Stephen Fuhr

Former Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr, shown here at a federal funding announcement in 2018, brought millions of dollars in government investment to the riding, according to Tim Krupa, the Liberal candidate trying to win the riding back from the Conservatives.

Kelowna will lose out on millions in federal investment if the Liberals are re-elected but the city returns its Conservative MP to Ottawa, viewers of an online election forum heard Tuesday.

Tim Krupa, the Liberal candidate in Kelowna-Lake Country, said the region has received scant federal investment since Conservative Tracy Gray reclaimed the riding from the Liberals in 2019.

During previous Liberal MP Stephen Fuhr's four-year term, Krupa said, Kelowna-Lake Country benefited from significant federal investments in transportation, post-secondary education, flood protection, research, airport improvements, and water upgrades.

"Unfortunately, that's completely dried up in the past two years," Krupa said. "Kelowna-Lake Country needs a strong voice at the table who can deliver investments and results for our community."

For her part, Gray did not identify Krupa as her main challenger in Kelowna-Lake Country. She said she was most concerned about NDP candidate Cade Desjarlais, given polls that show the NDP faring well in B.C. and the fact the province is led by an NDP government.

"It is a two-person race between myself and Cade," Gray said.

Gray's comment was unusual because the NDP has never come close to winning in Kelowna-Lake Country. It has consistently placed third, sometimes barely ahead of the Greens, and the party's candidate won just seven percent of the local vote in 2019, far behind the Conservatives' 45.5% and the Liberals' 32.7%.

With her comment, Gray may have been trying to further split the local left-of-centre vote between the Liberals and NDP, making her re-election even more likely.

The virtual event was organized "as a forum, not a debate," Kelowna Chamber of Commerce manager Dan Rogers said, so there was little opportunity for candidates to challenge one another, responding instead to questions prepared in advance with answers that hewed closely to party platforms.

Nevertheless, Krupa and Desjarlais used some of their allotted time on questions to take swipes at Gray. While Krupa said Gray has been an ineffective MP, Desjarlais criticized her for voting against a Liberal bill to outlaw conversion therapy.

Without a record in government to defend or champion, Gray talked up Conservative promises such as a refundable tax credit she said would cover up to 75% of the cost of child care for lower income families, more support for businesses recovering from the pandemic, a diversified export strategy for agricultural products, and expanded access to federal land for new housing.

Though she mostly ignored her critics' barbs, Gray noted that Krupa had once worked in Justin Trudeau's office and suggested he may have been partly responsible for the Liberals' elimination of income splitting for taxation purposes.

That brought a rejoinder from the 30-year-old Krupa at his next opportunity to speak: "When those changes were implemented, I was studying in England. I wasn't part of the team."

Green candidate Imre Szeman said his party was willing to make "the hard decisions" on climate change rather than kick the issue down the road. He said Greens would support financial aid to companies like KF Aerospace provided the company had a plan to transition to a greener future.

Along with touting Green support for various environmental issues, Szeman said the party would favour a doubling of Canada's current immigration level, to 600,000 people annually. "There will be climate refugees we need to attend to," he said.

Brian Rogers, the People's Party of Canada candidate, criticized the other parties for what he said was their willingness to make many promises irrespective of cost.

"Where is the money supposed to come from?" Rogers said, pegging the current federal debt at $1.1 trillion. "We've got to get spending under control and the debt down."

While other candidates talked of the necessity of addressing climate change, Rogers said that wouldn't be a priority for the PPC.

"We don't see the climate issue the way the alarmists do. Yes, climate does change, but not to the extent the alarmists are saying, we definitely don't agree with that," Rogers said.