civil, education seemed to hit a nerve during the third of four all-candidates forums in the Penticton riding Tuesday evening.

The debate, hosted by the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce, was held on the SS Sicamous, with questions submitted in advance and moderated by chamber president Neil Wyper.

“And then you swoop in at the end after everybody’s in an uproar, like it’s a real shame that the community had to get divided and you had to undermine the school board like that,” B.C. Green Party candidate Connie Sahlmark scolded incumbent B.C. Liberal MLA Dan Ashton to applause from the crowd.

While those two were caught up in quiet discussion following Sahlmark’s comments, B.C. NDP candidate Tarik Sayeed found himself trying to speak over the pair.

“Should I start?” he asked the two, before continuing on speaking on the school closures.

“(Ashton) didn’t show up for any one of them. This is fact-based,” Sayeed said. “I was there for all of them. Kids were crying, parents were begging to keep their schools open.”

Candidates also exchanged quips over who added fewer positions in health care during Tuesday’s debate on the SS Sicamous.

“During the 1990s, the NDP added this many positions,” Ashton said, making a zero with his thumb and index finger – much to the chagrin of one attendee. That person’s groan was met with Ashton’s disclaimer that everyone is entitled to an opinion.

“That’s how many new positions for teaching doctors were added. Zero. We doubled the positions.”

Meanwhile, Sayeed took aim at a Liberal promise to provide all residents with a family doctor by 2015.

“That didn’t happen,” he said. “Long wait times for urgent health care? That’s unacceptable.”

Sahlmark, on the other hand, focused on health policy, looking at ways to bring more doctors to rural areas.

“What we need is to have a program, whereby we can discount their tuitions, maybe give them a break on their loan payments, if they go to our rural communities,” she said.

Candidates also touched on issues from the tech and agricultural industries to the major energy projects to affordability.

The candidates will have their final faceoff on Thursday at the Penticton Lakeside Resort.



Facing the teachers

Teachers were polite but skeptical about the Liberal government's commitment to education during an all-candidates debate at Vernon Secondary School Tuesday night.

All four candidates running in the Vernon-Monashee district were present at the Vernon Teachers Association-sponsored forum that lasted over two hours.

Incumbent Liberal MLA Eric Foster was questioned about the Clark government's stand on education after losing a battle with teachers over class sizes in the Supreme Court of Canada last November.

“Your party had 15 years to do what was right for students,” Kevin Water in the audience told Foster. “A court forced you to.”

Water asked what it cost the B.C. government for legal fees and what-he-called “anti-education ads.”

“I don't have an exact answer,” said Foster, conceding “it was a tremendous amount of money.”

Green Party candidate Keli Westgate accused the government of spending $7 million in the last year “on lawyers fighting teachers.”

Westgate said her party planned to increase funding for K-12 education.

“Education must be properly funded,” she said.

Libertarian Don Jefcoat said his party also planned to bump up funding to $10,000 per student from the current $7,000 but added that some of that funding would go to independent schools.

“I believe in funding private education and alternative education as well because not everyone learns well in the classroom.”

NDP candidate Barry Dorval, a teacher himself, was a favourite of the crowd.

“Education is critical,” Dorval said. “I am so disheartened about what the Liberals have done over the last 15 years.”

Dorval said the government had embarked on cuts and confrontation that had damaged the education of his own children.

Other questions focussed on mental health funding for students, the cost of post secondary education, a lack of childcare spaces and affordable housing and increased downloading onto parents.

Foster told the crowd he was proud of the province's education system and reminded them “the money has to come from somewhere.”

“There's only so much to go around,” Foster said. 



Shuswap candidates spar

The issues of health care and the economy dominated an all-candidates debate in Enderby Tuesday, as the four candidates vying for the job of Shuswap MLA  jockeyed for position ahead of the May 9th provincial vote.

Incumbent MLA Liberal Greg Kyllo pushed the government’s record on the economy and, specifically, the $267 million invested in the riding over the past four years, noting new daycare and seniors housing spaces in the city.

“We have created 220,000 new jobs in the past 4 years, have the lowest unemployment rate since the 1970’s and the only triple A credit rating of any province in Canada,” Kyllo told the crowd of 50 area residents.

NDP candidate Sylvia Lindgren fired back that while the province may have built new facilities there are no funds for equipment and personnel.

“I question whether our MLA has been effective. Have we received value for the money spent?” Lindgren asked.

Green party candidate Kevin Babcock said the way forward for B.C. was to stop propping up old industries and invest in new technology especially in the energy sector.

Libertarian newcomer Kyle McCormack explained that his party is all about individual property rights and less government.

“We need to get rid of all these special interest tax credits and implement a lower flat tax,” McCormack said. Questions at the Enderby Chamber of Commerce-sponsored all candidates forum ranged from the opiate crisis to the shape of local roads.

One of the more heated exchanges came over the Site C dam project, with Kyllo defending it as being forward thinking to meet B.C.’s energy needs, noting it will be 700 per cent more efficient than the Bennett Dam with a smaller footprint.

Babcock said some of the best farmland in the province would be flooded and the money would be better spent on new energy technology like wind power.

Lindgren called the dam project  a billion dollar albatross that will take forever to hit carbon neutral status, while McCormack objected on the principle of private land rights and long time residents being forced off their property to make way for the dam.

This was the fifth of six Shuswap riding election forums, with the final tilt at the Sorrento Hall on April 27th.



Horgan promises hospital

The New Democrats are promising to build a new hospital in Burnaby with a price tag in the range of $1.2 billion.

NDP Leader John Horgan says the money would come from a five-year, $10 billion capital investment plan that is part of the party's platform in the May 9 election campaign.

Horgan made the announcement Tuesday standing outside Burnaby Hospital.

A new hospital would include a family urgent care centre, which Horgan says would reduce pressure on the hospital's emergency room.

He says if the NDP is elected, work would start immediately to find a site for a new hospital by working with the city and the regional health authority.



NDP slams lumber inaction

British Columbia NDP Leader John Horgan accused Liberal Leader Christy Clark of delay and inaction in the wake of American demands for duties on Canadian softwood.

Horgan issued a news release saying he is disappointed by the United States government's decision to level an average 20 per cent duty on Canadian softwood, effective May 1.

He says he is equally disappointed that Liberal Leader Christy Clark did not make it a priority to sign an agreement before duties were imposed.

Horgan says Clark didn't treat the softwood dispute with the urgency it deserves, and her inaction put thousands of B.C. jobs at risk.

The NDP Leader says if he is elected on May 9, he will travel to Washington, D.C., within 30 days to ensure this province's views are properly represented.

Following the Monday night tariff announcement from the U.S. government, Clark cancelled today's campaign appearances so she could discuss strategy with cabinet, but she will make a statement later today in Maple Ridge.



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