Before the questions at the all-candidates meeting at the Ridge Meadows Seniors Centre, moderator Bob Goos warned, “ringers” were likely in the crowd, eager to pitch questions to support their candidate.
That may have been the case as the first few questions were tossed to hopefuls in both Maple Ridge ridings Tuesday.
“We have some beautiful legislature buildings in Victoria … I’m just wondering if they’ll be of any use in the next four years?” asked one questioner.
And do you agree, asked another, is it right to spend $11 million of taxpayers’ money “to buy the ethnic vote for a costume party (The Times of India Film Awards),” and to pay $6 million on legal fees in the B.C. Rail sale investigation?
“I’d like you to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” the questionner asked Liberal MLA Marc Dalton.
He dodged the latter question and partially answered the first.
“We believe in having a strong economy.
“And with a strong economy – then that provides jobs,” he continued.
But the legislature is probably the most earthquake-prone building in the province, Dalton added.
NDP candidate Mike Bocking took on both questions.
An NDP government would hold an inquiry into the B.C. Rail sale and have both spring and fall legislature sessions, he said at the only all-candidates meeting in Maple Ridge this week.
Under the Liberals, the legislature sat for only three or four weeks.
Candidates from both Maple Ridge-Mission, and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows made their pitches to about 80 seniors.
Bocking told another questioner that an NDP government would create an “early education fund” to put more money into early childcare education, paid for by cancelling the $1,200 RESP grant the Liberals announced earlier.
The NDP would spend another $100 million on education and improve skills training to make the economy more productive, he added.
Green party candidate Alex Pope noted that subsidized daycare in Quebec is improving academic performance for kids and creating a net financial benefit to the economy.
Dalton said when he was a secondary or elementary school teacher, his profession always fared better financially under the Liberals because economic conditions were better.
The Liberals since have implemented all-day kindergarten and want to sign a 10-year contract with B.C. teachers.
“It’s not just a question of money,” said the Liberal candidate in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, Doug Bing.
“It has to with a lot of other things such as demographics.”
In the last 12 years, education funding has jumped 29 per cent – to a record $5.3 billion while the school population has dropped 11 per cent, Bing added.
NDP candidate Elizabeth Rosenau, running against Bing, said the government ripped up a contract pertaining to special needs teachers, requiring teachers to fight to improve classroom conditions. A 10-year deal is “pie in the sky,” she said.
Conservative party candidate Manuel Pratas said transportation needs improving and said union membership shouldn’t be required to take trades training.
One questioner asked Rosenau to explain the NDP’s economic plan, which includes raising corporate tax by two per cent and increasing taxes on those earning more than $150,000 a year. The former puts B.C. in the middle of the pack across the country, she said.
“We’re looking at making a tax system that’s more fair,” she said.
Bing said raising taxes does have an economic impact. Eliminating balanced budget legislation and secret ballots for union certification, “sends a bad message to business.
“Rich people have the ability to move. If they don’t like things, they can move. To say that we can raise taxes and have no consequences, is just wrong.”
Bocking countered that the Liberals have shifted taxes on to the middle class, citing increases in Medical Service Plan premiums, tuition fees, the failed HST and bridge tolls.
“When they talk of lower taxes that’s true, for their friends. It’s a shell game and you shouldn’t be fooled by it.”
Bing said he was running because he wanted to make a difference, as his older brother Fred did when he served in the Canadian forces in the Second World War. As a result, Chinese were allowed to vote and become full citizens.
Before that, “We weren’t allowed to vote we weren’t allowed to be in the professions. We had all sorts of conditions on what we could do.”
Before the war, Chinese in Canada were treated like the Jews were in Germany or the blacks were in the U.S., he said in his opening address.
He said what his brother did made a difference in his life.
“I can vote. I can run for office. I can make a difference in other people’s lives.”