Wednesday, May 3, 2017

April 24 Campaign Forum revisited

The candidates in the 2017 election campaign for the North Coast seat in
the British Columbia Legislature discussed the issues April 24th in Prince Rupert

We were away for the candidate's debate of April 24th, so we're a little behind the curve on catching up on the main topics of the two hours of political discussion that set the tone for the final few weeks of the 2017 campaign.

However, with a chance to view the replay of the CityWest broadcast, we have cobbled together a few observations from one of the few head to head to head engagements of the campaign.

Prince Rupert's first election forum of the campaign brought supporters of all three candidates to the city's Lester Centre of the Arts to hear the range of platform options and the answers to a number of questions posed by a media panel and those in the audience or at viewing at home.

Hondo Arendt, Herb Pond and Jennifer Rice all stayed to their main themes for their opening remarks, relaying the main talking points that they have been stressing since the call of the election.

It was when the trio were put to the test on a number of directed questions, where we received our best perceptions as to what they offer the community when it comes to providing representation for the North Coast in Victoria for the next four years.

Over the course of the two hours of political discussion a number of themes were introduced, the review is as follows:

The opening question on the night took us to the Central Coast, as CFNR's Mary Bartlett introduced the theme of the response to the Nathan E Stewart sinking.  A topic which provided pretty well the same answer as heard in previous exchanges on the theme.

Mr. Pond touched on the work of local responders and the need to ensure that there is proper protection provided for the coast and how it would be his job to advocate for spending for training on spill response and other protective measures.

Ms. Rice observed to her time on the Central Coast and how she assisted the volunteers, noting how the residents of the region were offended at how the Premier had used the location for a photo op weeks earlier, but did not attend during their time of need.

Mr. Arendt, observed that the issues of the dangers of oil spills is a government responsibility, noting that while Mr. Pond said he would fight for that protection, the Liberals have been in power for sixteen years.

Daybreak North's George Baker introduced the theme of nursing and the violence that they face in the work place and how to address security in small town hospitals.

Mr. Arendt observed to some of the conditions that nurses face and how there is a need to evaluate those issues that they face and to try and work towards better safety through training and address at risk concerns.

Ms. Rice called attention to the lack of standards for care homes and how staffing levels are not at proper levels and if there were more resources available, then nurses would not have to face such issues.

Mr. Pond noted that he is the father of a nurse and how her review of her workplace experiences have shaped his thoughts on the issue, noting that areas of dementia and emergency room waits are key and how there is a need for more recruitment and retention for health care professionals. Offering up the need for a strategy for the North to ensure that qualified professionals are brought in to shore up those gaps.

Cole Stefniuk from Bell Media introduced LNG to the discussion, noting the divisions that the potential of the industry have brought to the community; asking how the candidates would work to see that both sides get what they want.

Ms. Rice opened the discussion, taking Premier Clark to task for how she has handled the LNG issue on the North Coast, noting that to this point no LNG projects have been put in place and the debt in the province has increased. Reading from her notes she observed that the BC NDP is standing up for BC residents, rattling off a number of areas where the NDP will ask for guarantees for local jobs, profits in the community to fix roads and guaranteed apprenticeships for local people and to address environmental concerns. Her comment about how British Columbians could trust the NDP, an statement that did stir the audience to a mixture of reactions.

Mr. Pond repeated what has become a common theme of his of late during these debates, noting that he constantly hears about Christy Clark, and how he always looks around but never sees her in the room. He then noted that on election day there will only be three names on the ballot, Herb, Jennifer and Hondo. As for LNG, Mr. Pond noted that he was in favour of the industry and Jennifer and the NDP have taken every possible position on the industry.

Mr. Arendt, jokingly noted that no one said that LNG would be a topic, from there he outlined how it's a pretty simple question if you are in favour of LNG then the Liberals are pretty well your best bet, if you are not in favour of the industry the Greens are the party to support as they have a tax plan that is least friendly to energy companies, he also concurred with Mr. Pond that the NDP have been all over the map on the issue.

Ms. Rice offered up a rebuttal on the theme, expanding on how the BC NDP support LNG if its done right, but that guarantees are in place for job and training for local people, she called attention to the Pacific NorthWest LNG project as one that was not properly handled by the government, nor were royalties and taxes addressed properly. Those comments elicited some applause from the audience.

Ferry Service and its affordability was offered up as a theme by Ms. Bartlett.

Jennifer Rice was the first to tackle the topic, noting that the current situation is one providing for many challenges for residents of the region, particularly for those living on Haida Gwaii who have had troubles with meeting key health appointments and how it's impacting on schooling on the Islands. She then strayed from the theme of Ferries, for a bit to address a range of areas where the NDP wants to make life more affordable as opposed to how they view the approach taken by Christy Clark's government.

Herb Pond noted the critical nature of the ferries to the region and how what is needed is an MLA that can be effective in bringing better services and taking the concerns of the area to Victoria. He noted that there is a need for change for those living in the outlying areas.

Hondo Arendt suggested that Ferries should be of primary importance, noting how they can provide spin off effects for communities, he observed that with the Liberals focus of business, business, business there is a desire to put in place an approach of some tunnel vision to start saving money rather than to invest in it.

Ms. Rice took to her challenge card again, calling Ferries a topic she has been passionate about, noting that she had been an excellent advocate for Ferries in her four years, noting how she had successfully challenged an issue related to passengers with wheelchairs and argued for better service for the Central Coast. She also outlined the NDP plan to seek ferry fare reductions of fifteen percent.

George Baker posed a question on LNG development asking what would revitalize the economy other than LNG in the region.

Hondo Arendt called for more processing of resources closer to where they are harvested, noting the shipment of raw logs and how they could be milled in the region, as well he commented on the recent cannery closure and how the processing of fish should take place in the community. He also outlined how the Green Party looks to small business and the need for a more level playing field for them.

Herb Pond outlined how Prince Rupert Mayor Brain and council are chasing some good opportunities and how as an MLA he would want to be part of that, offering up that you have to be welcoming for these types of  investments. He called on the introduction of the container port as an example of how that welcoming approach would work.

Ms. Rice suggested that one thing that has been lost in the talk of LNG, calling attention to the jobs that have been created such as those at Fairview which will provide for long term union jobs. She observed that Don Krusel was in the audience and how the port will continue to expand and offer opportunities, from there she addressed how the cannery was allowed to close without any comment or interest from Christy Clark.

Mr. Arendt took advantage of the debate process to offer up a secondary answer to the question, taking a look at Herb's comments to be an advocate for the region, as well as that of Jennifer Rice. But then noting that it's hard to be an advocate for a region when you have to follow how a political party looks at each industry and how hey choose to address the issues.

Affordable Housing marked the next item on the list with, Bell Media's Cole Stefniuk posing the question of how to ensure that everyone has adequate housing.

Mr. Pond took note of the work of Municipal governments and First Nations and how there was a need to do more and partner with them, he observed at the work of Transition House and their homelessness initiative. He also outlined that there was a need to increase the options for seniors and how he would be a strong advocated for housing.

Ms. Rice examined the increasing cost of housing whether you rent, or own and how "Christy and the BC Liberals chose to side with unscrupulous landlords" . She then listed off a number of areas where the NDP has highlighted where the Liberals have not been on the side of homeowners and how they would change the approach.

Mr. Arendt offered up some of the changes the Green Party would put in place, to address renovictions, changes to property transfer taxes, reduce speculation. Adding that the larger issue is one of how the government has gotten out of the business of housing and how public housing has been neglected over a number of years and how there is a need for a government to address those issues.

Mr. Pond made use of his rebuttal opportunity and offered up some of his observations from his door knocking and the condition of some housing, adding that there is a need for more stock and that if the economy improves those looking for better homes can finally access them. Using the port as an example as to how those that found work there can now buy homes.

The final question before the break went to Mary Bartlett, who asked if the province should continue to support the salmon industry.

Ms. Rice was offered the first opportunity to answer and she was adamant that the government must support the salmon industry, recounting how she believes it's part of our culture and our identity. She observed how the Liberals have done nothing to support the industry in Prince Rupert, noting how Canfisco was allowed to close the local cannery without the government saying anything, calling it irresponsible to let those jobs go while promoting fictitious LNG jobs.

Mr. Pond outlined that he would defend salmon jobs, calling back to his time as Mayor when he won some battles and lost others. At that point, Ms. Rice interrupted to challenge his comments noting that he had said on Facebook that the fishing industry was dead, her interruption was admonished by both the crowd and the moderator, who noted that there were to be no interruptions. Mr. Pond used that incident to highlight how people don't like partisan politics and how there is a need for real discussion to bring solutions to the community. He observed that the real challenge facing the community is not each other, but to bring greater awareness of North Coast issues to the Lower mainland and Victoria.

Mr. Arendt, returned to the question and stated that there is a need to support the fishing industry and how the image of it having died is wrong, it's just that the money is not going to the communities where the resources are based. He again noted that the best support for the industry was to close the loopholes to make sure that it doesn't happen.

Ms. Rice used her rebuttal card to clarify her interruption and then to speak to the issue of partisan politics, observing that as she sees it, Christy Clark has been one of the most partisan politicians there is, suggesting that she bullies people when they don't see things as she does. She also called attention to how the Premier had referred to those in opposition to LNG as the Party of No and how that was partisan politics.

Following a break, the candidates returned to the stage for the second half of the evening's discussion, with a few revisions to the rules on the night the audience questions segment of the evening began.

The first of the second half featured issues related to Mental health and the need for support for mental health services in the community.

Hondo Arendt noted that it would be hard to think that any candidate would be opposed to offering those services, from there he offered up the Green party policy of a need for a more broader perspective and the need for preventive medicine.

Mr. Pond observed that the issue is something that we haven't got right yet and outlined his support for an initiative led by Brenda Leighton to address local addiction treatment and how he would like to bring resources closer to home and those that need them.

Ms. Rice outlined how she is passionate on the issue and recounted how the BC Liberal government had offered many promises but never delivered on them, she outlined how the NDP would create a Ministry of Mental Health and addictions. As well as a number of other policy initiatives to address the issues related to Mental health.

The next question was on Education and whether there should be an increase to spending and a restoration of funding.

Ms. Rice opened the discussion by noting how Christy Clark had created the funding issues and had fought the teachers in the courts, she called attention to the lack of resources in the schools and how the NDP would address those issues and work with School Districts. As well the NDP is proposing a review of the funding for rural schools and address the need for replacements and upgrades that have been neglected for sixteen years.

Mr. Pond took the approach of what is happening in the classroom and how in Prince Rupert the students are getting an exceptional education in the public schools, with dedicated educators and how the results speak for themselves.  Suggesting, (though not explaining the theme to any great depth or citing any reference material to the topic), as to how we currently top Canada in outcomes in the schools and how Canada is among the top three in the world. He outlined that he would want to represent the North Coast on education and his first step would be to meet with local school districts and then take those concerns directly to the Minister of Education. He also noted that when it comes to the Prince Rupert Middle School, that of course we will replace it and if he did not deliver on that then he would be embarrassed to come back to the community.

Mr. Arendt recounted his time as an educator in the community, observing at the college level the funding has gone down, while tuition has increased and the program options reduced over the last decade, observing that funding has also been reduced at the local school level. He returned to a previous point on how there is a need to review how we set up our systems and how we are losing sight of the larger issue of delivering services. They would also commit to a bigger investment in education, followed by a review of a number of the Green positions on education.

Fundraising in British Columbia was the next topic with the candidates asked for their opinions on that theme.

Mr. Pond reviewed some of his past efforts in politics and how at the end of the day, those that worked for him basically get a thank you card. As to the larger fundraising issues he said if there is an opportunity to make the system more transparent and accountable he is all in on it, he further observed on some of the recent donations to the NDP and how they had received a large donation from one union working against jobs in BC.

Ms. Rice challenged that observation noting how the Liberals have benefited greatly from corporate donations, including a stipend for leader Christy Clark. She also recounted some of the NDP's past attempts to bring in reforms on donations to the process. She called the suggestion from Mr. Pond of questionable donations outrageous, considering some of the scandalous and shady stories related to the Liberals in recent months.

Mr. Arendt returned to the actual question and noted that the term "wild west" is correct and how money is running rampant through the system and how that impacts on politics. He observed that there is a better way to do fundraising and how they don't have to accept the big donations. Noting that the Green Party does not take donations from larger corporations or any organization, limiting their financing to individual donations. He offered up how money corrupts the system and how the current process reduces the appearance of democracy.

The next question was addressed to Ms. Rice and explored the local economy, noting how the NDP had been elected in the riding over a number of years, asking why voting for her would make economic sense for the community.

She observed that the Liberal government had been neglecting the riding for much of that time, adding that as the MLA for only the last four years she has done a great job of raising the local issues in the Legislature as a member of the opposition. She further suggested that Christy Clark is hugely unpopular and come May 9th we will see an NDP government in power and residents will have an MLA in place to bring much attention to the riding.

A question was addressed to Herb Pond related to his time at Prince Rupert LNG and how that may translate to remaining transparent and unbiased on LNG development in the province.

Before addressing the LNG question, Mr. Pond returned to the previous theme and how an MLA's office is not a weak office, but a powerful one and should be able to deliver results regardless of who is in power and how as an MLA he would take personal responsibility for what happens in the riding, which is why we send someone off to Victoria. On LNG, he noted that he had left the company once he he received the nomination and how he is now not associated with any project. He then offered up how he had approached his research on the LNG industry and what the pros and cons were to the industry and how he reached the decision that he could support it, as long as it was done right, adding that he would use the power of the MLA's office to ensure that it was done right.

Raw logs exports and mill closures made for the next question for all three candidates and what the candidates had in mind for a sustainable industry.

Hondo Arendt recounted how he had already discussed that issue a number of times and revisited the Green party policies related to forestry and the need for jobs in the local region. He observed that unfettered free trade was leaving local residents neglected by the process, reviewing the closure of the pulp mill as on instance where the local population suffered.

Ms. Rice called attention to the increase in raw log shipments had taken place under Christy Clark's government while local communities continued to lose jobs in processing. She offered up a review of the NDP policies on forestry and how their home and school construction programs would make use of BC engineered wood projects.

Mr. Pond outlined how it wasn't his job to defend the government at this time, he did point out that there had actually been a increase in the jobs created in the forestry industry. He also noted that many jobs in Prince Rupert were related to the export of raw logs and processed lumber from the region. The underlying issue for him is that there is a need to find creative ways to find the next layer of exporting and what can we do with our seafood and lumber exports differently. Calling for a real examination for sustainable options in the long run.

The prospect of privatization of health care made for the next question and whether the candidates had an opinion on that theme.

Jennifer Rice led off the discussion on the topic noting that the NDP does not support private health care, calling for equality for all when it comes to health services. She observed that there is a need to address long wait times, get rid of the MSP premiums and provide for better travel assistance for those in rural communities. As well, she called for more nurses and aides in seniors facilities and better resources for mental health issues. Taking note of the fentanyl crisis, Ms. Rice noted that with a lack of spending of Federal funding to this point, people have died under Premier Clark's watch.

Mr. Pond outlined that he was fully in support of the public health system but that there is a need to look at how we address the issues of health care the "elephant in the room", observing how the requirements of our times are becoming a drain on the system and how there is a need to look at how to deliver those services that are needed. For the North Coast he called for an aggressive approach to recruitment and retention of health care professionals.

Hondo Arendt, first tackled a previous topic, observing that when it comes to resources the BC NDP had seen a significant increase in the shipment of raw logs out of the province when they were in power. As for the health care theme, he praised the current public health system though did note that more attention was needed when it comes to delivering the resources for the system and expanding the umbrella to include alternative medicine options.

The Northwest BC Resource Benefits alliance quest for meaningful revenue sharing made for the next question with the candidates asked whether they would commit to negotiating a revenue sharing agreement with the Alliance and how they would facilitate such an process.

Herb Pond was offered the first opportunity to provide an answer, noting first that from his time as Mayor of Prince Rupert that he understands the challenges that municipalities face and the need for new sources of revenue. He outlined his support to facilitate the kind of discussion that the Resource Alliance is bringing up as well as other issues related to local funding for communities.

Mr. Arendt explored the theme by looking at how the Green Party believes that many large businesses do get a good deal from the current system and how there is some fear to change that system. He outlined that the Green party would make the use of the resources in the province and would approach taxation on them to benefit the communities that the resources come from. He reviewed how they would change the tax structure to address those concerns.

Ms. Rice noted that the Alliance was formed under the leadership of the NDP candidate in Skeena and that they were in full support for that approach to returning benefits back to the communities where the resources are located at. She recounted a recent appearance at the Chamber of Commerce from Mayor Brain and how the city struggles when it comes to revenues from industrial development. She then turned her attention to Hondo Arendt's observations previously on raw logs under the NDP of the 1900's, from that she observed that she was a teenager at that time and suggested that there was a need to move forward from the 1990's.

The theme of the post bar crowd food made for an interesting twist as it was introduced into the forum, with each candidate asked what they would do to bring back that Prince Rupert experience.

Mr. Arendt offered up that had no opinion on the theme, Ms. Rice took the approach that lowering the small business tax that might help on the topic. Mr. Pond suggested that most folks understand which party is the most interested in supporting small business and noted that the best thing that could be done to help Zorba's would be to bring back high paying industrial jobs and bringing residents back to the community.

Ms. Rice was the subject of the first part of a two part question, for her consideration was an opportunity to explain what she has done to help address the city of Prince Rupert's 275 million dollar  infrastructure deficit. For their comment, both Mr. Pond and Mr. Arendt were invited to share how they would approach that issue.

Jennifer Rice outlined how she has directly raised the issues related to infrastructure with the Liberal government, advocating for projects that make sense in the right location that provide for jobs and training for local people. She further suggested that was in contrast to the Liberal approach to the Petronas project, which she stated allows for the use of foreign workers. She the pointed to the BC NDP platform as it outlines the plan to use BC wood and how that would impact on the economy and improve the province's finances.

Hondo Arendt seemed more on track towards the question, as he observed that the current situation the city faces is that it only has as much power as the province gives it, noting how the province can lend more than support and money to the city's, but could give them more power. He noted how the city lacks the power to tax to directly deal with companies and gain full local benefits, he turned to the Green party plan to have more local control over resources and benefits and how that would serve the local concerns.

Mr. Pond recounted his time in the nineties on City Council and how the province, led at the time by an NDP government had slashed the funding to city governments and dared those councils to tax their local residents.  He observed for the audience that there is only one tax payer and how those decisions impact on them. For the current situation, he took note how Mayor Brain has had some success in receiving grants and how as MLA he would like to meet with Council regularly and take the city's agenda directly to the ministers. Adding that he key is not to make noise when the cameras are on, but to do the actual work of an MLA.  He then turned to the loss of the pulp mill and what was lost from that event and what the prospect of LNG development could return to the community should it or any industry come to the region.

The final question of the night was related to what the candidates would do for residents in the area who have disabilities.

Mr. Pond offered up that there is a need to consult with those with disabilities and to fight for them, suggesting that we need to learn more of their concerns.

Ms. Rice turned to the NDP policy book and what they are offering residents in the way of affordability options and how to reduce those charges that impact on their lives. Offering up an example of rolling back the cost of disability bus passes as one area the NDP would address.

Mr. Arendt jokingly noted that he had received a text that he wasn't supposed to have mentioned tax increases ... to the topic of addressing disability issues he called for a reinvestment of resources in the system to provide for a caring government.

The final thoughts brought the evening to an end.

Mr. Arendt led off the summations on the evening, calling attention to the growing support that the Green Party has received and how he would like to see voters consider the Green party platform, asking them to consider how they vote and to change from old patterns or thoughts on strategic voting. He observed  how the Greens, have grown in numbers in every election and are the leading party on Vancouver Island and currently have twenty percent in recent polling numbers.

Ms. Rice, opened up by noting she had made an error when it came to the NDP policy book redirecting those interested in the NDP polices to the correct page. From there she offered her final thoughts noting how the NDP policies will stop Christy Clark's giveaways to her millionaire friends and put more money in the pockets of British Columbians. She then thanked the Chamber, moderator, media panel and those at the Lester Centre and watching that night. She returned to the NDP theme of making life more affordable for residents and address issues for seniors and education, as well as to create a more sustainable economy and create jobs. She observed that it had been her privilege to represent the riding over the last four years and called on the voters support on May 9th.

Mr. Pond thanked those that he has met over the last few weeks during the campaign. He recounted how one thing he has heard was the expression from residents that they have voted a certain way in the past, but this time are considering a change. He also revisited his frequent observation that Christy Clark is not on the ballot, that he keeps looking for her but doesn't see her. On election day he notes that there will be three names on the ballot and that residents should choose which one  they feel is best suited to representing them. He reviewed his time as Mayor and recounted what he had wanted in an MLA at that time, looking for a partner, and how he would approach the job that way, meeting with Mayors, First Nations and School District officials. He observed that in his mind the best MLA is one who takes responsibility for what happens on the North Coast, looking for ways to address the challenges that the region faces. He followed that up by noting that an MLA that takes responsibility could be one of the most powerful tools that the North Coast has to build its future regardless of who is in power.

With a thanks from the moderator for the sponsors and participants on the night and a reminder of the voting options in the lead up to the May 9th vote the evening came to an end.

You can review the debate one more time from this link to the Facebook page created for last week's event.

For more items related to the North Coast Vote see our archive page here, themes with a larger focus on BC issues can be reviewed on our political portal D'arcy McGee.

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