Two hundred people gave the five candidates for Langley MP a look and a listen, at Tuesday’s Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce meeting.
The chamber hosted the five candidates, giving them a brief opportunity to talk about themselves and then answer a series of questions posed by president Milt Kruger.
All the candidates had opportunities to meet with potential voters before and after the dinner meeting.
While most of the questions posed related to business issues, there were a number of chances for candidates to differentiate themselves from each other, and elaborate on party policy.
One came in answers to a question on how best to control costs and improve productivity in the health system.
Liberal Rebecca Darnell said her party does not want a two-tiered system, with some people getting faster treatment by paying for it themselves.
“Transfer payments (from Ottawa) need to be properly managed, and management shouldn’t be top-heavy.”
Darnell noted that in Aldergrove, there are no clinics open on weekends and after 4 p.m. Fridays.
NDP candidate Piotr Majkowski, a Langley Memorial Hospital nurse, said health spending as part of the gross domestic product has increased just four per cent over 30 years.
“We need to strengthen the public system and invest in prevention. The Canada Health Act is a pillar of Canadian identity.”
Craig Nobbs of the Pirate Party questioned why some people working in the health system are paid more than those in equivalent private sector jobs.
Green Party candidate Carey Poitras said there needs to be more doctors, nurses and beds, and fewer managers in the system.
Conservative Mark Warawa said Liberal government cuts to transfer payments in the late 1990s, to balance the budget, are “still having an effect” on the system. He said his party will balance the budget without touching transfer payments, and boost health spending by six per cent a year.
The candidates were also asked about minority government. Poitras said that all parties need to work together, and MPs need to exercise their independence and become more relevant in Parliament.
Darnell pointed out that the Lester Pearson-led Liberal minority governments in the 1960s achieved a great deal, including universal health care, a new flag and the Canada Pension Plan.
“Canada need MPs who go to Ottawa to debate and participate. The Liberals can play in the sandbox with others,” she said.
Majkowski said the federal government hasn’t had a long-term focus for quite some time, long before the past seven years of minority governments. He said the NDP was ready to work with the Conservatives, but Stephen Harper wasn’t ready to compromise.
Warawa said that he has tried, as parliamentary secretary to the environment minister, to work with opposition MPs “but they will not — it’s discouraging.”
He said the Liberals and NDP have already said they will vote against the budget when Parliament resumes, so if the Conservatives win a minority of seats, “the government will fall within weeks.”
“If I hold a gun to your head and say ‘work with me or I’ll shoot you,’ is that any way to work with people?” asked Nobbs.
The candidates were asked their views on the Aldergrove border crossing. Darnell said it should be utilized for commercial traffic, and she criticized the Conservative government for making plans to end commercial use of the crossing. She said the government caught MP Warawa unawares “and he was able to scramble and reverse that.”
Nobbs said the U.S. government has no plans for expansion of its facilities there, but if there is expansion on the U.S. side it makes sense to upgrade Canadian facilities.
Poitras said the commercial crossing needs to remain open, and she also called for improvements in the hours of operation and in environmental sustainability, due to long lines of cars waiting to cross the border.
Warawa said he has been working on the issue since he was first elected in 2004. The buildings on the Canadian side need replacement “but they need to be replaced with something that has the capacity to grow.”
Transportation funding was also raised. Majkowski said it is important that the federal government help pay for infrastructure improvements.
“The South Fraser has been forgotten, and we should be at the head of the queue.”
He said the NDP will ensure that municipalities get one cent per litre of federal gas tax revenues.
Poitras saw his bid and raised it. She said the Green Party would ensure that municipalities get five cents per litre from the gas tax.
Nobbs was more skeptical. He said that if the federal government gives away much of its gas tax revenue, “that takes it from other programs. We have to consider that.”
Darnell said Langley is getting very little for the taxes it pays to TransLink, and “taxes need to be dedicated to the communities they come from.”
She spoke against tolls on the Golden Ears and Port Mann Bridges, saying “if you build it and toll it, they won’t come.”
Warawa said the federal government is giving $30 million towards the cost of the new park and ride lot off Highway 1, and will continue to contribute to transit and infrastructure projects. Ottawa gave $2 million from the gas tax to municipalities in 2008, he said, and continues to give part of that revenue to local governments.
For video statements from each of the five candidates, check this website in coming days.