Healthcare, the provincial budget, political integrity and other issues were discussed during an all-candidates meeting on Thursday night.
About 200 people came to the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium to ask questions and listen to candidates from the riding of Abbotsford South.
Hosted by the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, Fraser Valley Real Estate Board and Fraser Valley Indo-Canadian Business Association, the evening featured both questions from a three-person panel as well as public inquiries.
Four of the five candidates – independent John van Dongen, Lakhvinder Jhaj of the NDP, Steve Finlay of the Marijuana Party and Liberal Darryl Plecas – took part in the evening. Patricia Smith (Excalibur Party) was not there, although a chair was left for her at the table.
Candidates gave clear distinct answers to most questions, but the debate did heat up from time to time.
Finlay, who has a background in economics, was asked his views about the provincial budget and the zero deficit policy. He called any rule that doesn’t allow a deficit in any one year “unwise” adding there are situations when it “makes sense” to run a deficit for a year or two.
That’s when the rebuttal cards began to fly as all candidates wanted to address budget issues.
“There are perceived balanced budgets and real balanced budgets and the past budget wasn’t real in terms of being balanced,” said van Dongen.
Plecas countered saying any claim that the budget isn’t balanced is “pure rubbish.”
Jhaj said “the only people that think the budget is balanced is Premier Christy Clark and her finance minister (Abbotsford’s Mike de Jong).”
She also pointed out said van Dongen was part of the last four Liberal budgets.
Plecas was asked how he would address apparent discrepancies in funding to Fraser Health, which appears to receive less than other health regions.
He said while at first look their appears to be an imbalance, the issue is larger than that.
“We are far away from providing the level of service that’s needed out there. We need more services and we need to start doing it differently,” said Plecas, adding if there is one place where there is a need for more money it’s mental health services.
Van Dongen argued that the inequitable funding issue is real and that mental health and addiction should “have its own free-standing budget” coming from Victoria.
The debate between Plecas and van Dongen heated up again when questions about the provincial economy were asked.
Van Dongen told the crowd there was a need to focus actions to build the economy, create jobs and generate revenue for the government.
“I think everybody realizes there is a revenue issue but its not going to be done by pie in the sky deals 15 years down the road.”
He said the government needs to look after the day-to-day economy.
Plecas was quick to respond.
“I’m really growing tired of this pie in the sky notion. What we have coming into B.C. we have more money coming into B.C. in the billions than we’ve ever had in our history. We have $10 billion set aside by Japan to invest in B.C. We had a single investor drum up $23 billion to build a single refinery. To say that it’s somehow nonsense is just crazy.”
As the meeting continued, questions regarding the impact an independent candidate could have on government began to surface. Van Dongen was asked several times about his decision to leave both the Liberals and then the Conservatives and whether he has any integrity left.
He said he was an “issues politician” and is basically non-partisan.
“That’s why the independent label suits me quite well.”
Plecas also fielded questions about integrity when asked why he was “appointed” as the Liberal candidate instead of running against Abbotsford Coun. Moe Gill for the position.
He said he wished the whole situation had never happened.
“I certainly didn’t ask specifically to run in Abbotsford South,” he said adding political parties do have the right to appoint their candidates.
Another question from the audience asked Plecas is he could get information to discover the truth behind the BC Rail incident that saw $6 million paid to ministerial aids Dave Basi and Bobby Virk’s legal fees.
He said there have been two examinations of the BC Rail issue, including an independent one out of Saskatchewan.
“Not only did the premier do nothing wrong, the premier acted with an abundance of caution.”
He said the issue had been dealt with.
But van Dongen said the answer to the $6 million had not been answered yet.
“The Auditor General’s report is still coming out, Darryl, and you will see that the reality of that decision is not what the government and the minister said it was. There is some serious issues there.”
Jhaj responded to that saying she felt a review of the “BC Rail scandal” needs to occur.
“It’s cost taxpayers $6 million and that’s not the only thing that the taxpayers have paid.”
She said it cost another $6 million to get rid of the HST that was “forced” on the public.