Kelowna-West candidates prepare before the start of a live-streamed candidates debate on Oct. 20 in Kelowna. From left, BC Liberals candidate Ben Stewart, BC Greens candidate Peter Truch, NDP candidate Spring Hawes and Libertarian candidate Matt Badura. (Phil McLachlan - West K News)

Kelowna-West candidates prepare before the start of a live-streamed candidates debate on Oct. 20 in Kelowna. From left, BC Liberals candidate Ben Stewart, BC Greens candidate Peter Truch, NDP candidate Spring Hawes and Libertarian candidate Matt Badura. (Phil McLachlan - West K News)

Top issues raised during Kelowna-West candidates forum

BC Liberals candidate Ben Stewart, BC NDP candidate Spring Hawes, BC Libertarian Party candidate Matt Badura and BC Greens candidate Peter Truch were in attendance

Kelowna-West election candidates made their opinions and party stances known during an all-candidates forum, on Tuesday (Oct. 20) in Kelowna.

Hosted by the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce and SW Events Technology, the forum raised varying topics of high local importance including affordable housing, mental health and addictions, support for the agriculture industry, the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more.

Each candidate was given 60 seconds to answer the question, and if necessary 30 seconds to respond to comments from other candidates.

BC Liberals candidate Ben Stewart, BC NDP candidate Spring Hawes, BC Libertarian Party candidate Matt Badura and BC Greens candidate Peter Truch were in attendance. Independent candidate Magee Mitchell was not.

Stewart’s number one goal for the Kelowna-West area, if elected would be to reduce taxes. Hawes would focus on housing, Truch gambled between housing, food security and mobility, and Badura chose two issues; taxation and home affordability.

Asked if the province is doing all it can to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Stewart said the government took too long to respond to economic challenges, referencing the BC Liberals promise of a one-year provincial sales tax relief. Hawes said the numbers, “some of the best in the country”, speak for themselves. Badura and Truch agreed, but Truch added that the economy needs more help.

Later they were asked how each party would help the Kelowna tourism industry rebound following the pandemic, Badura said he would end the state of emergency immediately and eliminate the small business tax. Hawes pointed to the NDPs $300 million small business fund in the form of grants, hiring credit, and tourism task force.

Truch’s approach was similar to the NDP’s; allocate $300 million to a rent subsidy program, and also establish a grant program for the tourism industry. Stewart proposed providing funds for the industry in the form of zero per cent provincial sales tax for the next year, followed by three per cent the year after.

Candidates were asked what should be done about mental health issues, and street crime affecting businesses in Kelowna and West Kelowna.

Stewart said his government would ensure people get the services they need with dignity, invest in affordable housing, and ensure mental health workers travel with RCMP during wellness checks.

Hawes directed her response at Stuart, saying homelessness ‘shot up 30 per cent’ under BC Liberal rule, adding the NDP would commit $25 million to frontline and social workers to help police focus on serious crime.

Badura said this isn’t a ‘one person, one organization issue’, and pointed to allocating more funds to supporting this cause.

Truch agreed with Stewart’s comments, saying this is similar to the Greens’ approach, and pointed viewers to the BC Greens website for more information.

They were also asked about how they would improve transportation issues through Peachland, West Kelowna, and over the bridge into Kelowna.

Referring to this as a ‘mammoth project’, Stewart said they need to find a way to eliminate controlled crossings, and possibly connect the Coquihalla to the Trans-Canada highway.

Baduara suggested more remote work to promote less highway traffic.

Hawes supported this, saying building better connectivity would allow more people to work from home, or get from point “a” to point “b” without using a car. She said the key is to reduce the number of cars on the road, not simply build more roads.

Turned to Stewart, he said interchanges cost $50-$60 million each, and that a second bridge into Kelowna would cost $2 billion, something ‘we don’t need’, and said a more simplified solution is needed.

A question from the Okanagan Mainland Real Estate Board asked if candidates would support streamlining the development permit process to get more housing to market.

All candidates supported streamlining this process, with Hawes adding the NDP already has committed to this.

Badura added they would open more crown land to housing development, as well as the development of tiny homes.

Truch said streamlining is important, but not the only problem, saying affordability is key.

Stewart said the BC Liberals would establish incentives for municipalities to boost housing supply.

They were asked about the need for affordable housing in the Okanagan.

Badura said the BC Libertarians would open up more crown land, allow tiny homes, to increase lower achievement home viability.

Hawes agreed with Badura, saying they “need to think differently” about affordable housing, quoting tiny homes as a possible answer.

Truch said there is “a really big missing gap” in the housing stock, and that constructing these kinds of homes would benefit all.

Stewart said the previous government promised renters grants, which he said didn’t happen. He pointed to the importance of investing in affordable housing.

Asked about the speculation and vacancy tax, an annual tax based on how owners use residential properties in major urban areas in B.C., Badura said taxpayers in West Kelowna never saw this tax return to the community and would abolish it.

Hawes supported it, acknowledging it is the subject of controversy and may need a few changes.

Truch also supported it, with changes including using the funds for those who need it the most.

Calling the tax ‘insidious’, Stewart made it clear he would move to rescind it.

Asked how they would advance economic reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, each spoke to the need for First Nations communities to have more autonomy.

Hawes said empowering First Nations and working with them as equals is key. Truch said the best thing to do is listen. Stewart pointed to the BC Liberals’ community benefit agreements, and Badura said education and guidance, but not decision making on their behalf, is key.

The full answers to these questions and more can be found in the full stream of the debate, available online at the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce’s website.

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