The presenters may have been different, but the song remained largely the same for Surrey South and Surrey-White Rock provincial election candidates in their most recent virtual campaign forum, held Thursday, Oct. 15.
The morning all-candidates meeting was hosted online by the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce, sponsored by CARP, the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board and the White Rock BIA.
Moderated by multi-media journalist (and former Miss White Rock) Hayley Woodin, the meeting differed from the Oct. 8 online forum hosted by the Surrey Board of Trade in that it included all of the candidates from the two southernmost Surrey ridings – not just those from the largest parties.
But in many other ways it hewed to what has become a standard pattern in this election in the answers given to questions that ranged from the need to improve elder care, to best steps to ensure economic recovery during and after COVID-19, transportation and infrastructure issues, addressing affordable housing and systemic racism and the importance of transparency in the proposed transition from Surrey RCMP to a municipal force.
NDP candidates (Pauline Greaves for Surrey South, Bryn Smith for Surrey-White Rock) insisted that the wisest choice, in pandemic times, is to stay the course with the John Horgan government, and that three years in office has not been enough to overcome what they allege is decades of prior neglect by the B.C. Liberals.
The BC Liberals, however (represented by incumbent Stephanie Cadieux in Surrey South and Trevor Halford in Surrey-White Rock), said the NDP had broken faith with the electorate and that their policies did not have the fiscal accountability necessary to stage a proper economic recovery.
Candidates for the BC Green Party (Tim Ibbotson in Surrey South, Beverley ‘Pixie’ Hobby in Surrey-White Rock) – which has played a key role in bolstering the NDP minority government for the past three years – predictably took pot shots at the record of both the Liberals and the NDP, while noting that it is time for B.C. to institute significant and sweeping changes in policy to address such issues as climate change and sustainable recovery.
But some of the strongest statements against the status quo came from two Surrey-White Rock candidates, Libertarian Jason Bax and independent Megan Knight, who has previously claimed that her initial bid to run on the B.C. Liberal ticket in this election was derailed by insider party politics.
Knight said she is running as an independent because she is “committed to the Surrey-White Rock community” as a 41-year resident and business owner.
“I understand what voters want from their elected officials. They don’t want secret backroom dealings where Liberal insiders decide who is on your ballot… the BC Liberal Party has taken the voters of this riding for granted for far too long.”
Bax repeatedly argued – in response to multiple question topics – that supporting businesses is not the job of government, and that it should “get out of the way” of recovery efforts.
“Government does not understand business,” he added. “If they did they wouldn’t lose money on ICBC, they wouldn’t lose money on marijuana.”
Smith, while noting that the NDP will continue a “targeted” approach to tax cuts and other business incentives, took aim at the BC Liberal record, particularly in the Surrey South and Surrey-White Rock ridings and their earlier incarnations.
“Surrey-White Rock and South Surrey get the short end of the stick, every single time,” Smith said.
“Our schools are overcrowded, care homes are cut and Peace Arch Hospital has too much strain, because there is a third Surrey hospital, that was supposed to be built, but wasn’t. We are dealing with this historic deficit and for the last 30 years we have voted in Liberal representatives – in exchange for nothing.”
Responding to a question on what measures should be taken to fast-track affordable housing Greaves said, “it is one of the biggest issues that affect all of us, whether we are renting or we own.”
“(The NDP) has developed a 10-year plan that will allow for us to fix up B.C. existing stock and also put additional units in play,” she said.
“It’s about freezing (rents) until the end of 2021, but it’s also about reducing construction costs to make homes more affordable, by bringing down costs for the developers. We’ve also developed the single-window permit process and would work with communities to streamline the approval process at the local level.”
Cadieux fired back that “the BC NDP has got a big plan – unfortunately, they haven’t been able to deliver on it.”
“Only five per cent of the units that they’ve got delivered, or under construction, are affordable housing. The rest is supported housing, all of which is necessary, but it’s not talking to that home buyer or renter…There’s a lot of work to be done in this area, but with a good, solid plan, like we have, we can get it done.”
In a later summary of her position, Cadieux noted that B.C. “didn’t ask for an election.”
“People are struggling to manage their way through the pandemic. John Horgan broke a lot of promises to get us to today. Now (the NDP is) recycling unmet promises from 2017.”
Both Cadieux and Halford noted the BC Liberal plan to reduce the PST to zero for one year, and three per cent in the following year as a way to get money back into the hands of B.C. residents and provide a stimulus to the economy.
“We are in unprecedented times,” Halford said. “In those times you have to do some unprecedented measures.”
Halford said a PST cut would be beneficial to all.
“It doesn’t matter what income bracket you’re in – it is that people are going out, whether they’re going out for dinner, or buying hockey equipment or whether they’re buying their child a car… at the end of the day, a cut in PST is giving families more money, and in these times, I think everybody can use a little more.”
In concluding comments, Ibbotson took both the BC Liberals and the NDP to task, the Liberals for proposed tax cuts and the NDP for what he described as “broken promises.”
“Time’s over for the Liberals,” he said. “Taking the debt from $44 million to $46 billion, I can only imagine what you’ll do with the pandemic, if you guys take us into that kind of debt (for) when there’s no pandemic.
“The NDP in government lost a whole bunch of their votes by going back on their word about oil and gas (projects); just blatantly lying to people and then having every single member of your party vote for oil and gas,” he added.
“There’s a whole bunch of people in B.C., and especially in Surrey South, that are no longer just going to vote for tax breaks for the wealthy – they actually care about the planet.”
Green candidates said, however, that there can be hope for the future, even with current challenges.
Hobby said that while the pandemic has people worried about their health and safety, their children, their jobs and economic security, “in all of this, there’s an opportunity, by making deliberate, strategic choices now, and in how we navigate COVID, we can seize new opportunities.
“We can build a more inclusive economy with secure jobs – we can establish B.C. as a world-leading, low-carbon economy, exporting ideas and the technology that the world needs to solve the climate crisis.”