One night after a raucous federal leaders’ debate, the five candidates in the North Okanagan-Shuswap riding remained polite as they answered questions from the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce, B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, online viewers and some of the 500 people in attendance at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre.
After the two-hour event Tuesday, moderator Chris Walker of CBC noted that none of the candidates had used the two challenge cards they’d been provided with. “There were many opportunities,” he said.
After personal introductions, the candidates answered questions on the struggles of farmers, the movement of labour, goods and services within Canada, labour shortages, support for small business, environmental protests, the national debt and pipelines.
The B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association popped the first question: “What strategy would you advocate to grow our farm sector?”
Harinder Sandhu of the NDP said she grew up in a farming family and knew first hand of their struggles. She advocated continuing the current supply management system and offering compensation to farmers for losses they incurred under Liberal and Conservative trade negotiations.
Marc Reinarz of the Green Party said there was a need to transition to crops that are more resilient to climate change and to get away from cloned crops.
People’s Party candidate Kyle Delfing stressed the need to get rid of the carbon tax “that is killing farms,” reduce grain commission fees, negotiate better export deals and accelerate capital cost allowances.
Mel Arnold of the Conservative party drew laughs when he said his party “wouldn’t complicate the tax system like the current Conservative government has done for succession planning.” Later, he corrected that to “Liberal government.”
Arnold said there is a need to increase stability and investment, adding “there are incredible opportunities in the Okanagan” and noted a need to improve marketing through local, provincial and international opportunities.
Liberal Cindy Derkaz agreed with Arnold on the need for to amend the tax code to provide easier intergenerational transfer of farms. She stressed the Liberal government appointed the first ever rural development minister. Liberal policy promises increased lending for both farms and food processing, she said.
The Vernon chamber asked: “What actions would your government take to speed up the process to allow for free movement of labout, goods and services in Canada?”
Reinarz, who lived and worked for years in Europe, said it was easier to move goods freely between countries in the European Union than between provinces in Canada and there was a need to remove borders between provinces.
Delfing referred to his party’s policy that cites the Constitution in asserting federal jurisdiction over provinces to allow anyone with a trade certification to move across provincial lines without having to recertify. He noted that B.C. and Alberta have a trade agreement and, “we going to allow that go across the country.”
Arnold said he has been happy to work with Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola MP Dan Albas on reducing interprovincial trade barriers. “We have some incredible wine that we can’t get into liquor stores in Ontario and other parts of Canada.”
Derkaz said, “Absolutely we need to get rid of barriers that prevent the movement of goods ands services. No one is getting ahead by having barriers.”
Sandhu also said there should be no barriers.
The chamber also asked: “What will your government do to meet the current labour shortages?”
Most candidates supported increasing the number of immigrants, and making it possible for temporary farm workers to become residents, with Reinarz saying temporary farm workers should be able to move around and not be tied to one employer.
The candidates were united on the need to support small business. Rienarz said more than $200 billion is parked in foreign tax havens. “We have a plan to go after those," which that could be used to support small business.
Delfing noted his party’s leader, Maxime Bernier, was once Minister of Small Business and said the party would lower that tax rate from 15 to 10%. Arnold criticized the tax on deferred income, but Derkaz said that many companies had simply parked assets instead of investing in jobs.
A question from the audience about a $30 million war chest in Alberta to fight pipeline protesters brought strong reactions.
Derkaz said it was shocking, “People have the right to protest.”
Sandhu said it was disheartening and asked, “Why are we going backwards?”
Arnold said that while protesting is a right, millions of dollars of foreign money was being funnelled into Canada to shut down oil, natural gas and agriculture. “It’s not right.”
There was also disagreement on pipelines. Derkaz said the government had bought a pipeline and “people are being called back to work in Alberta.”
Arnold supported the concept of a national energy corridor for oil, gas and hydro electricity.
Delfing said a national energy corridor was a pipe dream, but the federal government has the constitutional authority to get a pipeline done.
Reinarz said: “You cannot be a climate leader if you build pipelines.”
Sandhu said the NDP says, “no” to pipelines and supports the development of sustainable energy.