The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce has taken its annual election candidate forums online.
Chamber CEO Bruce Williams is moderating a series of events from noon to 1 p.m. – Green, Liberal and NDP candidates in each of five ridings were invited – in advance of the Oct. 24 provincial election.
Tuesday’s opening forum featured Victoria-Beacon Hill candidates Karen Bill of the BC Liberals, Grace Lore of the NDP and Jenn Neilson of the Green Party. The trio, vying to replace retiring NDP MLA Carole James, answered Williams’ questions about such pre-selected topics as the cost of housing, support for renters and small business, encampments in neighbourhoods, getting people back working downtown as a way to support local businesses, help for tourism operators, amalgamation and regional transportation.
On encampments, a discussion that touched on increased crime in adjacent areas, Neilson said the governing NDP “has not committed to ending homelessness, and has no plan to end homelessness,” noting that 24/7 sheltering is not the answer.
Bill said getting people out of parks and into housing requires a range of services and that the underlying causes of homelessness need to be addressed. “You can’t do this while people are living in tents,” she said. She accused the NDP of going about helping the unhoused the wrong way, by simply buying hotels. Success comes, Bill added, through supports provided “when people transition from tents to housing.”
For her part, Lore said while many units have been provided for the community’s unhoused, “there’s much more to do.” Having a dedicated mental health and addictions ministry, something previous governments have not had, is key to providing critical service. “Treating mental health as a health issue is core to where we are now,” she added.
Lore and Bill referenced existing programs or party platforms when it comes to assisting the many tourism-related businesses in the riding. Neilson called for a long-term plan that helps operators diversify so they appeal to the more local and regional visitors expected to increase in the near future.
The NDP previously budgeted $50 million for its tourism task force as part of its economic recovery plan, Lore said, and plans to invest an additional $100 million to help B.C. tourism-related business. “We want to make sure that when international travel is safe again that this remains a top place to visit.”
The Liberals would create a loan guarantee program for tourism operators and work to help create regional tourism hubs to get more people back to work, Bill said. Eliminating the PST for year and keeping it at three per cent the following year would also help tourism and hospitality dependent businesses, she added.
Lore acknowledged the region has too many municipalities but said the issue needs to be resolved by local governments. Neilson said the topic requires further discussion, as residents living further from downtown often have different priorities than those living closer.
Bill did not mince words. “Let’s stop talking about it and get it done. The end. Just get it done,” she said.
To view your riding’s panel live or archived, visit victoriachamber.ca.