Issues such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), taxes versus spending, tourism, technology and affordable housing were among the topics addressed Thursday night during an all-candidates forum for the new Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon riding.
Only three of the six candidates – Brad Vis for the Conservatives, Jati Sidhu for the Liberals and Arthur Green for the Green Party – were in attendance.
NDP candidate Dennis Adamson and Independent Wyatt Scott phoned in sick, while Elaine Wismer of the Marxist-Leninist Party was a no-show.
The event, attended by about 70 citizens, was held at Christian Life Community Church and was hosted by the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board and the Fraser Valley Indo-Canadian Business Association.
The TPP, a proposed trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries, was addressed several times during the forum, particularly as it pertains to the agriculture industry.
The agreement seeks to lower trade barriers such as tariffs, but opponents say it will have a devastating impact, in particular, on dairy and poultry farmers by opening the market to more imports.
Vis described the TPP as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for Canada, saying current Abbotsford MP and International Trade Minister Ed Fast is “working in the best interest of all supply-management workers” and is “doing an excellent job of protecting Canada’s interests.”
“We can’t solely rely on one major trading partner … We need to reach out and we need to be full participants in the global economy,” Vis said.
Green said his party is not against international trade, but is against agreements that are “one-sided for other countries.”
“Canada always ends up with the short end of the stick … Selling our resources off at rock-bottom prices and not leaving anything for future generations is a travesty, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Sidhu, who was himself a farmer for 35 years, said he understands the importance of trade, but believes all stakeholders should have a voice in the negotiations before any agreement is signed.
The candidates were also asked about the challenges they might face, if elected, in representing the new Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon riding. The large riding includes areas of Abbotsford north of Maclure and Bateman roads, along with Mission, Agassiz and several Fraser Canyon communities stretching up to Lillooet in the north.
Green described the riding as the “size of Belgium,” but pointed out that 86 per cent of the constituents reside in Mission and Matsqui, and that is where he would primarily be focused.
Vis said the elected candidate will have a “difficult job” to cover such a large area, but he said, in talking to constituents throughout the riding, two key issues have arisen – the Fraser River and the importance of agriculture.
“I plan to champion those two things if I become Member of Parliament on Oct. 19,” he said, adding that he plans to make regular scheduled visits to the more remote communities in the riding.
Sidhu said, if elected, he will set up a satellite office in Lillooet.
On the topic of taxes versus spending, Vis said the Conservatives have made “record investments” in social and health transfer funds to B.C. and in the last 10 years have spend $4.5 billion on infrastructure projects such as the Golden Ears Bridge, the Port Mann Bridge, the Sea to Sky Highway and improvements to the Mission Bridge.
“The Conservative fiscal record shows you can invest heavily in social, health and infrastructure programs while still balancing the budget,” he said.
Sidhu challenged that statement.
“We know the mess Mr. Harper has left for the last eight years,” he said, adding that the Liberal party had 10 consecutive balanced budgets and left a surplus of $13 billion in the coffers when the Conservatives took over in 2006.
Green, too, challenged Vis’ statements.
“This is the first balanced budget that the Conservatives have run, for this last fiscal period, but meanwhile they’ve cut drastically to programs … Up until then, they’ve run deficit budgets for the last eight years.”
Green said his party would take one per cent of the GST to bring in $5.6 billion per year for infrastructure, while still balancing the budget.
The candidates for Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon participate in one more all-candidates forum before the election. It takes place Monday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. in the Clarke Foundation Theatre and is hosted by the Mission Regional Chamber of Commerce.