Round two of the all-candidates forums for the five people running in the Kelowna West byelection went Friday in Kelowna and while the second was much shorter than the first, it elicited the same responses to many of the same questions asked two nights earlier in Westbank.
B.C. Green candidate Robert Stupka, Shelley Cook of the NDP, B.C Liberal Ben Stewart, Libertarian Kyle Geronazzo and B.C. Conservative Mark Thompson all answered questions on a variety of issues including housing affordability, ICBC and transportation.
While Stewart said the current shortage of affordable housing is due in large part to the success of the B.C. economy under the former Liberal government and growth it spurred across the province, Stupka called it a crisis that has a left a generation behind.
He said it is property speculation, foreign buyers with plenty of money and “flipping” homes, particularly in the larger urban centres, and not the Liberal’s management of the economy has driven people with money to the Okanagan and that has helped drive up home prices here.
“We have a housing crisis,” he told the audience the Kelowna’s Okanagan Innovation Centre during the noon-hour forum.
Cook said the current NDP government is looking at measures to end speculation, closing loopholes that allow landlords to “jack up” rents and is also funding construction of new affordable housing across the province for those in need.
As was the case in Westbank Wednesday night, ICBC was a hot-button topic for the candidates Friday.
The former B.C. Liberal government was criticized by Thompson, Stupka and Cook for “siphoning” off millions from ICBC when it was in power, something they believe helped lead to the current financial hole the provincial auto insurer finds itself.
Cook accused Stewart, a former MLA for the riding and a former cabinet minister prior to leaving office in 2013, of being at the cabinet table when the Liberals decided to take money from ICBC.
Earlier this week, it was reported ICBC is facing a $1.3 billion deficit this year.
But Stewart, who stepped down as MLA to let then-Liberal leader and premier Christy Clark run in a byelection in Kelowna West, said ICBC’s financial troubles was well known to the NDP before it came to power, and it has done nothing about them since forming government last year.
He said it was the former Liberal government that ordered a report on ICBC’s finances and that revealed the dire financial picture.
But Stupka said parts of that report were “scrubbed” from public release by the former government.
Geronazzo, who said his discontent with ICBC is one of the main reasons he is running in the byelection, wants to see the auto insurer scrapped and private basic auto insurance introduced in B.C.
“I stand for individual rights over government or collective rights,” he said.
Thompson, as he did Wednesday, again called on the NDP to give back the $1.2 million he says the former Liberal government took from ICBC to help balance its budgets.
On the issue of transportation, Stewart and Stupka again went at it over the elimination of tolls on bridges in the Lower Mainland.
Stewart said it was the wrong move to make because of the revenue loss to the province and the increase in traffic as a result. But Stupka shot back, saying the Liberals were the first to propose reducing bring tolls by 50 per cent, and the NDP eliminated them altogether.
Friday’s all candidates meeting, put on by the Okanagan Young Professionals, was a much shorter affair than the Wednesday night’s three-hour forum in Westbank.
Lasting just and hour, the Friday forum gave candidates just a minute to answer each of the six questions posed to them.
All the candidates closed by trying to make the case why they should be elected.
While Cook and Stupka said they would have influence in government given the NDP is in power and is supported by the three Green MLAs in the legislature, Stewart pointed to his record as a former MLA. Thompson said he would be a “pitbull” in fighting for to constituents and Geronazzo said he would be a fresh face, one that would stand up for individual rights.
The byelection will go Feb. 14 and advance voting is runs Feb. 6 to 11 at the Powers Creek Community Church on Glenway Road in West Kelowna, the Grace Baptist Church on Glenmore Road in Kelowna and at the Kelowna Curling Club on Recreation Avenue in Kelowna. Subsequent advance polls will be held at the same three locations, during the same hours, Feb. 7, 8, 9 and 10.
On Feb. 11, the final day of advance polling will be held at George Pringle Elementary School in Westbank, as well as Grace Baptist Church and the Kelowna Curling Club in Kelowna.
Find more information about where, when and how to vote, go to the Elections BC’s byelection webpage here.