As Liberal candidate Rich Coleman speaks

As Liberal candidate Rich Coleman speaks

Candidates’ forum kicks off formal election period

Eight Langley candidates appear before voters at chamber-sponsored forum.

The provincial election campaign in Langley officially got underway Tuesday evening, with an all-candidates’ meeting sponsored by the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce.

All eight declared candidates in the two Langley ridings were on hand, including BC Conservative Party leader John Cummins, running in Langley, and deputy premier Rich Coleman, running for the BC Liberals in Fort Langley-Aldergrove.

The meeting was moderated by Global News anchor Steve Darling.

A wide variety of issues came up at the meeting, which attracted a capacity crowd to the Summit Theatre at the Cascades Casino.

Independent Kevin Mitchell, the newest candidate. is running in Fort Langley-Aldergrove. He said he decided to run because “the ordinary citizen has little to no chance (to make change) when operating from outside the system. As long as we elect members of political parties to government, the community will continue to come second to the party.”

The other candidates all represent political parties, and each said they are quite capable of representing Langley’s interests in Victoria. Coleman, who has been Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA for 17 years, said he had helped bring the Langley Events Centre here after a discussion with former mayor Kurt Alberts about the community’s priorities. Polak said she has gone to bat for Langley in issues such as rail overpasses and improved transportation.

Fort Langley-Aldergrove NDP candidate Shane Dyson said he has met with numerous community groups and plans to take their concerns to Victoria if elected.

The candidates were asked if they would support taking another look at the HST, which was defeated in a referendum and officially ceased on March 31.

Cummins said “At this point, the HST well is somewhat poisoned. But it would be possible to institute discussions with the public at large.”

The Green candidate in Langley, Wally Martin, was an active campaigner against the HST, which he conceded is better for small businesses than the PST.  He said the BC Liberals didn’t tell the truth about the tax, saying it would not cost individual taxpayers more money. He said any future discussion of the tax must be truthful.

Polak said the public had spoken when the HST was defeated in a referendum. She said the government could take a look at the PST and make it “operate better for small business.”

Langley NDP candidate Andrew Mercier said the BC Liberal government did not have a policy discussion around the HST before introducing it as legislation. He said that, in Ontario, there were wide consultations and the tax was introduced with much less fuss.

The candidates were asked about the Agricultural Land Reserve.

“They’re not making any more soil,” said Mitchell. “If we want to maintain farming here, we must protect the ALR at all costs.”

Fort Langley-Aldergrove Conservative candidate Rick Manuel said the ALR is very important to Langley, and is facing “constant pressure for development.”

Coleman said there is no need for any land in Langley to be removed from the ALR, as there is plenty of potential urban land in  Willoughby and Brpookswood.

He also defended the Right to Farm Act, saying farmers have to be able to run their businesses without facing the possibility of being shut down by neighbours.

Dyson said the ALR protects usable farmland, but much of it remains fallow.

“We need to encourage young farmers, because it is an astronomical expense to buy land.”

Road pricing was discussed. Mercier said that an NDP government would return $200 million from the carbon tax to TransLink. Polak said she is working with the TransLink Mayors’ Council to identify new funding sources, and the Liberals will put recommendations to a referendum in 2014.

Martin noted that in 1910, an interurban line served 17,000 people in the Fraser Valley, and 103 years later, there is nothing similar to serve one million. Cummins said B.C. residents don’t support tolls.

Cummins said there is no reason to put TransLink funding proposals to a referendum.

“The government has to take responsibility,” he said.

Health care was discussed. Mitchell said “there’s not an open check book” when it comes to health spending, and he said “there’s an awful lot of bureaucracy and overhead.” He said the health system works well in many ways but overhead needs to be reduced.

Coleman said overall administration costs of the health care system are about six per cent in Canada, as compared to 22 per cent in the U.S. B.C. has good health outcomes, he said, calling that the most important measure. The BC Liberals plan to add another $2.4 billion to health spending in the next three years.

Dyson said there is a need to invest in more people — doctors, nurses and technicians. He said the waiting period for diagnostics is unacceptable. He also decried funding inequities, saying the Vancouver region gets an average of $,3000 per capita in funding, while Fraser Health region gets $1,600.

Manuel, a former B.C. Ambulance executive, said the length of time patients have to wait at emergency rooms is unacceptable, and he said “we have to spend smarter.”

Post-secondary education was discussed.

Mercier said he left B.C. to attend university because it was more affordable, yet he graduated with $35,000 in student debt. He said there is “rising inequality,” as students from wealthier families are among the few who can afford the cost of education.

He emphasized the NDP platform of skills training, and a restoration of needs-based grants.

He pointed out that Langley is growing at an 11 per cent rate, and many of the new residents are young families. There needs to be more spending on education at all levels, he said.

Cummins said an important part of post-secondary education comes in technical and trades training, and the BC Liberals have cut skills training funds.

“There will be a great need for tradesmen in the future,” he said. “We’ve fallen down.”

Polak said the BC Liberals have boosted spending on post-secondary education in the past 12 years to unprecedented levels. While many colleges became degree-granting institutions, more seats have also been added to them.

She said the number of spaces for students outside Vancouver has been greatly increased.

The chamber will also host two all-candidates’ meetings next week. The first, for Fort Langley-Aldergrove candidates, takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, April 24, at the banquet hall at Langley Events Centre, 7888 200 Street.

The following night (Thursday, April 25), the Langley candidates’ meeting takes place, from 7 to 9 p.m. It will be held at Kwantlen Polytechnic University auditorium, 20901 Langley Bypass.