Candidates tackle health, food, economic issues

Federal candidates battling for the Sooke-Esquimalt-Saanich riding seat brought the frontline to Sooke last week

Federal candidates battling for the Sooke-Esquimalt-Saanich riding seat brought the frontline to Sooke last week in the second all-candidates meeting held locally.

This time Conservative candidate Shari Lukens attended. She was MIA in an earlier forum. Communist Tyson Strandlund did not attend. Other candidates at the Oct. 6 forum included Liberal David Merner, Green Frances Litman and New Democrat Randall Garrison.

The all-candidates forum was sponsored by the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce at Best Western Prestige Hotel.

Like the previous event, candidates were asked a series of prepared questions, followed by a debate, and a public question period where attendees could ask candidates questions.

Here’s a summary of the hot topics discussed:

Health care

The first to kick off the night was Litman acknowledging Canadians are paying too much for their medications, and that the Green Party wants to institute its proposed national pharmacare program in order to bring drug costs down and create an integrated system. Litman added that this can save Canadians $11 billion in drug costs.

Lukens disagreed with the Greens’ proposal of “just making it happen” saying that every province and territory must agree to the plan, and it is not something the federal government could create.

Merner was next, saying the Liberals will go straight for the renewal of the Health Accord, which expired in March 2014, after the federal government did not renegotiate it. He also brought up France and Germany’s performance in the health-care sector, adding that “we can do better, and it will require an investment.”

Investment or not, Garrison pointed out that the federal government “has lost its ability to influence policy” adding that the NDP will go back to the drawing board, and create a series of principles to follow, such as accessibility and universality.

Economic development

When it came to the diversification of the economy, the question mainly rested on the balancing regulatory approvals, opposition and the need of economic activity.

Garrison jumped in with the NDP’s proposal to cut $1.3 billion a year in subsidies that trickle to oil companies, then transferring it into the renewable energy industry, “creating twice as many jobs for the same amount of investment.”

Investment that would nonetheless still require direct investment from Canadians, Merner said, adding that transformation of the economy from a fossil fuel economy to renewable energy “needs a plan and leadership”.

And if it’s time that’s the issue, Litman said the Greens want to “do this now, not in 10 years, and not in another election,” maintaining that renewables is the only way to go in terms of saving money and reducing carbon emissions.

Lukens lauded Canada’s achievement as being “the only country in the G7 that is able to take advantage of 60 per cent of the world economy” and pointing out the Conservatives recent signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which opens trade with 12 other countries.

Infrastructure

Split between the development of infrastructure and social infrastructure, candidates were asked to provide suggestions on what each of their parties will provide.

Merner said his party “will commit over the next 10 years to spend $160 billion on infrastructure”  and that significant focus will be on rebuilding social infrastructure, such as affordable housing, seniors facilities, and childcare facilities.

Litman took a more local approach, saying that by way of implementing a renewable energy economy, Sooke residents would be encouraged to work locally and live here rather than driving into town all the time.

“We don’t want a one overpass solution that will only take cars from one light to the next where they’ll wait in traffic,” she said. “We want folks who go into town are going to enjoy their bus ride because they know they’ll be able to get back and forth frequently and quickly.”

In response, Lukens said the Conservatives made the “biggest investment and infrastructure, and will invest $80 billion over the next 10 years, and putting the largest investment in infrastructure in Canadian history.”

Garrison struck back, saying “it’s nice to hear Shari listing projects that I’ve worked on to get the local funding for.”

Agriculture and food security

The importance of safe and local food is a growing concern in Canadians’ minds, leaving many wondering what will happen when any of the respective parties win the vote.

The Greens want to try and keep improvements on local agriculture small first by trying to support local farmers and local economies. Litman said that people want to farm and have their own healthy food, they don’t want to rely on the big businesses.

Lukens took a similar homegrown approach, having lived and grown up on a large grain farm on the prairies.

“All the food on the table was from our own garden, so local is where we need to keep it, because I appreciate it, and I know it’s important to everyone in this region,” she said.

Garrison aimed back towards the Conservatives, saying the TPP could be “the biggest threat to food security” and that local farmers and dairy producers are in big trouble should the proposed agreement reach full fruition.

Merner pointed out that while the TPP could be “dangerous” it may still open up foreign markets to Canada, and that it’s important to assess the TPP “case by case” before going further.