There was a forum for Nechako Lakes candidates in the upcoming provincial election on April 24.
The event was organized by the local Chamber of Commerce and held at David Hoy Elementary and about 55 people came out to ask questions and hear from the candidates.
MLA John Rustad of the Liberal Party opened with some of the things he has been involved with during his time in office, from a new hospital for Burns Lake to funding for road improvements in the Fort St. James area and chair of the Mid Term Timber Supply Committee
Dan Brooks, BC Conservative Party candidate opened with an anecdote about an injury he suffered while guide-outfitting, with the finishing line: “The suffering I experienced 16 hours overnight in the bush waiting for a helicopter is nothing compared to what I’ve experienced under the Liberals.”
Susanne Skidmore-Hewlett, BC NDP candidate, opened with a promise not to attack the other parties. She mentioned focusses in the NDP platform, without specifics, except to say she opposed the Enbridge (Northern Gateway) pipeline.
Colin Hamm, BC Green Party candidate, described some of the philosophy behind Green Party politics, saying the party is not opposed to development or jobs He also said the party believes in a strong decentralized government, which would keep economic benefits in local communities as well as decision-making powers.
Question topics ranged from education to Enbridge and of course there was some Mid-term timber supply thrown in as well.
Here are some summarized responses to issues raised, with apologies to candidates for simlifying. For more go to www.caledoniacourier.com
Brooks: Said the province needs to review timber supply with better inventories and data.
Rustad: Pine beetle epidemic forced the focus to shift to harvesting in a short time, now the Liberal plan is to work on inventory and invest in silviculture. He also touched on the report put forward by the Mid-Term Timber Supply Committee.
Skidmore-Hewlett: Said the NDP would focus on replanting and slowing raw log exports and updating the inventory as well. She attacked the Liberal record on oversight and monitoring in the forest sector.
Hamm: Replanting is a priority but for the short-term want to look at more value-added jobs. Compared cubic metres cut per forestry job in Quebec (300 cubic metres) versus B.C. (1,000 cubic metres), emphasized need for creating more jobs by using more of the fibre.
Hamm: Agriculture has been taken over by large corporations, said the Green Party wants to help return the industry to more small-business-style agriculture and move towards more sustainable agricultural practices.
Skidmore-Hewlett: Said the NDP would bring back the Buy BC program to support local producers.
Brooks: Said the Conservatives would focus on reducing energy costs for agriculture by repealing the carbon tax and would decentralize meat inspection
Rustad: Would like to update the Primary Agriculture Products list, said Liberals are committed to removing carbon tax for agricultural use, and committed money to the Agricultural land commission. He also said the Liberal plan is to move to local meat inspectors by 2014.
Enbridge Northern Gateway
Rustad: Made the economic argument we need to find more markets for our product. He said he would support the pipeline if it meets the five criteria laid out by Premier Christy Clark and talked about building a province that is debt-free with increased services by increased natural resource revenue if it can be shipped offshore.
Brooks: Said he would feel more comfortable with third-party monitoring of the pipeline, but supports it because he believes it is important to the economy. When asked a question about his daughters cleaning up an oil spill. Brooks responded with “My girls aren’t going to clean up an oil spill because quite simply it’s never going to happen … it’s about risk assessment for the economic benefits.”
Said a community has to have conditions under which projects can move forward. “There must be somewhere in there that a community can say these are the reasons we oppose this and if you meet these conditions and these expectations you may proceed with the project, that’s what resource development is about.”
Skidmore-Hewlett: Opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, I don’t think the communities from the beginning of this constituency all the way to the end want to see it go through.”
Hamm: Opposes pipeline for economic, environmental and political reasons because majority of public of the region are opposed and he does not believe the pipeline would benefit the local economy significantly.
Early learning initiatives
Hamm: He reiterated the Green Party believes in investing in children and education.
Skidmore-Hewlett: She said her party is in favour of affordable early childhood education, and is committed to reduction of child poverty.
Brooks: He said the province needs to make children and parents the clients of the school system and put their interests ahead those of the unions.
Rustad: He discussed how the Liberals would continue with the Strong Start program and full-day kindergarten and contributions to registered education savings plans and defended the Liberal record on child-poverty reduction.
Hamm: He said he wants to see the focus in health care shift towards prevention in order to get more out of health care dollars.
Skidmore-Hewlett: She attacked health care under the Liberals, and said the NDP want to work with rural communities to strengthen rural health services.
Brooks: He said Liberals raised premiums but spend less on health care than the Canadian average. He also promised to spend money more efficiently to deliver services in a more timely matter.
Rustad: He said throwing money at the system is not the answer and defended his government’s record on health care in terms of increased training and cancer treatment.
Revenue-sharing to support rural infrastructure
Skidmore-Hewlett: She wants to build relationships with regional and municipal districts to ensure resource revenues benefit rural areas.
Hamm: He said the Green Party believes in decentralized government which would keep more decision-making power in local communities and would work to keep resource revenues in local communities.
Brooks: He said his party has an infrastructure grant program they have proposed for northern communities and they would allow gas tax revenues to be reallocated for infrastructure instead of just green energy projects.
Rustad: He talked about the Rural Resource Dividend in the Liberal platform to return resource revenue to rural communities and detailed some of the infrastructure projects which have gone forward during his time in office such as the Burns Lake Hospital and road upgrades slated for the area, including the North Road.
Rustad: He described described what the Liberals have already done in terms of creating more post-secondary and especially trades training spaces.
Brooks: He wants to encourage teens to seek careers in trades and to improve the quality of life in northern B.C. to keep people in the area. He said there is a need for investment in arts and culture, tourism, recreation centres, etc.
Skidmore-Hewlett: She said the NDP has a commitment to post-secondary education and would implement needs-based grants for students.
Hamm: Spoke about providing innovative business opportunities to diversify the economy through education and job training. He said the Green Party wants to eventually reduce the interest on student loans to zero to decrease debt loads for young people and one day offer free post-secondary when the economic conditions allow it.