At what will likely be the only all-candidates’ forum in the South Okanagan – West Kootenay election race with stretching and fidget breaks, all six federal candidates for the riding discussed everything from climate action to flood recovery and gun control in front of an elementary school audience at Hutton Elementary in Grand Forks on Tuesday.
The afternoon panel was the candidates’ second of the day, after having responded to students’ questions at Grand Forks Secondary School earlier that day. Neither forum was open to the general public.
The Grand Forks Gazette filmed the morning forum at the high school and has embedded a video of the event in the related online story, available at grandforksgazette.ca.
The morning forum, organized by Grand Forks Secondary School social studies teacher Kristen Merry and students, was attended by Richard Cannings (NDP), Connie Denesiuk (Liberal), Helena Konanz (Conservative), Tara Howse (Green) and Sean Taylor (People’s Party). Independent candidate Carolina Hopkins did not receive an invitation in time to sit on the high school panel (the filmed event), as organizers were unaware of her campaign. Hopkins did however join candidates onstage at Hutton Elementary for the second event of the day.
Students at both forums shared some key focuses, namely climate change, homelessness, guns, drug use and post-secondary affordability, and while few answers offered much beyond party platform points already announced, attendees walked away with a better sense of the views offered by the South Okanagan-West Kootenay ballot options.
Cannings emphasized the NDP’s plans to retrofit all houses in Canada by 2050 to be more energy efficient and to electrify transit in the country within the next decade. Denesiuk spoke about the Liberals’ plan to make Canada carbon-neutral by 2050 (a pledge made by 65 other countries and the European Union at the UN’s recent Climate Action Summit), and Howse touted her party’s proposal to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.
Both Konanz and Taylor took a different tact, looking to private enterprise to be the main investors in greener technologies and said they would scrap the mandated carbon tax. (B.C.’s carbon tax was implemented by the provincial Liberals in 2008 and remains under the NDP government’s control, so it would be up to the provincial government on whether to keep it or not).
Hopkins, who asked Cannings a question about nature-based solutions to climate change at the morning forum, pitched herself as the “every life matters” candidate to students at Hutton in the afternoon, encouraging students to do their own research on what they could do individually to reduce their impacts on the environment.
Housing affordability and homelessness
Howse pointed to a guaranteed living income as part of a solution to homelessness in Canada. The Green candidate said that the government would pay for the program through corporate taxes on companies like Amazon, Netflix and Facebook – Facebook announced in 2018 that they planned to begin collecting Canadian sales taxes by the end of 2019.
Cannings, whose party is advocating for a federal $15-per-hour minimum wage that would increase to a living wage within four years, appeared to push for a housing-first model for people experiencing homelessness (the NDP is also campaigning on a pledge to create 500,000 affordable housing units in the next 10 years).
Denesiuk pointed to the Liberals’ National Housing Strategy, which incentivizes home purchases for first-time buyers but a report from the Parliamentary Budget Office in June 2019 found that “It is not clear that the National Housing Strategy will reduce the prevalence of housing need relative to 2017 levels.” The Liberals are also campaigning on a federal minimum wage of $15 per hour.
Meanwhile, Konanz said that the issues behind homelessness, such as drug addiction, needed to be addressed, along with opportunities to better individuals’ employment prospects, though the candidate did not specify what specific steps her party would take to do so. The Conservatives are targeting affordability with a universal tax cuts that would equal approximately $6 billion per year in government revenue.
Taylor called Canada’s housing situation “a math problem,” pointing to the number of temporary foreign workers, new immigrants and foreign students as an additional tax on the country’s housing supply – the People’s Party of Canada is campaigning on a plan to cut annual immigration numbers into Canada to between 100,000 and 150,000. Statistics Canada estimates that 313,580 new immigrants came to Canada in the 2018/19 fiscal year.
Hopkins, who was the candidate most familiar with the Warming Centre in Grand Forks, said that “I don’t believe closing shelters is the way to deal with the issue of homelessness.” The independent candidate added that “everybody deserves a home,” but did not lay out a clear policy on what that would look like for her.
For candidates’ answers on more issues, see the timestamps below and the embedded video.