Candidates faced sharp questions from the packed house at the Cowichan Valley all-candidates meeting held on April 26 in Lake Cowichan.
They had been asked to the session by the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce and enthusiastic voters packed the multi-purpose room at the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena to hear Honeymoon Bay’s Ian Morrison (independent), Steve Housser (Liberal), Lori Iannidinardo (NDP), Sonia Furstenau (Green), James Anderson (Libertarian), Eden Haythornthwaite (independent socialist), and Sam Lockhart (independent conservative) state their platforms and field questions from both the Chamber and the crowd.
The queries ranged from how candidates would deal with health care to BC Ferries to helping keep young people from moving away. There’s always one extreme comment that arises from the pack and at this meeting, it came from Housser.
“If I am elected, we will get a hospital,” he promised.
Tourism will be an important part of the Lake’s future and candidates looked at several ways they might help students move towards successful careers in the tourist industry.
Housser said that VIU offers training in culinary arts already and hoped that the Valley’s burgeoning wine and beer industries would offer more openings for young people.
Iannidinardo said that her party’s offering of interest-free loans to students would reduce the ‘mortgage-sized’ debt load many of them face when leaving university. She also pointed out that the Circle Route could have great potential for small businesses.
Both Lockhart and Haythornthwaite said they did not want to see young people forced into low-paying jobs in tourism, with Haythornthwaite pointing out that even highly skilled chefs don’t always make that much money and concluding, “I’m not all that keen on encouraging the kind of tourism that exploits our young people.”
Furstenau and Morrison stressed that the Cowichan Valley offers significant potential as a training ground. It just needs a push.
“Maybe we’ve been too humble about how great this area is,” Furstenau said, while Morrison added, “We need to offer opportunity so our kids don’t have to leave the area to find work”.
On the related subject of offering students more successful ways to get into the skilled trades, Housser said that the province needs big projects, like the Site C dam and LNG so that there will be work for these people.
Cowichan Lake has had a problem keeping local physicians and a question about how they’d help find and keep doctors drew some interesting comments from the candidates.
Anderson called for a two-tier health care system “to allow people who can afford it to go outside the publicly funded system” thus freeing up resources and people for the public system.
Furstenau said she thought every community had a different character and needed to find out the source of their own specific problem first.
Haythornthwaite said that offering free tuition for health care professionals was a good place to start; then that could be followed up by expecting them to put in some time serving in rural areas in return.
The always-vexed question of BC Ferries led Iannidinardo to call for a freeze on ferry rates, the return of the free weekday pass for seniors, a cut to fares on smaller routes, and a return to the basics.
Furstenau said she thought the Washington State Ferries model was a good one: simple, basic service and no “six and seven figure” salaries going to corporation executives.
Morrison said he thought ferries should return under the wing of government. And, he said, it would be a good idea to offer free fares for students traveling from the Island to UBC because the cost is onerous for them.
The subject of strategic voting led to candidates being asked for their views on the benefits of voting for the governing party to get more services for the riding.
Haythornthwaite was blunt, calling the idea “quite monstrous” and Furstenau agreed, calling it “fundamentally wrong.”
Morrison commented that while Cowichan Valley residents are complaining endlessly about potholed roads, he had noted on a recent trip that “the roads in Kelowna [a Liberal stronghold] are beautiful”.
Housser took a different tack as he is running for the party currently in government.
“This is a political reality that if you have someone advocating for you at the table you have a better chance. If I am elected, we will get a hospital,” he promised.
The crowd wasn’t finished with the subject of forcing young people to leave the area to find work, though.
Another questioner wanted more ideas from the candidates.
Iannidinardo said she thought secondary industry was the way to bring the forest industry back to life.
There is lots of fibre left and using it for making pellets for woodstoves could be a good start, she said.
Lockhart said that since “we have excellent craftsmen here” it would be a good idea to promote secondary industry.
Housser reminded the crowd that nothing is going to bring back the old-style forest industry, pointing out that one worker in a high-tech harvesting machine can now do the work that was once done by many.
“We need to develop alternate markets,” he said, adding that Canada is not shipping dimensional lumber to China, in addition to raw logs.
Morrison said that there could also be opportunities in local seniors care.
“We have to stop shipping seniors off to assisted living. We need to make changes to keep our seniors closer to home,” he said, complaining that many seniors care facilities are now in private, even off-shore hands, rather than being part of government, where he thinks they should be.
On the subject of seniors care, Anderson said, “We should be looking after people who have been paying taxes their whole lives.”
Iannidinardo said she’s found the idea of “aging in place” has become really popular, and “it’s especially important in the Cowichan Valley because we have so many seniors living here.”
Finally, asked about a poverty-reduction strategy, several candidates agreed that it all starts with education.
Lockhart said he was worried that “we’re teaching our young people to be sheep” who expect everything handed to them.
He also thought that an inexpensive childcare program could be implemented in six months, not 10 years, as the Liberals claim.