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 (Oct. 8).
The two-hour, 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 and grandstanding banter 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 muted by organizers.
The 24 (out of 32) candidates participating from nine ridings were all representing the major parties – the BC NDP, BC Liberals and 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 issues raised during three years in power.
NDP candidates hit back, suggesting that they were taking action on problems that the Liberals had allowed to develop during 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 legislature focused on environmental and human rights concerns.
Even with the generally civil tone, some fireworks erupted.
In one of the tenser responses, Surrey South BC Liberal 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.
“People are not being informed,” Hunt said.
Surrey-Cloverdale Green candidate Rebecca Smith said her party also favoured a referendum on the policing transition.
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 COVID-19 hit.
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 billion 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.”