BC Conservative Party leader John Cummins speaks with Fort Langley-Aldergrove NDP candidate Shane Dyson at a leadership lunch on Friday at Newlands.

BC Conservative Party leader John Cummins speaks with Fort Langley-Aldergrove NDP candidate Shane Dyson at a leadership lunch on Friday at Newlands.

Cummins outlines Conservative plans to lunch crowd

BC Conservative Party leader talks about more oversight of government spending.

BC Conservative Party leader John Cummins gave some details of his party’s plans if elected in the May 14 provincial election, at the first in a series of leadership luncheons on Friday at Newlands.

The luncheons are organized by the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce.

“The coming election is about  security of life for British Columbians. The government has ceased to focus on issues of everyday life, and is failing to look beyond the next election. We take government seriously,” said Cummins, who served as an MP for Delta for 18 years and plans to run in the Langley riding, where he lives.

He outlined the Conservatives’ plans to have the legislature sit more frequently and examine in detail spending plans of the province, Crown corporations and schools, hospitals, universities and colleges.

The Conservatives have already released a five-year budget and fiscal framework  plan. It calls for no new taxes, gradual elimination of the carbon tax and balanced budgets each year.

Cummins said this ambitious goal can be achieved by smarter spending, and he believes MLAs need to spend far more time debating the budget and looking at it line-by-line. In the fall sessions of the legislature, he proposes three separate committees to look at provincial, Crown corporation and health and education institution spending in a detailed fashion.

“We need strengthened oversight of government expenditures,” he said.

He also plans to establish an independent legislative budget officer, as has happened in Ottawa, with a mandate to provide an independent viewpoint on government spending.

Turning his attention to local issues, Cummins said the tolls on the Port Mann Bridge punish drivers from this side of the river and there needs to be a change in how tolls to pay for the bridge and highway improvements are implemented.

He said it is unfair that people living north of the river commuting to work to Burnaby and Vancouver pay no tolls.

The Conservatives plan to release position papers in more detail about issues such as health and education, as the two-month election campaign progresses.

He was questioned about helping the film industry with tax credits, and how that compares to the lack of such breaks for small businesses.

Cummins said the industry is a very important one to B.C. and provides many good-paying jobs. His son is an actor and has made a living from it for many years.

He said any tax credits would not apply unless the industry comes to B.C. and does work here and spends money. He said B.C. has important advantages for the industry, largely based in California, one of them being that it is in the same time zone.

Cummins agreed that it seems unfair to give tax breaks to the movie industry and not to small businesses, and he said one of the first things that needs to be done is to get actual facts on the impact of lower taxes in Ontario and other jurisdictions on the business here.

He was questioned about the reasons behind low voter turnout.

“In 2009, voters were not satisfied with the choices,” he said. “But voters also look at MPs and MLAs and wonder ‘are you speaking for me and representing my views.’

“It is not good enough to speak up in caucus. MLAs need to speak up publicly. They need to put constituents first.

“As a leader, I will not penalize people for doing so. I voted against my party in the House of Commons and was not disciplined for doing so, but I was penalized through committee appointments and that type of thing.”

Questioned about pipelines being built in B.C., Cummins said that pipelines are built to much higher safety standards than when there Trans Mountain pipeline was built 60 years ago. He said B.C. has an obligation to export Canadian goods, including crude oil, through the gateway it offers to Asia, but at the same time, “we have to keep in mind the environmental concerns.”

As for LNG exports, Cummins said the process of building LNG plants needs to begin as soon as possible.

“The more we delay, the more we’ll be elbowed out of the marketplace.”

There were about 35 people in attendance at the lunch. Among them was Rick Manuel, Conservative candidate for Fort Langley-Aldergrove, and Shane Dyson, NDP candidate in the same riding. Both are running against Rich Coleman, deputy premier and 17-year MLA for the riding.