The Nanaimo-North Cowichan provincial candidates faced off in a virtual candidates forum hosted by the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce and the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board, (VIREB) on Monday (Oct. 19).
The forum was the first all candidates debate held via Zoom, and was virtually free of technical errors.
Ladysmith Chamber executive director, Mark Drysdale said that each of the candidates demonstrated integrity and collegiality during the debate.
“It’s easy to get cynical about politics, but with these three, it was very clear that they’re doing it for their community and no other reason. They’re stepping up because they care a lot about the communities they live in and the people in this riding.”
Routley and Istace clash on natural resources
The most notable clash of the forum came when the candidates were posed a question about their party’s position on natural resource industries.
Istace went on the offensive, criticizing government subsidies given to LNG Canada to carry out work on the Coastal Gas Link pipeline.
“The LNG issue is a perfect example of corporate welfare. The BC Liberals started with $558 million a year in subsidies to LNG Canada, and now in 2019 it escalated to $998 million in subsidies,” he said.
Routley countered Istace by saying that the ‘subsidies’ are deferred debt payable once projects are completed.
“We have been in favour of LNG done responsibly,” Routley said. “The BC NDP has put conditions on the table that must be met to protect air, land, and water; guaranteeing First Nations participation; local benefit, as well as benefits to the province.”
The exchange between the two heated up on the topic of logging in old growth forests.
Istace called for a moratorium on logging Vancouver Island’s old growth forests. He suggested that the government should invest in local mills to help them continue operating without old growth lumber.
Routley said that the NDP convened a panel on old growth logging that went around the province seeking input on a forestry policy to balance the industry and the environment.
“I had a three hour discussion with a protest outside of my office. Out of that we formed an advisory panel, we put together a report, and submitted that report to the old growth panel… It has impacted the decisions.”
In a rebuttal, Istace said that Routley was ineffective on the old growth issue.
“As to Mr. Routley’s comments on the protest that came to his constituency office, he said himself, ‘there’s nothing I can do’. That speaks to the NDP whipping. He does have good faith, he is listening, and he hears that, but he can’t do anything because the NDP falls in line and has whipped votes.”
Routley was visibly upset by the comment, and had used his three rebuttals. Liberal candidate Duck Paterson transferred his final rebuttal to Routley to allow him to respond to Istace.
“Chris that is simply not true. I never said I could do nothing – I did something. I brought those people together, that’s what you do in government: you bring people together, and you hear them. You work for compromise.”
Candidates talk post-pandemic economic recovery
The main question of the election is which party is best suited to lead the province through an economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19.
Paterson positioned himself – and the BC Liberals – as the only party that can reduce the provincial deficit.
“The only way to truly recover from the economic hole that we’re in right now due to COVID-19 is to focus on growing the economy and creating jobs. We cannot just abandon businesses and their employees, and expect this province to get back on track.”
Paterson echoed the Liberal promise to eliminate the PST for one year, then re-institute the tax at three percent in an effort to encourage investment in the economy. Paterson said the Liberals would also cut taxes for small businesses.
Routley defended the NDP’s decision to hold an election during the pandemic, saying that the government needs a fresh mandate to deliver an economic recovery plan for B.C..
“Obviously B.C. is spending to a deficit, as every other jurisdiction is, but we are the best positioned jurisdiction to do that. We will have one of the smallest deficits according to the size of our economy in Canada during this period,” he said.
If reelected, Routley said that the NDP will support workers displaced by COVID-19 by retraining them to work in long term care, and infrastructure projects.
Istace spoke to his experience as a small business owner who has personally suffered from the pandemic. He proposed $300 million in rental supports for small business owners; instituting a universal basic income; and investing in the renewable energy sector.
“If we move back from investing in the fossil fuel industry there is a billion dollars we can put directly into small businesses,” he said. “There is a deficit, but we need to invest now so we don’t have a bigger hole in the future to dig out of.”
Housing issues top of mind for candidates
Both Routley and Istace identified housing as the most important issue in the riding behind COVID-19.
Istace proposed government supported co-op housing, and empowering non-profits to create low income housing in their communities. He also said more needs to be done to limit insurance rates – especially for owners of strata properties.
Routley that the NDP is implementing a 10 year housing plan. The plan will expand low interest loans, and partner with co-ops and non-profits to buy existing rental stock. He also said that the NDP are freezing rent until the end of 2021.
Paterson said that the Liberals will create more housing supply to increase affordability.
“The NDP have utterly failed at this,” Paterson said. “Last week the BC Liberals announced a $1.75 billion housing plan that will dramatically increase affordable housing for renters, and make housing more affordable for home buyers.”
The Liberal plan includes supports for those impacted by strata insurance hikes, and will target ‘foreign speculators’ with higher property taxes.
Routley defended the NDP record on housing, stating that the party has created 790 units of housing in Nanaimo-North Cowichan, and another 316 units are in the planning stages.
On to the polls
The October 24 election is mere days away. Over 380,000 British Columbians have already voted in advance polls, and some 235,800 have voted by mail. For those yet to cast ballots, Voting Places will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on election day.