Issues ranging from pipelines, a proposed incinerator, the carbon tax, health care and the economy were the focus of questions posed during an Abbotsford West all-candidates meeting on Tuesday evening.
About 250 residents turned out to hear responses from five of the riding’s six candidates – Liberal candidate, finance minister and incumbent MLA Mike de Jong, NDP candidate Sukhi Dhami, Conservative Paul Redekopp, independent Moe Gill and Green candidate Stephen O’Shea. BC Excalibur candidate Kerry-lynn Osbourne did not attend.
“Democracy is alive and well in Abbotsford,” said de Jong to the crowded room at the Garden Park Tower on Clearbrook Road.
The debate remained civil as candidates were asked questions prepared by representatives from the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board and the Fraser Valley Indo-Canadian Business Association, followed by questions submitted by the audience.
When asked by the Chamber representative about what the Conservatives would do for small businesses, Redekopp said small businesses and entrepreneurs need to be supported in order to prosper.
“Our support of resource development, generally, and more specifically, Kinder-Morgan, Enbridge and the mining industry in B.C. guarantees trickle-down effects that will benefit small businesses.”
While the candidates all spoke in favour of supporting small businesses, the issue of pipelines remained more divisive.
De Jong emphasized the need for rigorous environmental assessments on any pipelines. Dhami stated Kinder Morgan would have to undergo a made-in-B.C. environmental assessment, stating “our kids are more important than oil.”
Audience questions also focused on the fate of the carbon tax. Redekopp said the Conservatives would get rid of the carbon tax, and questioned why the NDP has said they would modify the tax instead of rid of it. Dhami said if changes were made it would be an effective tool for lowering greenhouse gases, and the money could be used to fund better initiatives, like transit.
The issue of transit was raised in audience questions, with candidates discussing the importance of improving regional transit. De Jong spoke out in favour of improving inter-city transit in the Fraser Valley. O’Shea said it was important to increase transit options to increase sustainability and make transit a viable option, saying the Green party would support bringing increased rail service to the Fraser Valley that would connect to the SkyTrain, and increase bus services.
Only a few audience questions were asked of O’Shea, focusing mainly on environmental initiatives. O’Shea said the focus of the Green party is to shift technology to a green economy, saying that Abbotsford has potential for wind power and geothermal energy.
Gill was repeatedly asked questions by the audience about his departure from the Liberal Party. He had intended to run in Abbotsford South but the party did not accept his nomination. Gill was questioned as to whether his campaign was based on “pettiness” and “vengeance.”
Gill said he is not doing something for vengeance, and didn’t plan to run in Abbotsford South as an independent due to the incumbent independent John van Dongen. Gill said voting independent sends a message to political parties that they must start listening to voters.
The issue of the provincial budget was raised. De Jong said government could have been tempted to table a budget full of promises to entice voters, but instead the Liberals produced a balanced budget. Dhami maintained that the Liberal’s balanced budget is in fact a deficit budget.
De Jong responded that the NDP has made no reference to balancing the budget. Dhami said a budget won’t always be balanced – when the economy is good a government needs a surplus and when times are tough they must run deficits.
Redekopp also criticized the Liberal’s balanced budget, stating that selling assets to create a balanced budget is not a viable option.
The University of the Fraser Valley Political Science Student Association will host a second all-candidates meeting for Abbotsford West. The event will be held on May 7 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in room B101 of the Abbotsford campus.