Challengers blast budget cuts

DFO still hot election topic, but all agree, stop subsidies to big oil

  • Apr. 28, 2011 2:00 p.m.
Mandeep Bhuller

Mandeep Bhuller

Tensions brewed as Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission candidates returned to the issue of water Wednesday night.

And NDP candidate Craig Speirs led the charge, accusing Fisheries and Oceans Canada of being under political control.

“The DFO has been politicized. Their ability to react is gone unless we reinvigorate them,” said Speirs.

“Taking as many days to respond to the North Alouette situation is intolerable. I don’t think the parliamentary secretary of fisheries (Conservative MP Randy Kamp) has done a very good job. It’s his responsibility and he hasn’t done a very good job at it.”

Speirs, Liberal candidate Mandeep Bhuller and the Green party’s Peter Tam all criticized government budget cuts that have left Fisheries incapable of effectively responding to critical incidents.

They made their points at an all-candidates’ meeting at Whonnock Lake Centre as the hours ticked down towards Monday’s federal election.

Bhuller voiced similar concerns about Fisheries, noting that the agency has become “ideologically dysfunctional.” He argued that part of the problem is most decisions are not based on research and science. Bhuller suggested that an independent-strengthened department would help solve some of these concerns, while Tam pointed out the agency shouldn’t be dealing with agricultural issues such as salmon farming.

Kamp though responded by pointing out his involvement in launching the 2009 Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River.

The large crowd inside Whonnock Lake Centre was vocal throughout the night, often cheering, clapping and booing responses from candidates.

Speirs, also a Maple Ridge councillor, was questioned about his stance on the Albion flats and its possible development into a shopping mall at Lougheed Highway and 105th Avenue, as a source for job creation. He argued the land was too valuable to be wasted on shopping.

“If we start putting shopping out in Albion Flats, it will kill our downtown,” he said.

“If you think they’re (the Agricultural Land Commission) going to approve it, my you’ve been smoking some of Haney’s best. It ain’t going to happen. So, let’s get real about this. Let’s move on.”

The HST was another primary topic between the NDP and Conservative candidates. Kamp said the federal government couldn’t get involved in a decision left up to its provincial counterparts. However, Speirs argued that Stephen Harper’s government should have taken more responsibility in the matter and insisted on public consultation first.

“It takes two to dance and that dance goes both ways,” he said.

“You just can’t say it’s the province’s responsibility. Who’s getting the money? “They’ve really made a huge a problem for our province. I think it’s unconscionable and I think they should pay the price.”

Job creation, support for families and national security were also discussed during the debate. Speirs promised the NDP would lower the small business tax rate and reward job creation with a tax credit.

A re-elected Conservative government would invest in job training, provide a family tax cut, eliminate the deficit by 2014, maintain a six-per-cent annual funding increase for health care to provinces and pass more bills that crack down on organized crime, implement tougher sentences and ensure mandatory jail time for sexual offences against children.

Tam said funding for alternative energy, an effective transportation system and a flat post-secondary fee nationwide to lower education costs would be priorities for the Green party. Bhuller noted that skills training also needs to be re-established in the future and affordable childcare implemented to help parents increase their education level.

All candidates agreed that restorative justice practices are essential to dealing with crime, increased collaboration with local food banks is needed to help reduce hunger caused by poverty and no more subsidies should be provided to oil companies.