Abbotsford West candidates spar on Highway 1, light rail, housing and snap election

NDP’s Rai declines to defend his party’s decision to trigger a snap election

The future of transportation in the Fraser Valley and the NDP government’s decision to call an election led to the most engaging moments of Tuesday’s all-candidates debate for the Abbotsford West riding.

The meeting was held over Zoom, and jointly sponsored by the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, and Fraser Valley Indo-Canadian Business Association.

To watch this or others all-candidate forums, voters can go to the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page. Videos of the Abbotsford West and Abbotsford-Mission meetings are expected to be posted Wednesday. A virtual all-candidates forum will be held Thursday. Residents can sign up on the chamber’s website to watch on Zoom, or can view a recording of the video afterwards on the chamber’s website.

Asked about plans to manage growth in the region, candidates pointed to the need to make it easier for people to get around.

RELATED: Final candidate list for Abbotsford ridings revealed

BC Liberal Michael de Jong took aim at the NDP’s lack of action on widening Highway 1, calling it a “parking lot,” and saying plans were in place to widen it three years ago, when the NDP took office. Conservative Michael Henshall agreed, using the same description, but telling de Jong that he and his party are also to blame for the “fiasco” during their years in office.

Later in the meeting, Preet Rai, the NDP’s candidate in the riding, said Highway 1 was one of his three top priorities for the region, along with seniors’ care and health care. But he never explained what, exactly, his party would do to address congestion on the main thoroughfare.

Only later, after the meeting had concluded, did the NDP amend its online platform to correct an error in which they had promised to widen Fraser Highway instead of, as intended, Highway 1 by 2026.

RELATED: BC NDP corrects platform & promises to widen Highway 1, not Fraser Highway

The NDP government has launched a study of transportation in the Fraser Valley, but again it was candidates from other parties who stressed the need to bring some form of light rail to Abbotsford.

De Jong and the Green’s Kevin Eastwood each mentioned rail as one of the top priorities if they were to become MLA.

“We’ve got a very diverse country and there are a lot of newcomers to Canada, so I think projects like transit, rail for the valley, increased bus service are really effective ways to ensure that everyone in our community can enjoy the freedom to move around, to visit local businesses,” Eastwood said.

De Jong said bringing SkyTrain to Abbotsford is unlikely to be affordable, but that a light-rail tie-in with SkyTrain should be prioritized.

“The time has come to move beyond conceptual discussions and look at how we can get light rail and transportation on the south side of the river out to Abby and beyond,” he said.

Henshall concurred, saying light rail “needs to be done now.”

Three of the four participants in the virtual debate – Eastwood, de Jong and Rai – were familiar with each other, having all run in the same riding three years ago. And while that meeting in 2017 saw de Jong speak about his party’s successes and warn about the NDP’s inability to manage an economy, the tables were turned for Tuesday’s meeting.

Rai spent most of his available time stressing his party’s record over the past three years in improving social services while keeping the economy running and the budget balanced until COVID-19 hit.

“Fiscal and economic performance has been better under the NDP than the BC Liberals,” Rai claimed.

Rai said the NDP’s work to build thousands of new social housing units, cap rental increases and implement a speculation tax were helping those struggling with the cost of living.

De Jong, though, said more needs to be done to help expedite the building of new homes, including, if necessary, enacting legislation to require municipalities to speed up the approval process.

Henshall regularly hit out at the “fiscal and social mismanagement” of governments led by both major parties, while stressing the need for “personal responsibility.”

The amiable back-and-forth between candidates concluded with de Jong pointedly asking Rai to explain why the NDP felt the need to call an election.

“The thing people have asked me the most in the past two weeks is: Why are we having an election in the middle of a global pandemic when we can’t even gather?” he said. He then asked Rai if he was embarrassed about his leader’s decision to send voters to the polls.

Each candidate had been given four rebuttal cards to spar with one another. But Rai, who had three cards, declined to answer the question and defend the decision to call an election.

De Jong had also asked the Eastwood for his thoughts, and the second-time Green candidate took the baton and ran with it, saying the snap election significantly disadvantaged candidates without extensive political experience.

“The cynical viewpoint would be that this election was called with the aim of securing a majority government,” he said. “But the popularity of this recent government has been working with a party in opposition and I think being more accountable to the people of B.C. than we ever had.

“An election right now, for myself, was very difficult and there are these all-star candidates that are being called in but we’ve missed an opportunity as British Columbians to include those candidates who need more support or who are new to politics who come from different backgrounds to bring more diversity and new ideas – to have younger candidates running. Calling a snap election in the middle of a pandemic when people are really struggling, I think, presents an unfair barrier to folks to whom getting involved in politics is a challenge at the best of times.”

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
tolsen@abbynews.com


@ty_olsen
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Record-low returns of salmon have been recorded on the Fraser River in recent years. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
Time for Indigenous-led salmon strategy on the Lower Fraser, says Alliance

‘Closures of First Nations, commercial and recreational salmon fishing’ have huge impact: LFFA

The City of Chilliwack says there’s too much spitting going on at the Sardis Sports Complex. (City of Chilliwack photo)
Too much spitting a problem at Chilliwack’s Sardis Sports Complex

The City of Chilliwack is asking the minor hockey community to ease up on expectorating

The number of new COVID-19 cases has risen sharply in Vancouver and the Fraser North region over the last week.
Chart: Tyler Olsen
CHARTS: Weekly COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in Fraser Valley

The number of new COVID-19 cases has risen sharply in Vancouver and the Fraser North region.

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

The Excelsior 4 are set to make their second court appearance in Abbotsford on Monday (Nov. 2). (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
‘Excelsior 4’ making second Abbotsford court appearance on Monday

Animal rights activists expected to plead not guilty to charges, protest for Vancouver scheduled

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Maestro Otto Tausk. (Photo: vancouversymphony.ca)
50/50 lotto players buck up for Metro Vancouver musicians hit hard by COVID

‘Rapidly growing jackpot’ for VSO’s 50/50 draw as they go online with TheConcertHall.ca

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

CBSA. (Black Press Media File)
4 sentenced in B.C. steroid smuggling, distribution ring that spilled into U.S.

Canadian Border Services Agency announced the results of a lengthy investigation it called ‘Project Trajectory’

Most Read