Aside from a few dirty bombs, Premier Christy Clark found herself facing friendly fire during a town hall meeting Monday afternoon at the Penticton Lakeside Resort.
More than 250 people packed the conference room to pose questions to the premier and an assembled throng of ministers.
Clark opened the session with a quick statement, before expressing her desire to hear people’s ideas on how to make B.C. better.
“We are in, as you know, pretty tough economic times. This is something that’s touched us all,” she said, noting B.C.’s status as a business investment safe haven must be capitalized into incomes for residents. “If you want to be a great parent and do a good job, you have to put food on your table for your kids. To do that, you need a job.”
Questions shifted the conversation quickly into debate surrounding the KVR Trail, as some urged ensuring the trail remains open to the public and asked what the timeline of land acquisition would be.
“I also understand there have been conflicts with motorized and non-motorized users on the trail. I’m live to the issue in a real way. It’s an asset to B.C. and should be protected,” Clark said.
Forests Minister Steve Thomson said ministry staff have been “actively” working on the file.
“We’re certainly aware of it. It’s a complex file. We are dealing with it, and we’re interested in protecting the integrity of the trail,” he said.
Assistance for the victims of the Testalinden Creek mudslide near Oliver was also top of mind for some. Allan Patton, RDOS director for Oliver electoral area, said repercussions are still trickling in a year-and-a-half after the slide.
“There’s been a major, major negative effect to the residents affected by that slide,” he said, asking the premier what the timeline was for decisions.
“It’s heart-breaking these people could not go back to their homes,” Clark said of their situation, noting that one minister had been receiving daily reports on the situation. “My understanding is we’ve come a long way to get them some resolution.”
One resident asked what the premier’s plan was to address housing affordability, given a family’s “table has to exist in a house or a home” even as prices skyrocket.
Clark discussed the issue of homelessness, noting several investments into shelters in the last seven years that have seen homeless counted on the street as dropping 50 per cent. “We still have a long way to go,” she said. “We have to find a way to apply that model elsewhere, because we know that homelessness is a problem in the Okanagan as well.”
Although other programs exist to help people cover their rent, Clark said the issue of affordability is largely out of government control. What she would like to do, she added, is alleviate the tax burden on potential home buyers, which could help with the financial squeeze.
“The tax I hate the most because it adds absolutely nothing to the economy is the property purchase tax,” she said. “As soon as we’re in a position to start cutting taxes, I’d like to cut that one because it does nothing to add value.”
Suggestions also came from residents. One asked Clark why Penticton could not be marketed as the Canadian centre for sustainable building, another from a home builder lobby group suggested incentives be put in place to assist with house starts in advance of the HST reversal in a year’s time. Joe Sardinha from the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association suggested the province consider a PST rebate system for agriculturalists who benefitted under the HST.
Not all were happy to ask questions, however. The RCMP were called at one point during the meeting as one couple from Kelowna began yelling at the microphone demanding answers from Clark about construction near their property that was holding back their garden business from expansion. Ceasing growth, they said, meant they have had no income for 17 months and are at risk of losing their home. Clark asked her to provide information to her office for review.
Newly minted Coun. Wes Hopkin also garnered interest as he asked Health Minister Mike de Jong why Interior Health was permitted to cut the 25-year program of HIV screening at the public health unit, when the service was less readily accessible from family physicians and walk-in clinics. He also asked Clark what role sexual health policy has in her family-first agenda.
De Jong said health care spending has gone from $8 billion since the Liberals first formed government to $16 billion this year. “It has doubled. I only mention that because I think we’re constantly challenging the men and women working in the health care sector to do more with more. They try to do what they can,” he said.