VERNON — The federal election writ hadn’t been dropped yet, but all candidates in the North Okanagan Shuswap riding showed up for a meet and greet sponsored by the National Association of Federal Retirees and the Vernon Retired Teachers Association.
Tina Hall, president of the NAFR, said that her association represented 176,000 members and they had four priorities that the candidates would be given 15 minutes each to address.
After the candidates spoke, members of the audience were permitted to ask respectful questions related to the four priorities: improved retirement security, a national seniors’ strategy, support for veterans and prioritizing pharmacare.
Each of the candidates gave a brief bio of their experience and qualifications and then proceeded to respond.
Liberal candidate Cindy Derkaz noted that a national seniors’ strategy must be evidence-based and noted that one-in-four people will be over the age of 65 in the next 20 years. She said the federal government can be a catalyst for such a program, especially with funding. She also noted that the government has instituted the first national dementia strategy.
NDP candidate Harwinder Sandhu, a nurse, said that seniors health care is a priority and provisions must be made for quality home care, and she advocated for national care standards.
Green candidate Mark Reinarz said that one way to help seniors is to separate pensions from corporate funds so that if a company goes bankrupt, the pensions are still secure. He also said that the Green Party would move the Canada Pension Plan funding from 25 to 50 per cent of salaries.
Kyle Delfing of the People’s Party of Canada said his party would raise tax exemptions to $15,000 and keep the CPP at 65.
Incumbent Mel Arnold of the Conservative party said that smaller communities don’t have the resources larger centres do and there is a need for a national palliative care program.
Veterans got a lot of attention from all the candidates. Derkaz noted the Liberals had reopened veterans affairs offices in Kelowna and Prince George and reintroduced pensions for life, instead of the one-time buy out.
Sandhu criticized both the Liberals and Conservatives for broken commitments to veterans and called for lifetime pensions and an end to veteran homelessness.
Reinarz emphasized that many veterans return with, “scars for life,” noting that not only military veterans, but police officers, firefighters, health care workers and ambulance attendants also suffer from the stress of their jobs.
Delfing noted that two of the PPC candidates were veterans and called for a minimum monthly pension of $2,000 for veterans.
Arnold pointed out that his grandfather had served in both world wars and said that one of his collegues has introduced a private member’s bill aiding veterans with PTSD. It had been passed through Parliament, but hasn’t been acted on.
All candidates agreed that something needed to be done to protect citizens from the cost of prescription drugs.
Sandhu, who lost a husband to cancer, pointed out that the price of a single anti-nausea drug is $40 and as a nurse, she has seen people struggle with trying to balance buying food or medication.
“Canada is the only wealthy country with no pharmacare program” she said.
Reinarz noted that, “anything that is free can be abused,” but added that those with low incomes should receive free medication in a program that is run by the government, not by the pharmaceutical companies.
Arnold warned of unforeseen consequences of a national program, noting that 90% of Canadians have some coverage.
“What would happen to existing programs? Would they disappear?”
Delfing said his party had no national pharmacare strategy and that problems in Vernon were different from other cities.
Some of the questions from the floor echoed those presented by the NAFR, but others referred to taxation, terrorism, salmon spawing and marijuana. These were referred to an upcoming town hall.
The writ is expected to be dropped this morning in Ottawa by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.