The three candidates in the Cowichan Valley riding for the upcoming provincial elections answered a barrage of questions covering a number of issues at the virtual candidates forum that was held at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre in Duncan on Oct. 13.
The BC Liberals’ Tanya Kaul, the NDP’s Rob Douglas and the Greens’ Sonia Furstenau, who is the incumbent MLA for the riding, each answered 20 questions, ranging from housing, addictions and forestry to health and economic recovery from the health crisis.
Moderator Wade Simmons gave each of the candidates one minute to answer the questions at the forum, which was sponsored by the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce.
While only a few spectators were in the audience due to social distancing protocols that are in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a video of the forum will be available to view on the Chamber’s YouTube and Facebook pages on Oct. 14 ahead of advance polls, which open on Oct. 15.
One question asked the candidates about their opinion of Island Health’s controversial decision to set up a wellness and recovery centre on York Street without any public input or engagement.
Douglas said he had a recent conversation with a woman in the riding who lost her son to an overdose, like thousands of others across the province.
“I think these days when we make these investments and these services, we have to have the neighbourhood and the community onside and it’s got to be integrated within our neighbourhoods,” Douglas said.
“John Horgan and I talked to some of the parents [whose children go to nearby schools] when he was here, and he is committed to coming back, sitting down with them and finding some solutions.”
Kaul said she commits “here and now” that if elected, she and the Liberals would put a pause on the project until proper discussions with the public are held.
“Everyone understands the need for this facility, but there has been no public engagement about it to date,” she said.
Furstenau said the public engagement on the new facility should be taking place now.
“It’s essential that public discussions of such issues are assured before decisions are made,” she said.
As for the ongoing affordable housing and homelessness problem in the Valley, and across the province, Furstenau said everyone should have a roof over their heads.
“You can’t have stability in your lives when you don’t know where you are sleeping each night,” she said.
“We have to ensure that emergency housing with wraparound services are available. Investment is needed urgently to deal with this issue, and communities must be involved in the decisions that are made.”
Douglas also said everyone deserves a home, and the NDP government has been dealing with challenging issues related to homelessness since coming to power.
“This didn’t come about by accident, but by the bad choices of the Liberals [when in power],” he said.
“John Horgan and the NDP are working hard to undo the damage, and $7 billion has been invested in supportive housing, including 130 units that are to be built in the Cowichan Valley.”
Kaul agreed that having a home is important, and she supports increasing access for additional help for the homeless.
But she said the NDP’s strategy of placing them in hotels and other shelters is creating havoc for neighbours of these sites.
“There’s been a spike in crime and property damage around them,” she said.
“It’s time to treat the problem and prevent the harm.”
In answer to a question about improving the Trans-Canada Highway through the Malahat, Furstenau said the ability for people to get around effectively and efficiently is important.
“Thousands of people travel over the Malahat every day, but there are a variety of ways to deal with that, like buses and other multi-modal transportation,” she said.
“The highway is not the whole answer.”
Douglas said he commutes often between the Cowichan Valley to Victoria for work purposes, so he’s aware of the issues.
He said the NDP are committed to improving transportation in the province and BC Transit is now studying the possibility of a new bus route connecting the Valley to Nanaimo.
“I think we should explore the possibility of having commuter rail service [to Victoria],” Douglas said.
As for how the candidates and their parties would help preserve old-growth forests in B.C., Douglas said the NDP government had two independent forestry experts tour the province and released a report last month recommending that 350,000 hectares of land containing old growth forests be protected, which was adopted by the government, and identified other areas that should be protected as well.
“It’s a good first step,” Douglas said.
Furstenau said the Greens called for the government to put a moratorium on logging old growth forests, but logging the forests went on the same under the NDP as it did under the Liberals.
“Once it’s gone, it’s not coming back,” she said.
“In 10 years, there will be no sustainable industry here [for old growth lumber].”
Kaul said protecting old growth forests is important.
She said other initiatives, like more tree-planting in logged areas, would help maintain B.C.’s forests.
“A Liberal government would also work with the federal government to help deal with the softwood lumber trade dispute with the U.S., and make a more efficient stumpage system a priority in the province,” Kaul said.