The five people running in the Fraser-Nicola riding were in Ashcroft on Oct. 15 for an All Candidates Forum. During the two-hour event, the candidates were asked a range of questions about mostly local issues, and had an opportunity to direct one question at one of their opponents. Each candidate also fielded questions directed at them alone, and had three minutes to introduce themselves and two minutes to wrap up.
Dennis Adamson, who is running as an Independent candidate, said that B.C.’s political parties are self-serving, which is why he chose to run as an independent voice for small towns and the people of Fraser-Nicola. He said that he would, if elected, support good ideas no matter which party they came from.
Mike Bhangu, also running as an Independent, acknowledged that he was an underdog, but said that he would speak truth to power and stand up for voters in Victoria. He said that fully functioning hospitals, as well as drug treatment centres, were priorities throughout the region.
Aaron Sumexheltza, representing the BC NDP, said he would fight for all communities across the riding to make sure they were represented in Victoria. He said that the BC NDP would meet the challenge of the climate crisis and keep B.C. moving forward for everyone.
Incumbent Jackie Tegart, of the BC Liberal Party, mentioned her years of public service as a school district trustee and an Ashcroft councillor before becoming MLA in 2013. She noted the challenges facing British Columbians, and said that the Liberals have a plan to move everyone in the province forward.
Jonah Timms, standing for the BC Green Party, noted the importance of working on relationships with First Nations and dealing with climate change. He also said that the BC Liberals have created a mess when it comes to B.C.’s natural resources, and that the NDP has failed to clean up that mess.
The candidates were asked questions about the Ashcroft Hospital emergency department, as well as the long delay in getting seniors’ housing built in Clinton. Sumexheltza said the NDP are committed to hiring more health care staff and increasing funding for health care, while Timms said the Greens would fight for health care services that had been cut in small communities. Bhangu said that government had to stop treating rural residents as second class citizens, and Adamson said it was crucial to have more hospital services available throughout the riding. Tegart said she recognized the challenges around health care and would continue to fight for services, and would also hold Interior Health to account.
All the candidates acknowledged the importance of more housing, including seniors’ housing, and the need to build more in a timely manner. Tegart noted that the Liberals promised funding for Clinton seniors’ housing in 2017, while Sumexheltza said that the NDP is committed to building new, public long-term care homes where people can get quality care.
A question directed at Tegart asked about the Liberal’s plan to eliminate PST for a year and then reinstate it at a lower rate, and how small businesses would cope with the cost of retooling computer systems and cash registers. She said that the PST move was one that small businesses and Chambers of Commerce have been asking for, and that the Liberals would work with businesses to deal with the transition. Sumexheltza said that the PST plan favoured the wealthy, and that the NDP was committed to providing direct benefits ($1,000 to most families, $500 to most single people) to the people who actually needed it. Bhangu said that the Liberals and NDP were throwing crumbs at people, and Timms said that massive, blanket tax cuts would not support the people who needed it most.
Responding to how they would help Cache Creek and other communities be proactive, rather than reactive, in dealing with natural disasters, Adamson said he would work with the federal government for funding, while Tegart said we need to accelerate efforts on climate adaptation to meet risks from fire and floods. Sumexheltza talked about the NDP’s CleanBC climate plan, Timms noted the need to address climate change, and Bhangu said grant money for dealing with disasters should be easier to access.
All five candidates noted the importance of fast, reliable Internet access in rural areas, and they also agreed on the need to work to promote and rejuvenate the Fraser Canyon highway, something Adamson said he has been working on as an electoral area director with the Fraser Valley Regional District. Tegart said the Liberals have partnered with First Nations, tourism groups, and people from Hope to Cache Creek to develop a master tourism plan for the corridor, and Sumexheltza and Timms spoke of the need to meet with communities, listen to them, and see what can be done for the highway.
All five candidates spoke in favour of the Rural Dividend Fund, which was curtailed by the NDP in September 2019, although only Sumexheltza stopped short of saying he would explicitly support bringing the fund back.
Other questions were asked about electric vehicle charging infrastructure, more training facilities for health care workers, the Ashcroft Slough Society and its goal of regaining access to the slough lands, First Nations relations, and dealing with the record deficit. A final question asked how each candidate would maintain a visible and meaningful presence in all areas of the riding and take its issues and challenges back to Victoria.
To view the entire All Candidates Forum, go to https://bit.ly/2TaDN4a. Advance voting in the 2020 provincial election has now ended, and general voting day is on Saturday, Oct. 24. For a list of voting sites throughout Fraser-Nicola, go to https://bit.ly/35fYQYV.