Local residents had the chance to meet and listen to their provincial MLA hopefuls in both ridings Thursday night at the Best Western hotel on Lougheed Highway.
A variety of topics were discussed throughout the evening, without one issue dominating another. Moderator Sean Melia, Chamber of Commerce president, posed questions to each contender about taxes, public safety, infrastructure, transportation, seniors’ advocate, and local issues before taking questions from the floor.
About 100 voters sat through each portion of the meeting, which began at 6 p.m. The first two hours were dedicated to the Maple Ridge-Mission riding and the second half of the meeting was for the Abbotsford-Mission riding. The only candidate missing from Mission’s largest all-candidate meeting was BC Conservative representative Chad Thompson for Maple Ridge-Mission. He didn’t confirm his attendance with organizers, nor provide a reason for his absence.
In the time allotted, NDP’s Mike Bocking said education is a key issue in Mission. He said a Grade 12 education isn’t good enough these days and his party is proposing to spend $100 million more each year for skills training after high school.
Economic development was on the top of the list for Liberal incumbent Marc Dalton. He said providing local jobs to local residents will reduce commuting pressures.
BC Green Party candidate Alex Pope believed both transportation and economic development are important. It’s costing more and more to own a car and by providing jobs close to home, residents won’t need to rely on their vehicles as much, he said. As for economic development, he would like to see more green energy and wind power projects.
Dalton insisted the BC Liberals have a good record when it comes to taxes, and this province has one of the lowest tax rates in Canada.
“Under the NDP,” Dalton added, “B.C. had one of the highest (tax rates) in North America.”
His counterparts disagreed. Bocking said the NDP will let the public know how projects will be paid for before any changes are brought in so it won’t be a surprise to voters. Bocking criticized the Dalton’s party for bringing in the Harmonized Sales Tax after the Liberals said they wouldn’t.
Pope also pointed out while personal taxes may be low, there are others making up for it, such as the cost of the Medical Service Plan, which has been increasing every year, while other provinces are phasing it out.
“The Green Party will phase it out because it’s an unfair tax,” said Pope.
In the Abbotsford-Mission riding, candidates listed major issues in Mission as long-term water supply, improving Mission Memorial Hospital, revitalizing the downtown, developing the waterfront, and transit.
“A vibrant downtown core is very important,” said NDP’s Preet Rai. “”Small businesses are the backbone of a community.”
Rai questioned why raw logs are being exported out of the community even though there are numerous mills in Mission that could provide more jobs.
Conservative candidate Don Stahl said he is concerned about Metro Vancouver’s proposal to build a garbage incinerator.
Marcus Halliday from the Excalibur Party said better transit is needed in the area, and didn’t support increasing carbon taxes without giving British Columbians an alternative. He proposed looking into a light rail system for the north side of the Fraser River and all candidates agreed expanding West Coast Express service was a good idea.
Candidates also discussed using the Fraser River as a transportation route, corporate capital taxes and the property transfer tax which was first introduced in 1987 as a tax mainly on luxury homes. One per cent is charged on the first $200,000 of the price of a home, and two per cent is applied to the remainder. When the tax was first introduced, said Melia, only about five per cent of home sales were more than $200,000, and now that applies to more than 85 per cent of homes.
All candidates acknowledged the property transfer tax brings in a significant amount of income to the government and while most agreed to look into it, only one favoured getting rid of it altogether.
Indpendent Roman Bojczuk bluntly stated it should be “taken off” and “let corrupt, bigger corporations” fill in the gap.
Most speakers supported or agreed to look into corporate capital taxes, and Wendy Bales, running as an independent, pointed out some of the best economies have a higher corporate tax rate.
Liberal contender Simon Gibson, addressing the Fraser River issue, said the river is a precious resource, however, there are problems on both side as the river starts to change course.
“Any restoration or removal of gravel will have to be done carefully,” said Gibson.
Green Party candidate Aird Flavelle spoke about his party’s plan to decriminalize and tax marijuana, and acknowledged there are many issues to look into.
Except for NDP candidates, everyone answered yes to supporting the District of Mission’s vision to realign Lougheed Highway from First Avenue to N. Railway Avenue and road improvements to establish a Tim Hortons Children’s camp on the west side of Mission. NDP’s Bocking and Rai said they would have to do more research on the projects and speak with local officials.