Abbotsford South candidates disagree on carbon tax, pipelines and more

Abbotsford South candidates disagree on carbon tax, pipelines and more

All-candidates meeting showcases opposing plans for B.C.’s future

The night after a fiery leaders debate that saw B.C’s major party leaders go at it on TV, a much more cool-headed exchange of ideas between politicians took place in Abbotsford.

On Thursday, April 27 the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce hosted an all-candidates meeting for Abbotsford South candidates. Roughly 50 people attended the event at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium. While the exchanges were respectful, candidates expressed starkly different plans for the province’s future.

Three of the four candidates were present: incumbent Darryl Plecas (BC Liberal), Ron Gray (Christian Heritage Party) and Aird Flavelle (Green Party). The NDP’s Jasleen Arora did not attend.

A panel representing the chamber, the Fraser Valley Indo Canadian Business Association and the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board asked the candidates a variety of questions they had prepared as well as some written in by audience members.

In his opening remarks, Plecas touted his government’s economic record and called the economy the number one election issues, crediting his government with creating jobs across a number of industries.

To build on that, he said B.C. must work to find new markets for its natural resources. He repeated that assertion after being asked about U.S. President Donald Trump’s new tariff on Canadian softwood lumber. He said B.C. wood needs to diversify its customers to include more sales to Asia, especially China and India.

When Gray (the Christian Heritage candidate) answered a question about trade with China, saying Canada should press that country’s government on its human rights abuses, Plecas said such abuses are “grossly overestimated.” He said he travels to China regularly and the situation there isn’t as bad as what people see “on the news.”

A question about the federal government’s plan to legalize marijuana next year elicited the most passionate response from Plecas. He predicted the process would be “an unmitigated disaster” and said he is completely against it.

In response to an audience member’s question about each party’s campaign finance practices, Plecas defended the BC Liberal’s acceptance of millions of dollars in corporate donations, for which they’ve come under heated criticism from other parties. Plecas said his government would review the practices and laws governing them following the election, should they win. But he said the notion that donations buy access to politicians is “nonsense.”

Flavelle, of the Green Party, drew laughs from the crowd on several occasions throughout the night, as he chose to stand to respond to each question (unlike his opponents) and frankly admitted on a couple occasions when he did not know the answer to a question.

He also admitted to holding beliefs that were not in line with his party’s platform, specifically his support for a value-added tax to replace the provincial sales tax, which he says is too complicated and expensive for business owners such as himself.

Flavelle said he is proud to represent a party that does not align itself to the left or right side of the political spectrum but rather puts forward evidence-based policies regardless of ideology.

He said the Greens are leading the province’s other parties by banning both corporate and union donations.

The majority – 70 per cent – of vegetables consumed by British Columbians are grown in the U.S., according to Flavelle, who said his party has a plan to grow more food locally. He said they would do that in part by forcing residential properties in the Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR) to produce food and banning foreign ownership of ALR land.

Flavelle also said his party would create new ministries: a ministry of mental health and addictions and a ministry of healthy living. The former would lead to new policies and services to combat mental health and addictions issues while the latter would lead to more preventative medicine and thus lower overall health care costs, he said.

Flavelle also talked about his views on the environment and climate change, saying he opposes the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline. He also said his party will raise the carbon tax by $10 a year per ton of CO2 until it reaches $50 per ton and would use the revenue to build electric car infrastructure, among other things.

Gray laid out his Christian Heritage Party’s fiscally and socially conservative platform while answering questions.

He said it was inaccurate for Plecas and others to claim responsibility for creating jobs. He said governments should never be given credit for an upswing in job creation and that it is their job to “get off the backs of entrepreneurs” by deregulating industry and lowering taxes.

Gray expressed strong opposition to the carbon tax, claiming CO2 is not a pollutant and climate change science to be a fraud.

He also called B.C.’s education system an “indoctrination system” and railed against recent laws requiring districts to pass anti-bullying protections. He said “the radicals and sexual anarchists of the [British Columbia Teachers’ Federation] and the NDP are hand-in-glove.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misquoted Gray, saying he called LGBT students “sexual anarchists.” In fact, he used the term to describe the BCTF and NDP.