The South Okanagan West - Kootenay’s independent candidate, Carolina Hopkins (left), participates in a round-table discussion at the Penticton Seniors’ Drop-In Centre on Oct. 10. The discussion and following all-candidates forum was hosted by the Penticton & Wine Country Chamber of Commerce in advance of the federal election on Oct. 21. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)

South Okanagan – West Kootenay candidates consider business, trade and government policy

Federal candidates participated in Penticton & Wine Country Chamber of Commerce forum on Oct. 10

By Brennan Phillips

Western News Staff

The Penticton & Wine Country Chamber of Commerce hosted an all-candidates forum for the South Okanagan – West Kootenay riding on Oct. 10 with a special format.

All six registered candidates, five representing federal parties and one independent, sat down for questions and answers at the Penticton Seniors’ Drop-In Centre following an hour-long segment of round table discussions with members of the chamber and local business community. The 40 locals were split into six tables, and the candidates rotated through each to respond to questions in a more intimate setting.

After the round table wrapped up, the forum moved into the standard panel questions and answers segment. With the Penticton Chamber hosting, the questions had a focus on small business, ranging from how the individual candidate’s party would handle the national debt or support small businesses to how they would handle interprovincial trade barriers and the issues of homelessness, mental illness and addiction.

The Green Party candidate, Tara Howse, presented a plan for handling the national debt and balancing the budget by increasing taxes on corporations, and cutting corporate handouts and tax loopholes.

“I like to say we’re fiscally responsible, technologically forward, and socially just. We actually have a plan to have a balanced budget by 2024,” she said. “The other thing I’d like to point out is the parliamentary budget office offered to cost platform items and platforms this year, the Green Party wholeheartedly agreed. We have the party with the most items costed. The Green Party is not afraid to show their numbers.”

Howse’s answers through the rest of the night were clear and concise, though she did struggle with the response on the issue of transportation of goods and services in the South Okanagan. Her response was mainly on supporting a national rail initiative, rather than a specific proposal for the region.

At the debate was the South Okanagan West – Kootenay’s independent candidate, Carolina Hopkins. As the first forum she qualified for, Hopkins had her first chance to introduce herself to voters, sharing her background before getting to speak face-to-face at the round table.

She said while she didn’t have a party backing her and providing her with the background information to respond to many of the questions, she would do her best to “learn and study about the subject.” In a number of her responses, she echoed support for proposals from the other parties, and her own were to bring together the federal and provincial governments to the same page.

“First, we have to start with the dialogue. We need to hold the discussions in the riding with the various levels of government, from federal, provincial, to municipalities,” Hopkins said. “We have to develop a meaningful and coordinated approach. We have to improve our dialogue with the provinces.”

Read More: South Okanagan Candidates face media panel

The NDP incumbent Richard Cannings pointed to the provincial NDP’s records for fiscal responsibility compared to Liberal and Conservatives, and supported decriminalizing drug users so they could seek treatment while still going after the dealers and distributors in order to help tackle addiction.

When it came to transportation, Cannings was the only one not to focus on the highways and roads in the region. “Well, the main thing about transportation I’ve heard in the last four years isn’t about roads, it’s about AirCanada,” he said. “At the other end of the spectrum; Greyhound. The NDP will bring back those Greyhound routes. I’ve heard from a lot of businesspeople that that’s how they moved their services and goods.”

Conservative candidate Helena Konanz offered her full support for small businesses. She supported the party’s platform of reducing the deficit by “making sure we don’t raise EI [employment insurance] and CPP [Canadian Pension Plan] that have been raised in the last four years, and in fact claw them back.” She also promised to help reduce costs for businesses, by supporting the removal of the carbon tax, and cutting business taxes.

At the end of her response to the question on interprovincial trade, Konanz also took a shot at Cannings, which led to an outbreak of murmured discussion in the audience.

“Also, having to do with Greyhound, our former MP has had two years to bring back Greyhound, unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to do it so far,” Konanz said.

Liberal party candidate Connie Denesiuk pointed out the Conservatives’ own record on fighting for an issue in response to the question of interprovincial trade barriers. “We know that the Conservatives did try to free grapes for a long time,” she said, “and were never successful in that.”

Denesiuk threw her support behind the Liberal Party’s proposal of a World Trade Organization-styled tribunal for interprovincial disputes, as well as tax cuts for high-tech and green-tech businesses in Canada.

For multiple questions, PPC candidate Sean Taylor fell back on the party’s standard line of “remove the capital gains tax, and get rid of the carbon tax.”

During the responses, he also trailed off at times before handing the mike over to the next candidate. Taylor said the party holds positions that are considered “out there,” including defunding the CBC, and making immigration focused on the “‘right’ kind of immigrants.”

First Things First Okanagan is hosting an environmentally-focused forum at the Lakeside Resort on Tuesday, Oct. 15. The forum begins with a round table discussion from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m., with the panel debate starting at 7 p.m.

Advanced voting for the election is open from today until Oct. 14, with the federal election on October 21.

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