The Surrey Board of Trade was all business in hosting the Surrey ridings’ first digital all-candidates meeting in the provincial election campaign Thursday afternoon.
The exactly two-hour, all-online meeting, co-presented by the South Asian Business Association – with sponsorship help from the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board – eschewed most of the pleasantries, pauses and grandstanding banter of of the typical in-person all-candidates gathering.
Instead, following welcoming remarks from hosts and sponsors, moderator (and SBOT chief executive officer) Anita Huberman focused on questions fired off with machine-gun rapidity, and answers that were limited to one minute for each candidate, with all overrun automatically muted by organizers.
The 24 (out of 32) candidates participating from the nine ridings were all representing the major parties – The BC NDP, the BC Liberals and the BC Green Party.
And, predictably, patterns soon emerged in responses to questions on issues that ranged from Surrey’s planned transition from the RCMP to a city police force, to economic recovery from pandemic conditions, health care, education and transportation.
BC Liberal candidates lashed out at the NDP for calling an “unnecessary election” in the middle of a pandemic and for inaction on many of the issues raised during their three years in power.
NDP candidates hit back, suggesting that they were taking action on problems that the Liberals had allowed to develop over more than a decade in power before that.
And Green Party candidates – while often noting that they didn’t have specific platform planks on issues raised – took shots at both of the other parties on their past records, while maintaining that greater Green representation could at the very least help keep the legislature focused on environmental and human rights concerns.
Even with the generally civil tone of the meeting, some fireworks erupted.
In one of the tenser responses, Surrey South BC Liberal incumbent Stephanie Cadieux – taking time out of her response to another question – emphatically rejected an earlier suggestion by Surrey-Cloverdale NDP candidate Mike Starchuk that a referendum on the police transition, suggested by the Liberals, would be “non-binding” and that the City of Surrey would pay for it.
“I do need to clarify,” she said. “The City of Surrey will not pay for the referendum – that is a lie.”
Starchuk had averred that the police transition was “a municipal decision,” rather than a provincial one, at this point, adding that it was merely an election ploy “for (Liberal leader) Andrew Wilkinson to take an interest in it.”
But Surrey-Cloverdale Liberal incumbent Marvin Hunt said that the NDP had erred in not setting up a process to allow for resident consultation on the transition as soon as Mayor Doug McCallum announced it.
“People are not being informed,” Hunt said. “They don’t know all the implications of this.”
Surrey-Cloverdale Green candidate Rebecca Smith said her party also favoured a referendum on the policing transition.
“We believe in participatory democracy and transparency, and sustainable, scientific, evidence-based decision-making,” she said. “This has not been happening in Surrey at all…(it was) a decision made by the mayor that did not have community support.”
In a question about instituting a competitive tax system for business, Cadieux said it was “essential,” adding that the Liberals propose a two per cent reduction in small business taxes and PST relief for one year, with partial relief in a second year, as an incentive during economic recovery.
But Surrey South NDP candidate Pauline Greaves said that “Andrew Wilkinson is proposing tax cuts for those who need them the least, while (NDP leader) John Horgan is focusing on those who need them the most.”
In another question aimed specifically at participating Surrey-White Rock candidates, they were asked what they would have done if they had been part of the government in power when the COVID-19 crisis emerged.
Green candidate Pixie Hobby said a Green government would not have participated in “confusion over the CERB,” instead focusing on the party’s proposal of a guaranteed livable income featuring “easy-to-administer benefits” that would have helped those in need “quickly and efficiently.”
NDP candidate Bryn Smith “said “it’s fair to say recovery has been well done and we have successfully avoided a second wave” while he questioned the wisdom of “blowing a $10 million hole in the economy” through tax-cutting policies advocated by the Liberals.
But Liberal candidate Trevor Halford said his party “wouldn’t be focused on an election…we’d be focusing on how we’re protecting the jobs of British Columbians and not how we protect the jobs of B.C. politicians.”
In other discussion, responses also hewed to party lines.
Quizzed on the plight of the homeless, Surrey-Whalley Liberal candidate Shaukat Khan said the “election was called without taking their needs into account” while Surrey-Whalley NDP incumbent Bruce Ralston responded that homelessness had shot up by 50 per cent in 2014-2017 during the Liberals watch, and that, while the NDP has invested in modular housing units for the homeless on the Whalley strip, “there, for years and years, the B.C. Liberals did nothing.”
In a question on support for small businesses including restaurants and banquet halls in light of pandemic health measures, Surrey-Guildford Green candidate Jodi Murphy said her party is proposing a six-month rental subsidy program for small business, while Dave Hans, Liberal candidate for the same riding, noting his party’s planned suspension of provincial sales tax for a year, said banquet halls had been “targeted” by the NDP when “hotels are still open and schools are open – it doesn’t make sense.”
Also in Surrey Guildford, NDP candidate Garry Begg said the party would continue to follow the advice of health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on best practices, while helping such businesses by providing $700 million in tax relief, cutting property taxes by 25 per cent and offering rebates through B.C. Hydro.
Responding to a question about affordable housing and increasing housing supply for Surrey-Fleetwood candidates, the Green party’s Dean McGee said there was a need to zone more “multi-family housing and density along transit routes” while Liberal Garry Thind said that, by increasing supply, “prices will come down eventually,” while the party’s proposed PST rebate would shave some $19,500 off the costs of an average home.
But the same riding’s NDP incumbent Jagrup Brar, while touting his party’s investment in affordable housing, fired back that, “in over 16 years the B.C. Liberals completely ignored it.”
Similarly, in a question on health care for Surrey Panorama candidates, while Liberal Gulzar Cheema said that, under the NDP, Surrey – approaching a population of 650,000 – is “the only city that has not got the proper share of (health) funding” NDP incumbent Jinny Sims responded that “the Liberals, for 16 long years, had neglected Surrey in (creating) hospitals,” and had “magically sold the land” earmarked for a new hospital.
“We (now) have the land in Cloverdale…this hospital is going to be built,” she said.