All five Abbotsford West candidates showed up to promote themselves and their party platforms at an all-candidates meeting Tuesday evening.
The all-male slate – Mike de Jong (BC Liberal Party), Kevin Eastwood (Green Party), Preet Rai (NDP), Dave Sharkey (Libertarian Party) and Lynn Simcox (Christian Heritage Party) – answered questions from a panel representing the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, Fraser Valley Real Estate Board and Fraser Valley Indo Canadian Business Association. The chamber-hosted event was held at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium.
De Jong, the incumbent, defended his government’s record on funding healthcare, education, housing and other services after a number of audience-submitted questions accused his government of neglecting such services in the name of balanced budgets and surpluses. He pointed to a recently opened supportive housing project in Abbotsford, school improvements and the recently announced plan to expand the emergency room at Abbotsford Regional Hospital.
On the economy, he boasted about his government’s record of job creation and balanced budgets. He said if re-elected the BC Liberals will continue their strategy of trying to attract investment and people to B.C. with low taxes.
Rai said an NDP government would help small business by creating 96,000 construction jobs for infrastructure projects which will, in turn, give a boost to small businesses. He also said his party would cut the small business tax rate and improve investment tax credits for them.
Rai took a number of questions about health care to extoll his party’s vision for urgent care centres in the province. Such facilities would relieve pressure from clinics and hospital emergency rooms while providing patients with direct access to doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, he said.
The Green Party’s Eastwood said his party had a plan to build a new environmentally friendly economy. That plan includes opposing Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and keeping bridge tolls in place in the lower mainland (The BC Liberals have vowed to cap tolls for the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges at $500 while the NDP have promised to scrap them altogether).
Sharkey said his party’s vision was of a vastly smaller government and the removal of regulations on business. He frequently suggested that issues raised in questions were either not the government’s problem or could be solved with less government involvement, which he said would allow businesses to thrive. He said Libertarians would “take the teeth out” of provincial regulatory bodies that dictate the type of shirts workers may wear, among other things.
Simcox’s vision for B.C. was fiscally conservative and pro-business in addition to his party’s views on religion. At times, he strayed towards other topics: he answered a question about regulatory barriers to building housing by criticizing federal equalization projects. Simcox later talked about border security after being asked about free trade and the renewed softwood lumber dispute with the U.S.. A question about the need for nurse practitioners in B.C. elicited an answer criticizing recent legislation to protect transgender students in schools.
In a rare moment of unity, a question about Uber and other ridesharing services led all five candidates to agree in principle that such services likely have a place in B.C. Rai and de Jong both said such services should be allowed if they are subject to the same regulations as taxis.
On Thursday, April 27, Abbotsford South candidates will square off at the same location in an all candidates meeting at 7 p.m. The chamber will also be hosting such a meeting for Abbotsford-Mission candidates on May 4 at Creekside Centre, also at 7 p.m.