Provincial election candidates for the Nechako Lakes riding got together virtually for an All Candidates forum organized by the Houston & District Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 7.
The incumbent B.C. Liberal MLA John Rustad, NDP candidate Anne Marie Sam, Independent candidate Margo Maley, Christian Heritage Party of B.C.’s Dan Stuart and BC Libertarian Party’s Jon Rempel are the five candidates standing for elections in the riding. Over the hour long discussion, four of the five candidates who were in on the All Candidates forum, excluding Rempel, fielded a wide range of questions on topics ranging from infrastructure funding deficit to what the candidates would do about the economic burdens due to Covid, if elected.
While the discussion itself was civil, the online format brought with it a whole new set of difficulties, from inability to sign in to forgetting to unmute when speaking. The candidates also had to adhere to time limits for each question and had three opportunities to offer rebuttal to another candidate’s response.
Each candidate first introduced themselves and then moved on to a question and answer session that was conducted by the chamber’s executive director Maureen Czirfusz.
When asked what the candidates would do for Houston if elected, John Rustad pointed out that one of the first moves from his party would be to remove PST for a year, let the economy recover, encourage businesses to invest and get people back on their feet. He also talked about how the biggest thing in Northern BC was the cost in forest sector that had gone up by 33 per cent. “We need to get forest sector back to a competitive cost structure, we need to be able to support the sector through different types of investments,” he said.
Ann Marie Sam also talked about the forest sector and said she recognized the need for the forest sector to grow. “Forest has been the heart of the economy in Houston and so continuing to support and make sure that that fibre is available for the mill, and also investments in healthcare. So I will make sure the services are there for people in Houston for education, healthcare,” she said.
Dan Stuart supported Rustad’s view of helping out the forest sector and emphasized on how everything and everyone need to go back to work.
“I believe that if we put people back to work I think we can put taxes into infrastructure but we have to get people back to work and fear is our biggest virus,” said Stuart at one point during the discussion, a view supported by Maley who also insisted that shutting down the economy in response to the virus was not the answer to the pandemic.
Maley also pointed out that the low income housing that has brought a new set of problems to Houston would be something she would look at if she was to be elected.
“As an Independent, I would be working for the people, I will be a voice for the people; I will do everything in my power to help Houston,” she said. Maley was however completely opposed to Rustad’s idea of removing PST for a year and said she didn’t see how it made sense for the community in the long run.
The candidates also discussed the lack of proper infrastructure in the Northern communities, the infrastructure funding deficit for Northern B.C. and improving the broadband and connectivity in rural areas.
On broadband connectivity, all the candidates agreed that the northern rural communities need to have better internet connectivity especially for people to work from home and have access to things that people in the cities do.
Rustad agreed that for the betterment of the community, for restoring economy, there needs to be improvement in connectivity. While Sam pointed out to the various NDP investments towards new fibre optics in the regional district.
A video of the forum is still available on the chamber’s Facebook page.
Today is the last day for Advance Voting. The general voting for Houston will take place at Pleasant Valley Plaza on Oct. 24.