Four of six candidates for Delta MP participated in an all-candidates meeting Saturday (Sept. 11), the first of two such events before voters head to the polls next week.
Saturday’s meeting was hosted virtually by the Delta Residents Association, with Liberal Carla Qualtrough, NDP candidate Monika Dean, Green Jeremy Smith and People’s Party hopeful Paul Tarasenko attending.
Conservative Garry Shearer and independent candidate Hong Yan Pan (also known as Melody Pan) did not participate.
(Watch the full video at the end of this story)
After opening remarks, the candidates were asked what were the two most important issues for Deltans and why they felt those were important.
Speaking first, Dean said the environment and affordability were her top issues, highlighting the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Burns Bog and agricultural land as local “beautiful gems” requiring protection.
Dean said affordability was an “all encompassing” issue that included housing, PharmaCare and dental care.
“My parents wouldn’t have a place to go if they didn’t live with me. They wouldn’t be able to afford to live on their own. And young people buying houses, it’s a really difficult thing. Everybody in between is struggling and feeling the squeeze,” Dean said.
Qualtrough said her top priorities were “finishing the fight against COVID-19,” housing affordability, climate change and addressing labour shortages.
“We have this unique situation in the business community here in Delta where we have a lot of people looking for work and we have a lot of businesses looking for workers, so really honing in on making that match work so that we can fill the jobs we have in Delta and address the labor shortages that our businesses are feeling right now,” she said.
Tarasenko highlighted the need to support Delta’s “younger population and our young families, because we’re constantly seeing them being unable to afford homes — even in our own area here, they’re being forced out — and we need to find a way to make housing affordable to allow these young people such as myself a place that we can live, a shelter that we feel safe in.”
He also spoke of the need to increase pensions for seniors and protect the environment while also helping businesses grow.
Smith said his top priority is mental health, especially among the community’s children.
“If we don’t invest with them at a young age and teach them how to navigate this very complicated world and providing support systems for them, I feel that these problems won’t ever be resolved because they become too complicated and the anxiety is just too much. I know that both my sons have lost friends to suicide in this neighborhood, and I think that when you invest in your people, your people invest in the community, and that’s how we move forward and correct these issues.”
Smith also said he believes “we have to re-examine what we believe a house is,” saying zoning needs to change so residents start moving away from their “overindulgence [in] massive houses on massive lots” in favour of smaller homes with suites so people can stay in their communities.
Next, the candidates were asked what the federal government have done better over the last few years and what needs to be done to immediately to correct it.
Qualtrough said the government had been dealing with “unprecedented times” and prioritized keeping people safe, supporting businesses and workers, and taking on debt “so Canadians wouldn’t have to.”
“We always had to pivot, we always had to course-correct. I think looking back, perhaps we always would have liked to do things quicker, we would have liked to help people faster, but we did the very best we could within the systems we had.”
Qualtrough said the last two years had revealed gaps in many of those systems, including employment insurance and health care, and she looks forward to tackling those issues, noting there’s always room for improvement.
Tarasenko agreed that Canada is in a unique situation no one could have seen coming, but that more could have done to build the public’s trust and alleviate confusion. He also highlighted supply chain issues during the pandemic, including difficulties in getting the vaccine, and gaps in support for young workers and local businesses.
“I saw many businesses, especially in my own local area, shut down and may never come back again. And that’s just the culture, that’s just the heritage of our site just gone forever, and that’s something that’s really upsetting to me.”
Smith said that while things could have been done better, “I think that the Liberal government, even though I’m on the Green Party side, doesn’t get near enough credit for the amazing work that everyone has done at every level. I don’t think that we could have done better during and in the middle of a crisis.”
However, he said the government should have reduced or stopped Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) payments sooner in order to get people to go back to work.
“A lot of people took advantage of the CERB, and that’s created a huge deficit in the ability to get people to come work for us because we have a generation of people now that if they can take the easy road, they’ll take the easy road,” Smith said.
“I think that it would have been nice to start cutting those payments to people that are more than capable of working because it’s a huge issue for many of the businesses that I talk to, especially in Delta.”
Dean, agreeing that it’s been a very difficult time, said there was a greater need for social supports as rising costs have everyone feeling “a little bit more squeezed, and the pandemic was just one more thing on top of the stress that everybody was already feeling.”
She also called for better working conditions, “seamless” sick leave and fair pay.
Dean also pointed to this summer’s wildfires and heat dome — the latter of which caused a massive die-off of marine wildlife — as evidence of a climate crisis that has been ignored for too long.
“Declaring a current climate crisis one day and then buying a pipeline the next, these things are contradictory. We’ve got to make a difference, we have to do real action now so that we can actually combat the effects and get it down to where we can survive.”
All four candidates said they were pleased to see a decision made about replacing the aging George Massey Tunnel. Tarasenko said he had no concerns with the project, while Dean said she was worried about the project’s environmental impacts.
Smith wondered what guarantees were in place to ensure the project goes forward should there be change in provincial government.
Qualtrough said it’s important there be a robust environmental assessment and sufficient planning for “future bold ideas” around public transit to make sure the project meets the region’s needs now and in the future, including “broader environmental and climate action goals.”
Qualtrough also said a re-elected Liberal government will provide funding for the tunnel. “The money is there.”
As to the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 port expansion, all the candidates expressed concerns about the project’s environmental impacts.
Smith said the project shouldn’t go through, suggesting the port authority look to expand capacity at other facilities instead.
“Anything that damages the environment these days we just have to say no to,” he said, adding that more production and manufacturing jobs in Canada would decrease the need to import goods from overseas.
Dean raised concerns about the proposed port’s automation leading to fewer jobs, saying, “robots can’t go to grocery stores or put their kids in our schools and contribute to our communities.”
Qualtrough acknowledged the important role ports play in Canada’s economy, but emphasized the importance of not compromising environmental sustainability.
Noting the environment minister has yet to receive a response to a letter he wrote to the port authority in August of 2020 asking for more information as to how it would mitigate the “significant adverse cumulative impacts” highlighted in report by an environmental review panel last year, Qualtrough said she is “worried and unconvinced” of the port’s ability to mitigate those impacts but must remain open-minded and see what they come back with.
Tarasenko echoed the other candidates’ concerns about the projects potential harm to the environment, as well as Dean’s concerns about its automation and Smith’s call for more domestic manufacturing. He also said government needs to keep an open mind and listen to Delta residents.
On the topic of helping young Deltans pursue their educations and find jobs, Qualtrough said a re-elected Liberal government would permanently eliminate interest on student loans and increase the repayment assistance level so students don’t have to pay back their loans until they are making at least $50,000 a year.
She said her party would also invest significantly in a youth employment and skill strategy.
“One of the things students missed a lot over the past couple of summers was opportunity to gain the skills and experience they need, whether they lost an internship or a summer job, an ability to save for a university or college.”
Tarasenko said students shouldn’t be facing student loan debt, or at least shouldn’t be put at a disadvantage because of it. He also said the government should encourage younger people to get skills in the trades or seek higher education so they can be productive and help grow the economy.
Tarasenko also called for supporting small businesses with lower taxes, new programs and grants so they can hire more young people.
Smith spoke of the need to change the education system to better reflect the diverse ways kids learn and provide funding for parents whose kids require special schooling, drawing on his own experience as a parent who had to spend $1,500 a month on a program for one of his children that is fully paid for in Alberta. He also called for bringing “the trades back into the schools.”
Dean said the NDP platform includes a five-year break on loan repayment, forgiving up to $20,000 in student debt and eliminating interest on student loans, as well as engaging young people in stewardship opportunity, jobs to protect the environment, and the trades.
“They’re fantastic jobs for equity-seeking and marginalized communities, so engaging in community benefit agreements and increasing support and funding for apprenticeships to move all the way up through to be skilled trade workers will surely fill the gaps that we all see.”
The candidates also fielded questions about protecting wild salmon stocks, coal trains travelling through Delta to the port, ethics policies, vaccination requirements for Canadians travelling the country, and their plans to mitigate climate change.
Video of the Delta Residents Association all-candidates meeting can be viewed on the DRA’s YouTube page.
The federal election takes place on Monday, Sept. 20.