Five people vying to become Langley East’s next MLA had questions lobbed at them for an hour and a half in a virtual all-candidates meeting Thursday evening.
Moderator Frank Bucholtz served up questions to Cheryl Wiens of the Green Party, Ryan Warawa of the BC Conservatives, Alex Joehl of the Libertarians, Margaret Kunst of the BC Liberals, and Megan Dykeman of the NDP. Independent candidate Tara Reeve could not attend the meeting, which was held over Zoom.
The majority of the questions and answers touched in some way on the economic difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the various parties’ plans for a recovery. Bucholtz noted the questions came form the public, as well as from the organizers, the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce and the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board.
Each candidate tried to distinguish themselves, or criticize their opponents, in their opening remarks.
“I choose to run in this election because I’m concerned about my daughter’s future,” said Green candidate Wiens, before saying the Liberals had no climate plan and saying Liberal candidate Kunst “showed disrespect” to the people of Langley East by not attending Wednesday’s debate on climate issues.
“It seems to me that the B.C. Liberals are taking Langley for granted,” she said.
She then called the NDP “power hungry.”
Conservative Warawa also said the Liberals were “taking Langley for granted” and said he didn’t trust the other parties to get things done. “We need a true fiscal conservative who can fight for forward-thinking economic development,” he said.
Libertarian Joehl noted this is the fourth time he’s appeared in a chamber-sponsored all-candidates debate and urged voters to consider the Libertarians. “It’s not a throwaway, it’s not a wasted vote,” he said.
Liberal Kunst talked about supporting small businesses, affordable housing, transportation infrastructure, and her party’s plan to eliminate the ICBC monopoly on auto insurance.
“Our approach is to support businesses,” she said.
Dykeman talked about her background as a farmer, small business owner, and chair of the Langley School District’s Board of Trustees.
“We’d like to get more for Langley, and I believe Langley deserves better,” she said.
Transportation came up several times, including the promises of SkyTrain being extended to Langley made by the NDP and the Liberals pledge to extend Highway One as far east as Whatcom Road in Abbotsford.
“The completion of SkyTrain to Langley is a vital thing,” said Dykeman, who emphasized that the NDP had a $3 billion recovery investment plan, and said the NDP has sped up approval of these projects compared to the Liberals.
Kunst cited the Liberal promise of $8 billion in infrastructure spending in three years.
“Our transportation corridors are really important to get our goods to ports,” she said.
Wiens said that just widening highways was not the answer. “I know this is just going to result in six lanes of gridlock instead of four,” she said.
She said the Greens would invest in SkyTrain, at-grade rail, and cycling and walking infrastructure.
That led to a question on the reactivation of the old BC Interurban Rail line, which runs through Langley and provided tram and cargo service from Vancouver to Chilliwack between 1910 and 1950.
Most candidates were supportive of at least considering the option, which has been rejected in the past by TransLink.
All the candidates were also in support of increasing the housing supply, with Dykeman citing a 10-year NDP housing strategy, while Kunst noted that her own grown children have trouble finding anything affordable here in Langley.
“The only way that we’re going to actually tackle that is by increasing supply,” she said.
“Wages in B.C. have just not kept up with the cost of housing and living,” said Wiens. “Of course, this was exacerbated by the BC Liberals ignoring money laundering in our casinos.”
Joehl suggested the province should get out of the way and reduce regulations to incentivize the building of more rental properties.
The hit the local tourism industry has taken from COVID-19 was the subject of another question.
Kunst said the Liberals plan to eliminate the PST for a year and cut it down to three per cent for another year will help.
“They’re trying really hard to be innovative and creative, and it’s really tough for them,” she said.
“We will be providing $300 million in grants to support small and medium sized businesses,” said Dykeman.
Warawa wanted to see a local tourism tax credit.
“The more money we can convince British Columbians to spend here at home, the better,” he said.
The candidates also covered everything from energy-efficient renovation credits to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The evening ended with each candidate taking one last shot at asking for voters to support them.
“We need someone in Victoria who will fight for what Langley needs,” Dykeman said, mentioning transportation, health, small business, SkyTrain, and building schools.
“This is a really important election, as so many people are concerned about the current economic climate,” said Kunst, pledging to listen and be a voice in Victoria.
Joehl said the Libertarian platform would raise the personal tax exemption to $44,000, scrap the carbon tax, eliminate sin taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. “A vote for Alex Joehl isn’t a wasted vote,” he said.
Warawa called for a “made-in-B.C. platform.”
“The first step of that is to scrap the carbon tax,” he said, advocating for sustainable resource development.
Wiens ended her evening by noting that all the candidates in Langley East for the leading three parties are women.
“I understand how difficult it is to be a woman in politics or any leadership position, and I want to recognize them and thank them for stepping up to the challenge,” she said, before saying the Liberals were stuck in the past and mired in controversy, and the NDP will say one thing and do another.
The entire debate can be watched on the chamber’s Facebook page.