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Penticton candidates tackle the issues
PWN: Once the business case is completed, what will you do to ensure a new ambulatory care tower is built soon at Penticton Regional Hospital?
Dan Ashton - Liberal
The last major expansion to the Penticton Regional Hospital was the acute care expansion done in 1989 by a free enterprise government. Before that is was the South Tower expansion — also done by a free-enterprise government back in 1972. Since 2001 there has been a further $12 million invested in our hospital for important upgrades such as the maternity ward. In my work with the RDOS as chair, we have set aside $25 million as our share of this expansion.
We need to get Interior Health to make a firm commitment and then we need to get treasury board approval for the funding and go to tender. We have to be honest; it’s not “promises” that is going to build this hospital expansion, it is a very significant amount of money.
The reason why free-enterprise governments have always invested in our Penticton Regional Hospital when other governments have not, all comes down to the economy. Without a strong free-enterprise economy to pay for hospital upgrades, they simply do not get done. I believe this hospital is critical for our region and it is one of the reasons why I have put my name forward to run in this election.
We cannot allow Penticton and the South Okanagan to get ignored as we were by the NDP in the past. We have built a record amount of new infrastructure over the last decade under a free-enterprise government — let’s not stop now.
Richard Cannings — NDP
I will continue to work with my caucus colleagues and make sure that this remains a top priority, and that we follow through on the NDP’s platform commitment to fund projects based on need, not partisan gain. We are in this problem in the first place because the Liberals played games with taxpayers’ money, and took our votes for granted.
I will work with local partners to ensure that all plans are completed and approved by treasury board and that funds are then set aside in the capital plan for this project.
This hospital has been neglected for the last 10 years by the Liberal government and needs to be upgraded. And even though they committed to a business case months ago, it still hasn’t begun. Adrian Dix has visited the facility several times as health critic and leader and understands its challenges. He also said that we will begin the business case immediately after being sworn in.
The B.C. Liberals have tried desperately to say that the NDP will not support an expansion at the hospital. This is a complete and utter fabrication. Our platform states that we will continue all projects currently underway, and we believe this project is underway. Perhaps the Liberals do not. I look forward to the day the new care tower opens after all these Liberal delays.
Doug Maxwell - B.C. First
First, we need to make sure the promise for a business case has survived the election, then we need to check with Interior Health to confirm our No. 1 status on their priority list. Then we need to extract a timeline promise for the business case and the construction start. At that point we can decide if more action is required.
I have suggested previously that a group of concerned citizens needs to organize a bus trip to Victoria with an awareness march in front of the legislature. This would show the new governing party that we are serious and will not be put aside anymore. Leave for Victoria in the a.m., march in the p.m., enjoy a spring walk, a meal at a good restaurant and an overnight in a great tourist area, then up to march again in the a.m. with a return to Penticton in the p.m. I am confident that enough concerned citizens will step forward, at their own expense, to fill at least one bus.
Sign me up for the bus.
Sean Upshaw — Conservative
First of all, I am not positive that the business case being worked on includes what is being requested by those who know best, the Penticton Medical Society. I know from conversations with them that they are under the impression that the two other parties are wanting a scaled-back, two-storey addition.
What is needed is the four-storey version with helipad on the roof. Please allow me to quote Dr Susan Tebbutt: “We do not want this project scaled back; this new tower will meet our needs and carry us into the future. We simply cannot build it in stages, nor scale back any of the floors, ORs, endoscopy suites, diagnostic imaging, laboratory or medical school.”
So my commitment as MLA is to continue to fight on behalf of the society and the residents of the riding to settle for nothing less than this.
This is not a partisan issue that depends on electing the party that is most likely to form government. What it is, is a medical crisis that if not corrected real fast is going to turn to a life-and-death situation for the innocent taxpaying public.
All of this was brought about by simply ignoring it until it became politically expedient to mention it. Regardless of who forms government in Victoria, I feel the best chance of this being done right is to have someone who is passionate enough to go to battle until it is complete. That is what I will do.
PWN: A reputation for quality, safe and healthy product is vital to the tree fruit and agricultural industry in the Okanagan Valley. Do you believe the introduction of GMO fruit, like the Arctic Apple, threatens that?
Ashton: Absolutely yes. We have dealt with this issue at the regional district and we have opposed it. I have heard the concerns from many growers and producers as well as consumers, and this is not something I would support as a result.
On a different note, we also have to look at the B.C. Assessment Authority to ensure that legitimate farmers are treated fairly on assessed lands that are farmable. Threats to farmers are more than just genetically modified apples. If we cannot keep farming affordable we will lose farmers. I have worked very hard to keep Penticton property taxes low and would like to do the same for farmers in the South Okanagan.
Cannings: As a biologist, I understand the complexity of genetically modified foods, and the concerns some have about them. The Okanagan brand of fruit as a healthy, high-quality product is vitally important to local orchardists, and for that reason alone we should work to keep the Okanagan Valley free of genetically modified fruit.
The agriculture industry is an integral part of our local economy and needs to be supported. Unfortunately B.C. spends the lowest amount per-capita supporting farmers, and that funding can be inconsistent.
Not only will we bring back the very successful Buy B.C. program to help market B.C. produce and enhance the Okanagan brand, we will also help orchardists with stable funding for replanting programs and other input costs, and provide more direct support to organic and conventional farmers through enhanced extension and field services for marketing and operations.
Maxwell: Yes, I think that GMO threatens our agricultural industry. This threat comes from many directions. First, I think of Monsanto/Canola crops patent and the consequence to the farmer who had seeds blown on to his field and was subsequently sued (he lost) and lost his farm over this.
Second, I am not a scientist, but history tells me that when we change the natural situation, other consequences show up that were unforeseen (think kokanee/myosis shrimp). Then we should listen to the people and honour the wishes of our electorate on this and any other issue. I believe the Arctic Apple is good for the large corporations but not for most of the rest of us. I buy my apples from the B.C. Fruit store on Dawson Avenue and like the quality, taste and price they give me now. No changes needed.
Upshaw: Honestly, I am not an expert on GMO and I will not pretend to be. I think it is in the best interests of this riding and for those concerned with this technology to be making those decisions. I think when we expect our MLA to be knowledgeable on absolutely everything, we do a disservice to the cause itself. I can tell you this, that I would not shirk away from doing what I can to bring about the best results for all parties involved.
PWN: In addition to creating more skills training opportunities at post-secondary institutions and making sure students can afford to attend, how will you attract more people into those fields to address the predicted shortage of skilled workers?
Ashton: We have made great progress in this area. We now have a world-class university in Kelowna and a state-of-the-art Okanagan College campus in Penticton.
For many students, they can save considerable money by staying in the Okanagan and getting a first-rate education here. In the past decade this was simply not possible. We also need to better connect with employers who have skills shortages.
I would propose as an MLA to host regional employer forums where employers, post-secondary representatives and elected officials meet quarterly to identify what skills are lacking in a specific area. The federal government’s new budget has some promising solutions for skills shortages with federal funding attached. We need to connect those federal dollars, match them with provincial funds and partner with employers — that will put potentially $15,000 on the table per worker. Having dedicated, targeted funding like this helps post-secondary and other skills-training organizations offer specialized training that is in demand within a region.
Locally, I know welders are in very short supply right now as one example. We also have to support the resource jobs that need these skills. It is pointless to dump in significant amounts of tax dollars for training, only to oppose projects like Trans-Mountain or the LNG or mining industries, as the NDP suggests. This only sends skilled jobs to Alberta. We need resource development for well-paying jobs and to pay for our important community infrastructure like our new hospital expansion.
Cannings: We have a significant skills shortage in our province and also in this riding. I have spoken to several local business owners who talk consistently about the challenges they have in finding qualified workers to expand. The NDP are strongly committed to supporting our resource and mining industries, and the businesses in this riding that will grow along with those industries will need help to address this skills shortage.
Unfortunately the Liberals have cut post-secondary education by $46 million over three years in their most recent budget. The NDP have a different approach to grow our economy and help get B.C. working again. We need to invest in skills training and we will create a $100 million needs-based grant program to help make post-secondary training affordable and increase the umber of spaces for apprentices.
In addition to these steps, the NDP will invest in modern training equipment, will work to improve completion rates for apprenticeship programs and also develop targeted programs to encourage more women and First Nations to enter skilled trades.
The choice in this election is clear. In the face of a skills shortage that is harming our economy and raising unemployment, do you want more of the same or change for the better?
Maxwell: The question is how to attract more people into areas of predicted skill-sensitive employment. I think this needs to be done by working together as a whole and not regionally.
A group consisting of teachers, business people, students and government should be brought together to decide where to put our resources and efforts. Which and how many people will be needed (short term and long term) in university courses, college courses and trade school courses. Then guidance to students from our high school teachers and counsellors should be rolled out.
The more information on all areas of any given profession or trade we can give these students will allow them to make the proper choices (training costs, job security, tool cost outlay, wages, areas within a profession to branch out to and more).
Forecasting areas of need is the key to getting this right, and we must get the proper mix of industry, youth and academia from the start.
Upshaw: It is incumbent that the MLA be an ambassador of sorts to sell the area and all of its virtues to the province, country and the world. So I would work with all of the different sectors’ best people to make sure we are doing what it takes to attract new employment opportunities for the region.
This area is a lifestyle destination that many people in the Internet technology sector are normally attracted to. With proper and aggressive pursuit, these types of industries need to be courted. I believe that if local, provincial and federal governments were willing to give tax incentives for a start-up period of time, there would be a desire for these companies to relocate here. Local commercial building owners could also be encouraged to give temporary lease reductions for the short term, provided that a long-term lease is entered in to as an incentive for companies to relocate here.
Pursuing the film industry, digital arts, research and development, pharmaceutical, medical research, agricultural-related companies, etc. in the same manner as noted above.
The Penticton airport is also an excellent venue for aerospace-related jobs. It is mandatory we provide year-round opportunities. These are high-paying jobs. Diversification is key.