The opioid crisis, parks, forestry and the Ajax mine were among topics discussed by Kamloops-North Thompson candidates during Monday’s all-candidates forum. The five candidates vying to be the next MLA squared off inside a Double Tree by Hilton conference room, with the public tuning in online due to pandemic protocols.
Here are some of the highlights from issues raised.
The opioid crisis:
Asked what government should do to address the opioid crisis that is currently not being done, B.C. Liberal Peter Milobar noted his party has committed to building a foundry centre to address youth mental health and addiction to try to prevent some of the harm before it becomes deeply rooted.
B,.C. Green Thomas Martin called for decriminalization of drugs, noting it can be done at the provincial level by redirecting police resources.
B.C. New Democrat Sadie Hunter also called for decriminalization, but said there needs to be an effective way to reach people who use alone in their homes, where the majority of overdose deaths occur.
Asked for their plan to address forestry in the riding, Martin said the Greens will enact local control over lumber, resource revenue sharing with municipalities and promoting small and medium-sized businesses.
“If you live in Clearwater, you should have a say in what happens in the forests around your community,” Martin said.
Hunter said the NDP has invested $13 million to improve forest stewardship and planted more than 300-million trees last year.
“There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done, but we’re committed to doing it,” Hunter said.
Russell said the logging of old growth forests needs to stop and government needs to examine how to get more resources with less harm to the environment.
B.C. Conservative candidate Dennis Giesbrecht said B.C needs to reform how it calculates stumpage rates, noting it should be done monthly rather than once a year, which will allow for flexibility in adapting to changing market conditions.
Milobar said the Liberal plan also calls for stumpage reform, but did not get into specifics.
Asked about the possible reapplication of the Ajax mine project, none of the candidates expressed much hope for the proposal.
Giesbrecht said Ajax should have the right to apply, adding the decision should be in the hands of the regulatory agencies, not politicians. Hunter noted the project has already been denied and cannot see it being able to change enough to move forward. Martin said it’s difficult to judge a project before seeing the application, but if it were a resubmission of the former one, he wouldn’t support it.
“I’d want to see what’s changed,” he said, adding he would also want First Nations and City of Kamloops involved in the process.
Milobar said any MLA or minister would need to rely on the decision form the environmental assessment office if such an application came forward.
“But frankly, the hurdles that would be faced after being rejected once already would be massive,” he said.
How would candidates address overcrowded schools and ensure School District 73 gets the capital funding it requires?
Giesbrecht said he would like to see the school system utilize modular buildings to fit the demand.
“You can, like Lego, add and remove as demographics shift,” he said, adding he’d also like to see more investment in online education.
Milobar said the Liberals have funding in their plan for the burned-down Parkcrest elementary and other capital projects needed in Kamloops. He also criticized Premier John Horgan for a lack of movement on the rebuild of Parkcrest as he was unable to give a status update on the project during a media interview while in Kamloops.
“Simply put, it’s a burned-down school on an insurance claim that should already have money. It should already be approved and it should be moving forward,” Milobar said.
Hunter said the government is moving in the right direction on overcrowding, but conceded more needs to be done. She noted the NDP is actively building schools across the province, including the ongoing expansion at Valleyview secondary.
What plans do the candidates have to advance economic reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities?
Milobar said he supported the NDP’s bill enshrining the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into law, arguing now is the time to deliver on that promise. Hunter said the passage of UNDRIP shows the good intentions of the NDP government and the path forward will include a long-term agreement that provides greater self-determination and support for economic independence through government to government discussion.
“You’re not going to see any one government move this forward on their own,” Hunter said.
Martin said First Nations need to be included in resource management planning and are part of the Green platform on revenue sharing with municipalities. He also said there needs to be an increase to the proportion of First Nations-controlled forest tenures, remote communities need to get off diesel power and broadband internet brought to remote locations.
“It’s hard to compete in the 21st century if you don’t have high speed internet,” Martin said.
The BC Real Estate Association asked candidates if they supported its recommendation to create more voluntary energy-efficiency initiatives for people planning renovations, which all five candidates supported.
Hunter added the NDP has already enacted supports for homeowner retrofits and energy efficiency incentives, but did not specify. She also said the party will moving forward with these incentives for other buildings such as apartments.
Milobar claimed the programs Hunter alluded to started under the Liberals, but have been underfunded by the NDP. He said a Liberal government would ensure the programs are fully funded.
Giesbrecht said there needs to be more education of these programs and engagement with builders to recommend while Independent candidate Brandon Russell said he’d like to credits for purchasing solar panels and scrap-it programs for old appliances.
Asked what their parties will do to ensure a better future for underfunded provincial parks, protect nature and promote tourism, Hunter said the NDP has committed funding in its plan to continue building park infrastructure, expand campgrounds and develop trails.
Giesbrecht said the Conservatives plan to give tax credits to people who vacation in B.C.
“We’ve all heard of the 100-mile diet. Let’s start working on the 200-mile vacation,” he said.
Milobar slammed the NDP government for cutting BC Parks budget this year by more than $1 million, adding the Liberals will double park campsite spaces in heavily-used parks, hire youth and Indigenous peoples to enhance park experiences and increase funding for the Conservation Officer Service.
Martin said the Greens want more funding for BC Parks and the Conservation Office Service.
“We need basic infrastructure in our parks,” he said.
A vote for an opponent?
If Saturday’s election were held amongst the five aspiring MLAs, 19-year-old independent candidate Brandon Russell would win the election. To conclude the debate, all candidates were asked to cast a ballot for a fellow candidate.
Here’s how they voted:
Sadie Hunter: Independent, Brandon Russell
Peter Milobar: Independent, Brandon Russell
Dennis Giesbrecht: Independent, Brandon Russell
Brandon Russell: Conservative, Dennis Giesbrecht
Thomas Martin: New Democrat, Sadie Hunter