The opening salvo by the Liberals and Greens against the Sept. 21 election call continued echoing at the final all-candidates meeting on the Lower Sunshine Coast.
During an online forum hosted by the Sechelt and District Chamber of Commerce Oct. 19 at Blue Ocean Golf Club, candidates jumped at the chance to raise the confidence and supply agreement between the NDP and Greens when asked whether they would be willing to sign a similar agreement if a minority government is elected this Saturday.
All three candidates said they would, before sparring over the election call.
Liberal candidate Sandra Stoddart-Hansen, the first to answer, lashed out at the NDP, saying it was “reprehensible that that agreement was ripped up.”
Incumbent NDP candidate Nicholas Simons hit back: “Anytime someone says it’s reprehensible or complains that there’s an election in a democracy, I find it somewhat surprising.”
He then referenced the agreement’s stipulation that government “must be able to negotiate with the three Green Party MLAs as a single recognized caucus.”
“Let me point out Dr. Andrew Weaver left that caucus, for reasons that maybe my friend Kim knows, but I would point out it’s not reprehensible,” Simons said.
Green candidate Kim Darwin jumped in with a reference of her own, that the agreement would continue until the next scheduled election. “The Green caucus did not cease to exist when Dr. Andrew Weaver left it. It did not,” she said. “I’ve read this agreement through and through and that is false, and everybody knows it is.”
Later in the meeting, candidates had another opportunity to agree, this time on the perennial need to improve ferry services, before challenging each other’s proposed solutions in an open debate.
Simons boasted three ferries in the riding are the newest in the BC Ferries fleet, said he fought for a medical travel system, that his party restored seniors discounts and reduced fares by 15 per cent.
Stoddart-Hansen repeated a promise that if elected “we will begin an immediate review of ferry services,” and corrected Simons by pointing out that BC Ferries as a private company built those three ferries. “It had nothing to do with government making those decisions,” she said.
She also blamed the NDP government for a “$60-million hit” BC Ferries took over two years when asked to reduce fares and introduce seniors travel. “At the end of that two years the government reneged on that commitment, causing BC Ferries to be in a difficult financial position.”
Both Darwin and Simons favoured the idea of bringing the company back under the auspices of government.
Stoddart-Hansen criticized such a move since the government would have to shoulder the company’s approximately $1-billion debt load. “I don’t think at this particular time of our financial post-COVID crisis that makes any sense at all.”
Stoddart-Hansen also highlighted “the fast ferry fiasco” caused by “government interference.” But in a show of non-partisanship, she praised NDP Transportation Minister Claire Trevena’s push to change the Coastal Ferries’ Act to establish a clearer definition of public interest.
All three also supported advocating for federal funding, including a promise from Darwin to renegotiate with the federal government to equalize subsidies for ferries on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, saying it “would be one of my number one goals.”
Simons pointed to the September federal restart funding announcement promising $308 million for BC Ferries as proof of “successes in advocacy.”
Stoddart-Hansen, meanwhile, pointed to another contract she’d push to renegotiate – the one the company has with the province. “I would argue if our community needs more service, then our community needs to be dealing with government, not BC Ferries,” she said.
As for the land-based portion of the Sunshine Coast’s transportation system, both the Green and NDP candidates had a chance to directly confront the significant local announcement by Stoddart-Hansen that if elected the Liberals would spend $50 million on a highway bypass.
“I’m sure the $50 million was pulled out of the air,” said Simons, adding that at least $10 million has been invested in Highway 101 by the NDP, even if it came without much fanfare.
Simons addressed the recently-published corridor study, saying it provided a “baseline” for improvements, while also hedging on whether to move ahead with a bypass. “Most people are going short distances between smaller communities and that is what is adding to the highway congestion. The bypass in and of itself would not resolve those issues,” he said. “We need to make sure our highway is safe.”
Darwin identified safety as the top priority, too. “I would like to see bike lanes, turning lanes, stop lights where appropriate,” she said, adding: “I would like to see secondary corridors like the bypass around Gibsons and Davis Bay for safety. “Secondary corridors with improvements to our existing highway is what I personally support.”
Stoddart-Hansen said a bypass would take passengers from the ferry to Sechelt and avoid residential areas and said she’d like to model it on the scenic highway on Vancouver Island. “It’s a real destination for tourists,” she said. “We have to look to the future.”
A video of the all-candidates meeting can be viewed on the Sechelt Chamber of Commerce Facebook page, and interviews with all three candidates can be found on Coast Reporter’s Audio Page: https://www.coastreporter.net/audio.
The election takes place Oct. 24. Information about where to vote can be found here: https://elections.bc.ca/voting/where-to-vote/