By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce forum gives residents chance to see candidate go tete-a-tete

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may have altered the nature of this year’s provincial election campaign, but Columbia Valley residents still got a chance to see the three Columbia River-Revelstoke candidates square off against each other, if only digitally, during a live online candidate’s forum.

Liberal incumbent Doug Clovechok, NDP candidate Nicole Cherlet and Green Party candidate Samson Boyer answered several policy questions and engaged in a few bouts of open debate during the two-hour forum, which was hosted by the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce yesterday, on Wednesday, October 21st.

Topics covered in the question and debates ran a gamut, including health care, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, affordable housing, climate change, senior care, supporting small businesses, childcare, the conservation officer program, wildlife issues, and unregulated short-term rentals. Specific party policies discussed included the Greens’ carbon neutral plan and basic personal income policy, the NDP’s education plan, the Liberals’ proposal to eliminate the provincial sales tax (PST) as well as their proposed public transit infrastructure program.

During the open debate, Cherlet argued that if the NDP head up government again, Columbia River-Revelstoke needs an NDP MLA because “it’s important to have a seat at the table… so the rural voice gets heard.” In response, Clovechok pointed many times that he’s helped constituents or come up with solutions to issues as an opposition MLA. “I’ve sat a lot of tables,” he said, adding that getting things done as an MLA doesn’t mean being in caucus, but means meeting the relevant ministers, building a relationship and then working across party lines to get results, adding “I’ve been able to achieve that.”

Boyer piped in that no matter whether it’s been the NDP or Liberals’ at the table’ for Columbia River-Revelstoke, climate change has continued to worsen as both parties continue to subsidize the oil and gas industry.

The candidates took turns explaining why their parties approach is best suited to each of the various issues, be it dealing with COVID-19, helping small businesses or creating more affordable housing. For the most part, the candidates presented their points in a straightforward manner, although on occasion, they did take critical swipes at other parties’ past actions or platforms. Though infrequent, it occurred often enough that one digital audience member — Dave Gregory — wrote in the chat room comments on the side that “blaming most everything on ‘legacy’ issues does not add value to what’s happening to/for today and particularly the future.”

Discussion on childcare and unregulated short-term rentals — two issues that have generated plenty of headlines in the Pioneer in recent months – was particularly extended.

On childcare, Boyer outlined the Green Party’s plan to offer funding for families with young children. Clovechok critiqued the NDP’s $10 a day childcare plan, saying, “you can create as many childcare spaces for kids as you want, but without early childhood educators (ECEs) those spaces won’t get filled,” adding more training opportunities for ECEs are needed. Cherlet responded that the issue stems mostly from the low wages ECEs are typically paid, and that the government needs to “top up” ECE wages “so that it (being an ECE) remains a desirable job. So that ECEs themselves are not falling into an affordability crisis.”

When discussing unregulated short-term rentals, Cherlet related her experience dealing with the issue as a Revelstoke city councillor and said “there are only so many tools in the tool chest (to address STRs) at the municipal level,” adding that provincial level discussions on regulating STRs are needed. Clovechok countered that “it’s a big issue throughout the riding” and that each community or municipal entity here has tackled the issue — Radium, the Region District of East Kootenay (RDEK), Golden, Revelstoke and Kimberley — has taken a different approach. He added that B.C. needs provincial legislation that supports each community’s unique way of dealing with STRs, which he acknowledged is quite difficult. Boyer emphasized that STRs are a complex issue with many challenges and many benefits and argued that it is “not the job of the provincial government to make ‘broad strokes’,” saying a blanket regulation for all of B.C. would not take into account the diverse needs of each community on the issue.

In the candidates’ closing remarks, Clovechok said that during the 2017 election, “I promised I’d work my tail off for you and be honest. I’ve kept my word,” asking voters to “re-hire” him as MLA. Cherlet, on the other hand, said, “we need to target values that actually matter to us.” For his part, Boyer implored audience members to “please vote (Green) if you want to see change. And an actual future.”