Candidates running in the Penticton riding, for the provincial election, got their first chance to share their views on the local economy, COVID, taxes and crime at the Chamber’s virtual forum held Thursday evening.
Over Zoom and Facebook Live, NDP candidate Toni Boot, BC Liberal Dan Ashton, Libertarian Keith MacIntyre and BC Green Party Ted Shumaker answered questions posed to them by local business owners and the public.
According to the Chamber, over 1,300 watched the forum.
“I think I’ve proven myself as the MLA of Penticton. The BC Liberals will remove the PST for one year, bring it back at three per cent for the second and see where we are at in our economic recovery after that,” said Ashton. “The NDP has brought in more than 20 new taxes over the past three years and businesses are floundering under those taxes.”
The candidates criticized the NDP for calling an early election and causing important funding and grants to be put on hold that will help small business.
“The tourism season is gone. They struggled all summer and needed those funds now to get through,” said Ashton.
Boot said the NDP plans to roll out a $300 million grant program next week.
“And a $10,000 top up for all tourism operators. We also have a tourism task force that will chart ways to move forward and that will result in further funding down the road,” she added.
Libertarian candidate Keith MacIntyre said Vancouver and Victoria shouldn’t be deciding for places like the Okanagan where COVID-19 cases have consistently been minimal in comparison.
“What’s happening in Penticton is different than what’s happening in Vancouver. We’ve had maybe nine cases in Penticton and four in Summerland and yet we can’t go for a beer after 10 p.m. The government needs to get out of the way and let business owners do what’s right for them,” said MacIntyre.
BC Green Party Ted Shumaker pointed out that throughout this pandemic, big box stores in Penticton, like Walmart, have been packed full of people.
“Then you have places like the Speedway that is outside and can easily fit 4,000 people and they are limited to 50. The rules are not fair for our local, small businesses,” Shumaker said.
Ashton agreed with Schuman saying the rules are ‘ludicrous.’
“Small, independent businesses have to be masked and gloved up while it’s free for all at [big box] businesses.”
The Greens, BC Liberals and Libertarians came out against the NDP for calling this snap election during the pandemic.
“For the last year, we were working together really well during this pandemic, doing what’s best for B.C. There is no reason to call this election besides wanting to give themselves a blank cheque to spend our money,” said Ashton.
Boot said she is very proud of how the province, Dr. Bonnie Henry and the NDP have handled this pandemic and that’s why the election was called early.
“Some people feel strongly that this election is opportunistic. But we will still have this pandemic with us in fall and spring when the election was scheduled to happen,” Boot said. “We need a strong, stable government to get us through that time.”
When it comes to crime, all felt some changes need to be made.
“I had a guy sleeping in my truck last week. In his backpack were a hammer and bear spray. He was arrested and let out three hours later,” said Shumaker. “These are broken people with mental health and addiction issues. They need help but they need discipline too. We pay our hospital nurses very well but yet we pay our social workers who work with these people horribly.”
Ashton believes “we need to give a hand up but not handouts.”
“The criminals walk in through one door and out the other [of the justice system]. Also, mental health officers need to be with RCMP.”
Boot said while the Criminal Code is federal jurisdiction, some things can help at the provincial level.
“We can continue to invest in mental health, affordable housing and start to provide better police training,” said Boot.
MacIntyre said the issue is complex.
“Decriminalize drugs is one way that may help.”
The candidates were also asked what their opinion was on employees getting two weeks paid sick leave during the pandemic.
“I’m not in favour of two weeks sick time. Unless they have COVID, employees should be at work, working,” said Ashton.
Boot took the opposite stance.
“Paid sick leave is important. Workers need to be protected. If a worker comes into work sick because they aren’t going to get paid otherwise, that is unsafe for customers and staff. We are in a global pandemic. We need those supports.”
MacIntyre owns his own business and said if the government pays for sick leave, it’s another reason for them to stay home, like CERB.
“People will look at it like ‘who does it hurt if I stay home.’ What are my premiums going to look like? The government is not our parent,” he said.
Shumaker said paid sick leave should not fall on the shoulders of the already struggling small businesses.
“The government needs to kick in some,” he said.
One of the questions asked was how the parties could help with staff shortages, especially in the hospitality sector.
Ashton said federal payouts of CERB served a good purpose at the beginning of the pandemic.
“With it morphing into EI payouts, we are creating a culture of people not wanting to work. To make a prosperous province we need people to work,” said Ashton.
Boot said the NDP is offering a 15 per cent tax incentive to hire new employees.
“When I owned Grassland Nursery in Summerland for 10 years we faced this same problem back then,” she said.
Shumaker said a living wage is the way to get people back to work.
Boot agreed that a fair wage would help.
The forum was hosted by JCI Penticton, the Chamber and HEK Yeah Media.