The four candidates vying for votes in the Penticton riding settled down for a lunchtime forum this week with the Chamber of Commerce.
This was the second all-candidates forum arranged by the chamber. Unlike the April 30 forum, this one was open only to chamber members, and was a much quieter affair.
“It was a nice quick hit, have a nice lunch and have that access to decision makers,” said chamber director Jason Cox, who also sits on the B.C. Chamber of Commerce board. This forum, he said, offered a more intimate approach to the candidates.
“It was nice to hear them acknowledge a lot of the needs of the business community,” said Cox. “But I think each of the candidates and all of the parties need to spend more time with business owners in the community and understand what it is we need as small business owners driving the economy to have less regulation and more profitable businesses to employ more people.”
Conservative candidate Sean Upshaw again got off to an aggressive start, comparing the B.C. economy to the Titanic.
“This is the role of Sean Upshaw and the B.C. Conservatives, we’re trying to let B.C. know that the Titanic that we are on has hit an iceberg and it may already be too late,” said Upshaw.
Dick Cannings emphasized his environmental and scientific credentials as bringing a new perspective to government, supporting the NDP platform.
“It’s a plan for a prosperous economy, a caring society and, of course, a healthy environment,” said Cannings. “The choice in this election is clear: more of the same or change for the better.”
Liberal Dan Ashton targeted his message to the audience, highlighting his stance against raising taxes and fiscal responsibility.
“I have a proven track record of getting things done on time and on budget, strong financial capability and someone who has actually held the line on taxation,” said Ashton, adding that he will be able to hit the ground running if elected. “I have forged a relationship with the province on both sides of the house.”
Doug Maxwell scored points with the audience, making personal connections from his 20 years as a member of the Penticton business community as owner of an automotive repair shop, and using that experience to highlight the B.C. First Party’s stand against party politics in the legislature.
“I’ve retired now and I had to pass on some of my knowledge and address some of the things that were bothering me,” said Maxwell. “The first thing was the debt we are in. By now we should be getting out of debt rather than getting in deeper. It seems that party politics leads to deeper debt.”
Questions posed to the candidates ranged widely, from job creation to marijuana legalization and pesticides on golf courses, as well as the inevitable question about the Penticton hospital expansion, which all candidates promised to see completed.
One questioner wanted to know what the candidates would do to create jobs and help businesses in Penticton.
Ashton chose to focus on his record as mayor.
“Businesses like certainty, business likes a low tax regime, business likes no red tape,” he said, noting that nine projects had been completed under the city’s economic incentive zone bylaw. “Let’s do some pilot projects and see if we can get this to other communities.”
Maxwell felt the emphasis should be on the traditional tourism sector, starting with getting local tourism promoters around the same table.
“Then they can decide what is the best direction for Penticton,” said Maxwell. “I think they could do it if they worked together.”
Upshaw wants more focus on the IT sector.
“People are just as capable as turning right when they come off the (Coquihalla) Connector as they are to the left,” he said. “What we need to do is begin to cut red tape that limits investment in this area.”
Cannings too focused on IT.
“We own lifestyle here in Penticton,” said Cannings. “We’ve got to build on that, we’ve got to maintain all the things that bring people here, people who can move their business anywhere.”
Cox wasn’t surprised to hear questions covering such a wide variety of topics. They all, he said, contributed to a prosperous business environment.
“The community is about all of those things in addition to jobs and business,” said Cox. “Having educated kids is important to having an educated workforce, having effective criminal and drug policies is important … crime and poverty do affect our business. I think these things do overlap.”