Five candidates are vying to be the MLA for the Abbotsford West riding.
We asked them a little about themselves and to answer a series of questions. Sukhi Gill of the BC Vision Party did not respond to our questionnaire.
Candidates were given hard word counts for each question and warned that exceeding the limit would result in their answers being cut.
Michael de Jong/BC Liberal Party
Tell us about yourself:
I am asking you to ‘re-hire’ me as your representative for Abbotsford West. Since being first elected in 1994 as your MLA, we have worked together to build the new Abbotsford regional hospital, the campus of care, YXX airport expansion, highway interchanges, new schools, and affordable housing and still there is more we can do together.
Kevin Eastwood/BC Green Party
Tell us about yourself:
32 years old. Agrologist. Lived, studied and worked through Southern BC in the bush and in the office.
Michael Henshall/BC Conservative
Tell us about yourself:
Licenced Realtor/Property Manager
Relevant former occupations: ESL teacher, Construction industry business owner
Preet Rai/BC NDP
Tell us about yourself:
I have been on the Abbotsford School Board, since 2008. I feel I have made a positive difference in my community. I am ready to take it to the next level and begin to make impacts at the provincial level. I am a chartered accountant from India.
Our first question was specific to each candidates party
BC LIBERALS: What has your party learned while in Opposition the last three years?
De Jong: Governing BC is a huge responsibility and is not easy. Between 2001-17, I shared in that responsibility as Finance Minister and in other Ministerial capacities. The last 3 years has provided me with an opportunity to spend more time in Abbotsford and to re-engage with constituents in ways that were not always possible as a Minister. Although, we have accomplished a great deal working together, it is clear that there is much more to be done to continue building a community that provides all families with the opportunities they require to achieve their full potential and lead happy, fulfilling lives.
BC NDP: How was it in the public’s interest for the NDP to call an election during a pandemic?
Rai: There is no guarantee that COVID will be gone by the end of 2021. In fact, it is quite likely that the same issues that face us today, will still be in front of us next year. This election gives British Columbians the chance to choose who they want to lead them through the pandemic and who they think will best help BC recover from it. We need a stable government focused on people.
BC GREENS: Your party has co-operated with the NDP the last three years. What would a vote for your party accomplish that a vote for the NDP would not?
Eastwood: The BC Green Party is the only party that I believe has a long-term, multi-generational perspective, and science-based understanding of the many crises we are now facing. We are committed to overcoming Covid19, the opioid crisis, housing affordability and Climate Change. Greens are willing to bring critical thinking and cooperation to the hard decisions ahead, to ensure that the interests of all British Columbians are considered, and that the future of younger generations is not sacrificed to subsidize dying industries, and unsustainable systems.
BC CONSERVATIVES: Your party has no MLAs and few believe they are likely to field victorious candidates this election. What would a vote for your respective party accomplish?
Henshall: Provincial history has rapid changes ie Socreds to Liberal in one election. There is a strong desire for a true Conservative, fiscally responsible government in the province. We expect to get a few seats in Victoria which will lead to the further collapse of the BC Liberals by the next election and a Conservative majority. The BC Liberals have chosen to go further left with a Trudeau supporting leader, and have consistently made decisions that display there is no remnant of fiscal or social conservatism in that party. BC now has a true Conservative party to vote for.
QUESTION 2: What should government do to help people recover from the economic effects of COVID-19?
Rai: We are targeting small and medium businesses with grants to protect 200,000 jobs and offering a 15% tax credit for hiring new employees. We will also invest in a new Recovery Investment Fund to build new schools, hospitals, children spaces, roads and transit – this will create an expected 18,000 new jobs every year. As we recover from COVID, we’ll continue to do the work we started before the pandemic. 3 years of balanced budgets, a 20% drop in ICBC rates, the end of MSP and tolls.
Eastwood: We need to help all British Columbians recover while also being responsible to future generations who will not only live with the consequences of our decisions and investments, but also will bear the costs. It is time to transform our communities, transit, housing, and services in ways which not only address Covid19, but which will also make our economy more resilient, and provide stability and dignity for all.
Henshall: The answer to economic recovery is to get citizens back to work rather than socializing every aspect of society with government bailouts. Major infrastructure spending such as large scale #1 Hwy expansion will both help with jobs and the provincial GDP by making travel and trucking more efficient. Expansion of electric and natural gas transportation systems using BC resources, tourism industry tax rebates, eliminating the carbon tax and ICBC reform-allowing private competition will all add to economic growth and keep money in citizens’ hands.
De Jong: First, put in place the supports to keep people healthy and safe from contracting Covid-19. Instead of the NDP calling an election, we should be focused on reducing the rising numbers of Covid cases. We should also Immediately proceed with the construction of the expanded emergency room that was funded in 2017 but delayed by the NDP. Next, we must stimulate economic growth to help create jobs for thousands of British Columbians who are out of work.
QUESTION 3A: The government has spent billions of dollars this year that couldn’t have been anticipated in previous budgets. In the years to come, should government raise, maintain or cut taxes. Which taxes?
Eastwood: Sustainability isn’t an ever-increasing deficit. Covid19 has hit many businesses hard, but has been a boon to others. Our economy is not only being interrupted, it is being permanently transformed. Therefore, our taxes should also transform -up and down, in order to re-balance the budget, invest in our future and address growing inequality.
Henshall: The Conservatives would eliminate the BC liberal Carbon tax, which hits those that can least afford it for driving, heating their homes or purchasing their groceries. We would raise the minimum threshold for income tax, and provide tax rebates to the service and tourism industries.
De Jong: Reducing taxes in a way that leaves more money in people’s pockets is ultimately the best way to promote increased economic activity. The elimination of the PST for one year and maintaining it at a reduced rate of 3% in the second year will generate savings for average families of [Over word limit]
Rai: The NDP led the Province and until COVID hit, our economy was flourishing. 2019 Sauder School of Business has reported that fiscal management and performance has been better under the NDP than the BC Liberals. We continue to implement the NDP’s financial plan and get back on track over time.
QUESTION 3B: Should spending be raised, maintained or cut? Which specific areas should see spending adjustments?
Henshall: Spending on much needed infrastructure is the best, most fiscally responsible way to spend money that will provide long term benefits and raise the well being and GDP of the province. Local projects include #1Hwy expansion from Langley to Chilliwack, light rail and electric-natural gas transportation system expansion.
De Jong: Investments in families will pay rich rewards especially in education, childcare, supportive seniors housing. Also accelerated infrastructure spending that does not include the NDP’s discriminatory procurement policies.
Rai: Areas such as healthcare, seniors care and transportation are vital to both our well-being and our economy. That is why we’ve started expanding the Emergency Room at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital. It’s why we are hiring 7000 new healthcare workers with 2000 targeted at seniors’ care.
Eastwood: Spend smarter. Short term: increased spending is required to ensure that families and businesses can weather this crisis. Long-term costs of cuts to social and environmental programs must be acknowledged. Let’s continue to incentivise adaptation to a greener economy and revisit programs that don’t provide good value to the public.
QUESTION 3C: How is your revenue and spending approach sustainable?
De Jong: As Finance Minister, overseeing a $50 Billion budget, I achieved 5 successive balanced budgets. Although, the COVID pandemic necessitated deficit spending to maintain public services, establishing a plan that will eventually return to balance budgets will ultimately ensure that future generations are not burdened by unsustainable debt levels.
Rai: We have not stopped our investment in BC. The difference is COVID. Support working families through this time is one of the main purposes of government. As we conquer COVID, we’ll still have in place the sound financial management that delivered balanced budgets. Leading tothe foundation for our economic recovery.
Eastwood: Greens are committed to sustainability, and that means sustainable budgets. Evidence-based, targeted programs for both taxation and spending are more efficient, and more sustainable than blanket taxes and rebates which contribute to growing inequality. Let’s be transparent about what habits are being subsidised and put the costs back on those making costly decisions.
Henshall: The current ‘shutdowns’ have affected many service-tourism small businesses. Providing them with tax relief and getting them back to work is the only answer for some. Infrastructure project spending will provide jobs and needed modes of efficient transportation that will help raise the province’s productivity.
QUESTION 4: The provincial government provides vital services to thousands of vulnerable people. What personal experiences give you insight into how government services affect the lives of voters?
Rai: As a school trustee, I have been on the ground as our children have experienced the COVID 19 shutdown, and then had to deal with going back to school. Every aspect of COVID comes into play when we talk of our children in school. The families that are hurting financially are uncertain about their future. Those with vulnerable family members at home such as seniors and those with high risk factors, fear what comes next. I want to tell those children that we are properly funding healthcare and that we will take care of their grandparents.
Eastwood: I am tremendously privileged, but I have benefitted greatly from BC government services. As a baby I spent time at Children’s Hospital. Public Education has made my career aspirations possible, and public Transit has been my way to school and work. Yet we must do more to assist newcomers to Canada, our minority communities, seniors, and our homeless population. I know we can afford to do better at ensuring that no families have hungry kids, and that friends and family who struggle with addiction and trauma can find the support they need to get back on their feet.
Henshall: I have worked in a Provincial/Municipal partnership as an ESL teacher to new immigrants to Canada to help them function and be productive citizens. I have also served some of the most vulnerable through soup kitchens, Union Gospel on East Hastings in Vancouver, Cyrus Center-that helps troubled youth, Anne Davis transition house sponsor and Salvation Army delivering food hampers. These have provided me perspective of needs in our community and the province of those going through difficult times and a community based approach needed to help remedy homelessness, drug addiction and mental health issues.
De Jong: Proper supports can help turn lives around. Frequently the most effective supports are delivered in partnership with community, volunteer-based organizations: for example, Hearthstone Place, Kinghaven Treatment Centre, Christine Lamb Residence, George Schmidt Centre, Elliott House, and Lynnhaven
Regrettably, the NDP government does not seem to value the contributions of these community groups and has adopted policies deliberately designed to restrict some groups. Forcing the Abbotsford Womens’ Shelter to close down at a place they called ‘home’ for many years is one example of how the present government has demonstrated its insensitivity to the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.
QUESTION 5: What’s one thing the current government has done well?
Eastwood: The recent government has demonstrated that cooperation between all three parties is not only possible, but that it has resulted in better decisions and more popular government.
Henshall: The NDP has ended Union and Corporate donations to political parties that the Conservatives agreed with. This helped end Liberal corruption returning insiders favours.
De Jong: The government’s initial decision to work collaboratively during the pandemic was supported by BCLiberals. Unfortunately, Mr. Horgan called an election representing the single, most selfish, self-serving decision that British Columbians have ever been subjected to.
Rai: Our COVID 19 response, under the guidance of Dr. Bonny Henry, has made British Columbia a world leader in handling the pandemic.
QUESTION 6: What’s one thing the current government has not done well?
Henshall: Neglect of our resource sector, lack of ICBC reform for lower auto insurance and failing infrastructure are but a few areas the NDP has failed.
De Jong: Despite inheriting funds to widen highway #1 in 2017, the NDP chose to ignore the needs of Abbotsford residences and as a result has turned the TransCanada highway into a parking lot.
Rai: Some of the policies we wanted to implement were blocked because of the minority government. Giving choice of leadership will ensure BC moves forward.
Eastwood: Subsidy of fossil fuel industry. Future generations are going to be on the hook for cleanup, climate change consequences and adaptation.
QUESTION 7: MLAs must work for all their constituents. How would you advance the interests of those voters who disagree with your preferred views and policies?
De Jong: I have a long record working for all constituents irrespective of their preferred candidates. Former Mayors George Peary, George Ferguson and Dave Kandal taught me that elected officials are “servants of the people.” If you choose to “re-hire” me, my pledge is to represent all constituents regardless of their political affiliations or partisan preferences.
Rai: The BC NDP already works for all British Columbians – not just people at the top. As your MLA, I will work hard to serve everyone in the community. The strength of Abbotsford comes from our community.
Eastwood: MLAs should earn their job term by term. I am confident there is more than enough we can all agree on to occupy four years. I look forward to listening and learning and cooperating for the good of all.
Henshall: The Conservative vision is a robust economy invested in natural resources, technology and manufacturing, proper infrastructure, lower taxes, balanced with proper education, healthcare and a social safety net for those in need. There may be some that disagree but we would contend when the economy is healthy it benefits all.