Candidates running in the Boundary-Similkameen were invited to a virtual forum hosted by the Boundary Country Regional Chamber of Commerce (BCRCC) on Oct. 9.
This was the first opportunity for the candidates — NDP candidate Roly Russell, BC Liberal Petra Veintimilla, and Conservative Party of BC Darryl Seres — to share their views and answer questions from their potential constituents.
Arlyn Grieg, who had been announced as an official candidate by Elections BC along with Seres on Oct. 3, did not attend. Earlier on Oct. 9, the Wexit BC party Facebook page announced the party was retracting its endorsement of Grieg.
Henrik Van Wyk, the director of the BCRCC, hosted and moderated the event, although his timer was rarely needed.
One theme that was echoed throughout the night was how the candidates had common ground with each other.
On the issues, there was more agreement than disagreement about the goals and the issues themselves; instead, the candidates diverged largely on the means of achieving those goals.
Veintimilla and Russell continually went head to head over the issues and their parties’ respective histories, while Seres offered alternatives and critiques of both the BC Liberals and NDP.
In their opening statements, both Russell and Veintimilla championed a small business and family focus for the riding, and Seres pointed to the non-profit sector as a role-model for the government.
One of the first questions was regarding what single issue the candidates would focus on if elected, a question that the candidates disagreed with.
“As everyone sitting here knows, this riding is very diverse. If you’ve seen one rural community, you’ve seen one rural community,” said Veintimilla. “We all have different issues, we all have different priorities.”
“I’ll give you the same answer that you probably won’t like, but I don’t think in rural B.C. that we have that luxury of being single-issue candidates,” said Russell.
“It has to be building community,” said Seres. “We’ve lost the sense of personal community and bring that back. There are a lot more important issues, but if it had to be one, it would be building a strong sense of community.”
One of the topics of the largest difference between the candidates was on the subject of growth and taxes and how they can best be used for rural communities.
“I think the growth will come from the small business owners, and we can support them by eliminating the PST for a year and getting rid of the small business tax,” said Veintimilla. “We need taxation, it’s about taxing the right things, it’s about spending the money we do take in wisely, and spending it where it needs to be spent. “
“Our party looks at things a little differently,” said Seres. “We believe that the easiest and most practical way to ease people’s tax burden is to suspend the carbon tax for the duration of the pandemic.”
“I like agreeing with my opponents here, and I certainly agree with Petra that it’s a question of where that taxation goes and how we account for the spending,” said Russell. “So the notion of eliminating the PST, I find that to be a short-sighted decision. “
Seres came out strongly on how the NDP and BC Liberals have handled ICBC in his response to a question on what to do with the crown corporation.
“We absolutely have to open up insurance to the private sector,” said Seres. “Let’s keep ICBC, help it do the best it can, but competition makes everyone better.”
“That sounds good, but in 2018, we had an emergency operation centre here that was active for weeks and weeks on end,” said Russell, referring to the 2018 flooding in Grand Forks. “I led that process and we were exhausted. It sounds great to say that competition is going to do us all good, but we certainly have seen a different outcome in our community.”
“We know that things are broken. There’s no problem admitting that things were broken, and maybe they were broken in the past, but now we see that we need to move and move quickly to fix the issues,” said Veintimilla. “So we do plan to open up the market for competition, and in tandem with ICBC offer drivers a choice.”
All three candidates supported going towards a greener economy, to differing degrees. Russell supported further electric vehicles and forest stewardship, Seres called for better exporting of liquid natural gas to the rest of the world to counter coal usage, and Petra called for additional support for communities that rely on natural resources as the province transitions to a green economy.
The final question of the night concerned a contentious issue for the western half of the riding; the proposed national park. Candidates were asked to provide a clear yes or no for support on the park, and then their rationale and what role they believed the province should play.
“I have been involved in conversations surrounding the proposed national park for many years, ” said Veintimilla.
“I am supportive of the concept, I believe that positives outweigh the negatives. All of that being said, I believe the role of an MLA is to be the voice of the community. I don’t believe the role of the MLA is to push a personal agenda in any way, shape or form.”
Russell stated, “I am in support of that park, but as Petra says, it’s not our job as elected officials to push our own agendas. I think the key piece to move forward on is making sure the community has a say in how the process unfolds.”
Seres responded, “I’m campaigning on a referendum for the people of our riding to decide this issue. For myself, I am genuinely undecided at this point. But again, I would be one vote, we need a referendum, yes or no.”
In their closing statements, all three candidates echoed one sentiment – make sure your voice is heard, and vote.
The provincial election takes place on Saturday, Oct. 24.
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