The three people who want to be the region’s next MLA fielded questions on a wide range of subjects, and verbal fireworks were absent, during an all-candidates forum Thursday attended by more than 200 voters in Qualicum Beach.
Questions aimed at candidates Barry Avis (NDP), David Coupland (Conservatives) and Michelle Stilwell (Liberals) touched on almost every provincial-government-related topic, including education, health care, natural resources, the environment and skills training.
The forum, sponsored by The NEWS and the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce, was the first is a series for the people who are seeking the MLA’s job for the Parksville Qualicum Beach constituency. The next is at The Gardens in Qualicum Beach on Friday. The seat is currently held by B.C. Liberal Ron Cantelon, who is not seeking a third term.
On Thursday, the candidates mostly avoided interaction or cross-talk. Only during responses to questions about resource extraction was there any kind of back-and-forth banter, as Coupland wondered aloud how Avis and the NDP could say they are in favour but are seemingly against moving natural resources to the markets.
Avis said he believed resources should be processed here in B.C. and the province should not ship raw logs and other raw materials — and the value-added jobs that go with them — outside the province. After the meeting, Avis was asked if that meant he would be in favour of a refinery in Kitimat, proposed by Black Press owner David Black.
“I’m in favour of a refinery, just not in Kitimat,” Avis said in an interview after the forum. “If he (Black) would say he will do the refinery at the source, then great, that’s the way it should be.”
Avis was asked if he was saying any potential refinery jobs belong in Alberta and not B.C.
“Maybe that particular part is not good for B.C., but it’s good for Canada,” said Avis. “B.C. has a depth of wealth in (natural) gas, not so much in oil.”
In response to a question about small businesses, Stilwell said the B.C. Liberals have eliminated hundreds of regulatory burdens, reducing red tape. Avis said the government should listen to what small business owners tell them and Coupland said “the best thing government can do is get out of the way.”
A local school trustee asked the candidates what they thought about the current funding formula for K-12 education. Stilwell said the B.C. Liberals have increased per pupil funding but “the problem is our enrolment numbers are down.” Coupland said the provincial government needs to match the required funding for school districts when it completes B.C.-wide negotiated settlements in relation to items like wages or greenhouse-gas emission reduction.
As for expanding coal mining on the Island, Avis said the province currently has a “weak (environmental) review system.” Coupland and Stilwell both said they would like to see all the facts before making comment on the proposed Raven coal mine.
Coupland said the Oceanside Health Centre, scheduled to open in June, “can turn into a good primary care initiative but there are gaps in it.” Stilwell said the OHC will be a “great improvement for our communities,” while Avis promised an NDP government would look again at a 2004 report on health care in Parksville Qualicum Beach to see “what additional things can be done.”
Stilwell pointed to the B.C. Liberals’ good stewardship of the province’s finances, using B.C.’s AAA credit rating as an example and saying that is “keeping money in (taxpayers’) pockets.” Avis said labelling the the recent provincial budget as balanced is “just trickery,” while Coupland said the real problem with the province’s finances is “out-of-control spending.”
The provincial election is May 14.