Hospital construction, the maintenance of Crofton Road and poverty were among the issues discussed by the four candidates in Nanaimo-North Cowichan at a meeting in Chemainus on April 3.
NDP incumbent Doug Routley, Green candidate Lia Versaevel, the Liberals’ Alana DeLong and independent P. Anna Paddon answered a variety of questions from the audience at the all-candidates forum, sponsored by the Chemainus Residents Association.
One of the issues put to the candidates for the riding in the provincial election, set for May 9, is the new approximately $340-million hospital that is being considered for the Bell McKinnon Road area.
The new facility would replace the more than 40-year-old Cowichan District Hospital on Gibbins Road.
Routley said Nanaimo-North Cowichan is being “short-changed” by the Liberal government in regards to the number of health services provided in the riding, but he is determined that Nanaimo-North Cowichan get its fair share.
“Pressure needs to be applied on all sides to light a fire under this government to embarrass it to get things done,” he said.
“But this is not the way this should be done. We are convinced that the new hospital should happen, and if the NDP form the next government, it will happen.”
Paddon said it’s important the local community help fundraise for the new hospital to indicate to senior levels of government that people in the riding are willing to help with the financing and want matching funding.
There are many social services being run out of CDH and we need to bring all the different (financial) pockets together to get this job done,” Paddon said.
Versaevel said building a new hospital in the riding is good, but people must realize that health costs take up a large part of the province’s budget.
“I think programs need to be set up that will encourage people to stay healthy,” Versaevel said.
“We should be working with local non-profit and other groups on this.”
DeLong said the hospital needs to be replaced as soon as possible.
“It’s a first-rate hospital, but its walls are full of asbestos so many new technologies can’t be introduced there because walls need to be moved and people can’t be put at risk,” DeLong said.
“Nanaimo-North Cowichan needs someone at the table to properly address this issue.”
The poor condition of the heavily used Crofton Road, which is a provincial responsibility, was also raised at the meeting.
DeLong acknowledged the road’s condition is bad and that it needs to be “fixed yesterday.”
“But the issue isn’t a squeaky wheel in the legislature like it should be, and that’s why you need a good MLA to get the job done,” she said.
Paddon said she would ask in the legislature why Crofton Road has never been repaired in the time that the nearby highway systems have seen numerous upgrades.
“After that road has been repaired, I would work towards improvements on the E&N Railway and creating more transportation links to the Lower Mainland,” she said.
Versaevel said Catalyst Paper’s chipping and logging trucks have caused most of the damage to the road, and she would approach the company on forming a public-private partnership to deal with the issue.
“We could work on it together and get it fixed,” she said.
Routley said the NDP have petitioned the government numerous times to fix Crofton Road, and written the Minister of Transportation as well.
“The answer is not a public-private partnership, but to replace the government with one that will invest equally in infrastructure in all B.C. communities,” he said.
In regards to dealing with homelessness and poverty in Nanaimo-North Cowichan, Paddon said many people have no paid sick leave and other benefits at their jobs, and can’t afford to pay their rent.
“A lot of these people end up on the streets,” she said.
“We need to help them get back in the system and have benefits like sick leave,” she said.
Versaevel said a comprehensive poverty reduction plan is needed to address all poverty-related issues at once.
“We need a vision and a plan to address minimum wage, mental health issues and supports in the community, like shelters and food banks,” she said.
“A comprehensive plan that is built from the ground up is required.”
Routley agreed a comprehensive strategy is needed, but the Liberal government has ignored the problem.
“We need to develop a plan and then set milestones that the government must keep,” he said.
DeLong said the best strategy to deal with poverty issues is to help the poor get jobs.
“By far, jobs are the most powerful social program out there, and this government has created thousands of jobs,” she said.