About 60 people came out to the all-candidates forum in Houston April 30 to hear Nechako Lakes candidates vying to be MLA in the May 14 provincial election.
Hosted by the Houston Chamber of Commerce and moderated by HSS teacher Ted Beck, the event gave each candidate a chance to share their platforms and opened the floor for questions from the local public.
Four candidates – Sussanne Skidmore-Hewlett (B.C. NDP), John Rustad (B.C. Liberal), Dan Brooks (B.C. Conservative) and Colin Hamm (Green Party of B.C.) – opened the forum with short speeches summarizing their platform.
Sussanne Skidmore-Hewlett, B.C. NDP, spoke first, saying that she is hearing that people are ready for change.
She says that under B.C. Liberals, the province has lost tens of thousands of good, family-supporting jobs in forestry and mining, has had cuts to post-secondary industry and skills training, and delayed work-permits.
She says NDP leader Adrian Dix will bring change for the better and will be open about what they do, how much it will cost and how they will pay for it.
“There won’t be any surprises,” said Skidmore-Hewlett.
She says they will emphasize resource industries and they have a forest plan to get more value out of trees cut.
They will put resources back into skills training and make post-secondary education and training more affordable, she said.
“I believe I will be a strong candidate for Nechako Lakes,” said Skimore-Hewlett, adding that she can build relationships and have open line of communication with the Houston community.
She says NDP is opposed to the Enbridge pipeline because the risk is too great and they are committed to stop Enbridge and protect the environment and resources.
Skidmore-Hewlett says that with a fully-costed platform, NDP is offering change for the better one step at a time, in things like health care, forestry and the environment.
John Rustad, B.C. Liberals, spoke next, highlighting some of what he’s done for local communities, such as supporting Houston’s water treatment plant and the Granisle school.
He adds that during his time as MLA, $200 million was spent on road improvements throughout the area, including in community work, like adding passing lanes, turning lanes and sidewalks.
Rustad says Liberals are implementing a rural resource dividend, to help rural communities get revenue back for projects in their area.
But the number one issue B.C. is facing is the pine beetle epidemic and the midterm timber supply, said Rustad.
“In the Morice timber supply area, we cut about 2 million cubic metres per year and that is scheduled to drop by about half. We need to be developing strategies to try to minimize what that impact is,” Rustad said.
Last year, B.C. Liberals developed timber supply committee, came up with strategies like looking at marginal economic status, engaging with bioeconomy and engaging with new management laws.
“Through those things I believe that we can actually mitigate almost all of the pine beetle epidemic,” he said.
Colin Hamm, B.C. Green Party, spoke third, saying that environmental protection is at the core of the Green values because it protects health, happiness and prosperity.
With increasing environmental support, Hamm says “we have to be careful it’s not just business as usual with a little bit of green window dressing.”
Hamm says B.C. Greens want to change how government works, and build partnerships to replace long-standing feuds.
If he could boil down what it means to be green, Hamm says it means having compassion for all forms of life.
The Green Party is about protecting forests, it supports private enterprise and wants economic activity with benefits staying in communities, said Hamm.
They believe in strong decentralized government, no party whip system, with MLAs voting based on conscience, he said.
“What that really means for the people here is that instead of Victoria telling us what to do, we can actually represent the people here and deliver that message to Victoria,” he said.
Responding to the talk about the drop backs in the timber industry, Hamm said the Green Party plans to do more with timber B.C. has, like Quebec who has three times as many jobs for the same amount of timber cut.
“If we lost half our cut, we can make that up by doing more with what we have. Instead of shipping our timber off to other places, we want to do more with it here before we ship it off,” he said.
Hamm stated the Greens want to stop the Enbridge pipeline.
Dan Brooks, B.C. Conservative, spoke last, saying that northern B.C. has suffered under the B.C. Liberals and been neglected because the seat of power is down south.
Brooks says the north has had ineffectual MLAs, whipped by the party system, who have been silent on issues that matter most.
This is shown by policies introduced in the last decade, like the Carbon Tax, which is unfair to northerners who drive further and need to heat homes longer, Brooks said.
“I’m asking you to ask yourself, of the four candidates that sit up here, who is going to be the strongest voice?” asked Brooks, adding that he can be that voice.
“I believe in fiscal conservatism, which means I believe in responsible management of our provinces finances,” said Brooks, adding that it’s about taking care of the next generation.
Brooks said he has a threefold vision for the north and the first aspect is having a positive business environment.
His vision includes scrapping the Carbon Tax, which has penalized the energy-intensive northern economy, and it means engaging in land-use planning, said Brooks.