Housing, the Massey Tunnel replacement and a variety of business issues were among major topics at Tuesday’s online candidates’ forum, hosted by Delta Chamber of Commerce.
Four of the six candidates in the Delta federal riding were invited to take part on Sept. 14, but Monika Dean of the NDP was not present. On hand were incumbent Liberal MP Carla Qualtrough, Conservative candidate Garry Shearer and Green candidate Jeremy Smith. Peoples’ Party candidate Paul Tarasenko and independent Hong Yan Pen were not invited to take part.
Moderator Yvonne Anderson, immediate past chair of the chamber board, said at the start of the meeting that the forum would focus on business issues. For the most part, that proved to be the case. However, issues such as child care and the challenges faced by Canadian owners of property in Point Roberts were also discussed.
The three candidates all agreed that housing is a critical issue for business people, as well as residents. Smith noted that his place of employment in Tilbury business park needs people, but finding housing within Delta is very challenging. This shortage of affordable housing prevents many businesses from filling positions.
“We can’t find a solution [at our business],” Smith said.
He said homeowners need to be given incentives to create suites in basements and garages, and delays with permits must end. Developers can also be given incentives to create more housing at higher densities.
“We have to look at how neighbourhoods develop, and government needs to take a heavy-handed approach [to boosting density],” he said.
Qualtrough said the Liberal government, if re-elected, will “try and tackle the spectrum of needs.” She said this includes homelessness, rental housing and multi-generational homes. The party’s platform calls for construction of 1.4 million homes, including rental units.
She noted that the government brought in a national housing strategy after decades of no action by federal governments, both Conservative and Liberal.
“There is a lot more to do,” she said.
Shearer said foreign investment in the housing market is a major reason prices have risen so dramatically, and a Conservative government will ban foreign ownership of housing, with the notable exception of rental stock. Foreign investors will be encouraged to invest in rental housing to help provide more supply.
The Conservative platform calls for one million homes to be built.
Qualtrough said the Liberals are proposing a two-year ban on foreign ownership of homes.
All three candidates endorsed a suggestion by the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board calling for a round table discussion of housing issues, involving all interested parties. Shearer said round tables can be key in coming up with solutions, while Qualtrough said “all partners must sit down and work together.”
The Conservative and Liberal candidates said municipalities can get support from the federal government to speed up the approval process and boost supply. Smith took a different tack, saying people should not be encouraged to get into the housing market now, with million-dollar mortgages.
“We need to make it (housing) more affordable,” he said.
There was some sparring over federal support for the George Massey tunnel replacement project. Shearer said when the province announced its plans to build a new tunnel, “there was no mention of federal funding at that announcement.” He said the Conservatives have made a commitment to provide federal funds for the project.
Qualtrough said that the approval of the project was announced by the province Aug. 17, two days after the election was called. She said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as recently as Tuesday (when he was in Richmond) assured her that there will be federal money for it.
“We are keen on getting on with this project,” she said.
Smith said “people have waited long enough” and he called on Trudeau to write a cheque for the federal portion right away. “Our (Green) party will guarantee funding for this.”
On support for small business, Qualtrough noted that the federal government offered a variety of programs to assist businesses to get through the pandemic. She said Liberal party platform calls for assistance to find workers, grants for new technology and a wide variety of other programs. She added that tourism and arts are still struggling and more help for that sector is needed.
Shearer said the initial programs offered to businesses for wage and rent subsidies were inadequate. The Conservative platform calls for boosts in tax credits, a GST holiday in December and other programs to help businesses thrive again.
In terms of supporting business innovation, Shearer said the Conservatives want to protect intellectual property and protect the investments Canadian businesses make in that area, and encourage companies to stay in Canada.
Qualtrough said the Liberals want to boost research and innovation and fund more research chairs at universities.
Smith of the Green Party said, “We don’t give ourselves enough credit. There are a lot of amazing companies in Delta. They need to have access to support programs that are already there, and need a hand to navigate those [supports].”
The environmental impact of the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project was discussed. Smith said that “we have to respect science. It’s harmful and dangerous [to the environment] and shouldn’t go ahead.”
Qualtrough said an environmental assessment showed that the project has “significant adverse effects” on the environment, and the environment minister is awaiting a reply from the proponents on how the port can mitigate those issues. She said no response has been received yet.
“My approach to this, as a cabinet minister, is to communicate to my colleagues what I am hearing from people in the community.”
Shearer said the port expansion “is an important piece of infrastructure for this community and the country. We have to respect the experts, and get it built while respecting the environment.”
Former Delta South MLA Val Roddick asked about sustaining and promoting Delta agriculture.
“COVID-19 has taught us that food security is so important. We have a rich heritage of farming in Delta, and farmers need infrastructure to support them,” Shearer said.
“We need to help farmers find the labour they need, either through the temporary foreign worker program or Canadian workers,” Qualtrough said. She added that B.C. farmers can also take advantage of an updated risk management program that has proven popular in other parts of the country.
Smith said that there needs to be more incentives to help farmers transfer their land and businesses to the next generation, and to encourage young people to get into farming.
The candidates were asked about the importance of mental health, which has been strained due to the pandemic.
Smith said sports is an important outlet for young people, and there needs to be incentives for coaches and other adults to be involved with youth programs. Shearer said mental health is a pillar of the Conservative platform, and funding will be made available across the country. Qualtrough said the Liberals plan new mental health transfer payments to the provinces and establishment of a three-digit mental health crisis phone line.
The subject of the continued inability of Canadians who own property in Point Roberts to cross the border led to an animated discussion by the candidates.
Conservative candidate Shearer said, “Here we have a situation with our main trading partner — our border is open to them, but their border is not open to us. I don’t understand why we have that kind of relationship. We should be advocating more strongly on this issue.”
“We have worked very hard on the Point Roberts issue,” Liberal incumbent Qualtrough said. “[Delta South MLA] Ian Paton and I have met with Washington state officials. Now we can get Point Roberts residents here, but the U.S. is an independent country and controls its own borders.”
Green candidate Smith noted that Point Roberts is isolated from the rest of the mainland U.S., and “we can’t impose our will [on the U.S.]. It is low-priority for their top officials, but it is very important to us locally.”
Differing approaches to child care came up in the closing remarks by Qualtrough and Shearer. The Liberal candidate said families would save $938 per month per child with the universal child care program. The federal government has signed an agreement with B.C. to fund this. Shearer said this won’t help families until five years from now, and he cited the Conservative plan to provide tax credits for child care, which he said will benefit families with incomes of up to $150,000.
Smith used his closing remarks to thank both the other candidates for the work they have done — Qualtrough as an MP, and Shearer as former executive director of the Delta Chamber of Commerce. He said he chose to run with a party “a little outside my comfort zone, as the Green Party represents aggressive change. This is what is needed for the future.”
The Delta Chamber of Commerce candidates’ meeting can be viewed on Eastlink cable channel 610 in Delta. It will be aired Friday (Sept. 17) at 7 p.m. and Sunday (Sept. 19) at 4 p.m. The meeting can also be viewed on the chamber’s YouTube page.
Election day is Monday, Sept. 20.