Candidates spar in North Lonsdale

Childcare, housing and fentanyl crisis spark debate

North Shore provincial election candidates debated various issues last Thursday, drawing the biggest reactions from the crowd – and one another – when sparring over local transit, campaign financing and, perhaps surprisingly, the controversial practice of trophy hunting.

Eight candidates representing three of the North Shore’s four provincial ridings came out for the debate at North Lonsdale United Church, an event also attended by roughly 100 residents eager to hear what representatives of B.C.’s three main parties had to say.  

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For Liberal MLA Ralph Sultan, who is looking to score a fifth consecutive term representing West Vancouver-Capilano, the message was clear. “When your team is winning is no time to change the playbook or the coach,” he said.

Sultan touted B.C.’s economy, health care and education outcomes as proof of the Liberals’ success and urged voters to stay the course.

But others disagreed.

“If the economy is doing so well, why is everyone working so darn hard? Why can’t we afford housing, why can’t we afford childcare, why are our schools underfunded?” argued Bowinn Ma, NDP candidate for North Vancouver-Lonsdale.

Green Party candidate for North Vancouver-Lonsdale Richard Warrington cast doubt on the province’s electoral system in general. “The first-past-the-post system is just wrong. It doesn’t allow for representation of people when they vote,” he said.

The debate, which was organized by a group of young people in the community, was formatted around eight predetermined questions. Candidates were each given two minutes to lead off answering one of the questions, followed by several minutes of open debate between participants.

The first three questions were on housing affordability, childcare policy and the fentanyl crisis.

Some debate was sparked early on when discussing childcare, a topic that saw the three NDP candidates pushing their party’s $10-a-day childcare program and meeting resistance from the Liberal side.

“That plan is based on the Quebec model – the $10 a day – and that has been costed by the government and is unaffordable,” said incumbent Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Lonsdale Jane Thornthwaite. “What the B.C. Liberal approach is, is to target to those that need it.”

North Vancouver-Seymour NDP candidate Michael Charrois countered that “If Quebec can do it, British Columbia can do it.”

Green Party North Vancouver-Seymour candidate Joshua Johnson lamented how challenging it is for parents out there these days. “For some parents, it’s more economically viable for them not to work because they can stay home and look after their kids, and they would save more money than if they had to pay to put their kids in childcare,” he said.

When the question of traffic, transportation and infrastructure was raised, many audible groans from the audience were heard, signalling the community’s frustration with North Shore traffic congestion.

“That’s my favourite question,” said Thornthwaite, who has made it her mission, she said, since she was first elected to help ease traffic congestion on the Cut and Lower Lynn interchanges.

The conversation quickly turned to public transportation.

Sultan was critical of TransLink, saying the company treats the North Shore like an “ATM” and doesn’t provide adequate service.

Thornthwaite brought up her government’s commitment of $2.2 billion over 11 years for Metro Vancouver transit projects, matching the same amount promised by the federal Liberals.

Ma commended Thornthwaite’s efforts in spearheading upgrades to the interchange, but said she hadn’t seen good long-term transportation planning from the Liberals over the past 16 years. “How can we possibly believe them now on their commitment to increase public transit when they put us through a massive referendum that was designed to fail a few years ago?” she said.

Perhaps surprisingly, some of the most heated debate among candidates occurred when the parties’ stances on grizzly bear trophy hunting were brought up.

Ma said her party was committed to flat-out ending the controversial practice.

When given the chance to respond, Thornthwaite said the Liberals were looking into eliminating trophy hunting and the guided bear hunt in the Great Bear Rainforest in conjunction with local First Nations.

“But why does a bear in the Great Bear Rainforest count more than a bear up in Prince George?” fired back Green Party candidate for West Vancouver-Capilano Michael Markwick, adding he couldn’t believe the question of trophy hunting was something still being debated.

Charrois suggested that a donation from grizzly bear trophy hunters to the B.C. Liberals is what has allowed the practice to continue unabated, a comment that Thornthwaite referred to as a “cheap shot.”

“If we are going to talk about the grizzly bears, then I think we have to have a whole conversation about wildlife management in general,” Thornthwaite continued.

All of this was a prelude to the evening’s final question on campaign financing and corporate donations, a controversy that has dogged the B.C. Liberals in recent months amid claims of the party playing cash-for-access politics.

Sultan brought up the United Steelworkers’ $672,576 donation to the NDP, accusing them of “the pot calling the kettle black.”

Johnson noted that the Green Party would ban big donations and criticized both the NDP and Liberals for being beholden to corporations and unions.

Ma said the NDP would unequivocally ban corporate and union donations, but acknowledged that it was necessary for the party to accept them for the time being in order to stay competitive in the race, arguing that the NDP had the best chance of challenging Christy Clark’s government. “The truth of the matter is … even with the B.C. NDP accepting corporate and union donations, we are at a huge disadvantage to the B.C. Liberal government,” she said, quoting the sizable difference in party coffers.

The Liberals raised about $12 million in 2016, compared to just more than $6 million raised by donors to the NDP.

North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Naomi Yamamoto was invited to the debate but did not attend.

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