Four candidates vying to become the MLA of the Langley riding fielded 17 questions on everything from taxes to transit to tourism during COVID during a Tuesday evening virtual all-candidates meeting.
Candidates Shelly Jan, Conservative, Bill Masse, Green, Andrew Mercier, NDP, and Mary Polak, Liberal, took questions from moderator Frank Bucholtz during the hour and a half long event hosted by the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce and the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board.
Getting around Langley and the region played a role in several questions, including one about building various projects such as the SkyTrain to Langley, the George Massey Tunnel replacement, and the widening of Highway One to the east.
The Greens’ Masse took on the question of the Massey Tunnel by being critical of what he called the BC Liberals propensity to “parachute” pet projects in over the objections of local mayors.
He also said that the Greens are 100 per cent behind SkyTrain to Langley, but that the community needs a provincially-funded sustainability strategy, because the arrival of the commuter rail line will transform the community and its property values.
Jan said the SkyTrain project will inevitably go over budget, but there is a need to move people around B.C.
Mercier used the question to talk about the NDP’s plan for a recovery investment fund.
“The SkyTrain is the most obvious example of that,” he said, adding it will take cars off the road.
He also criticized the Liberal party’s plans for a bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel, saying there’s no solid ground in that are to site a bridge on.
“Twinning the tunnel, it’s the superior option,” he said.
Polak said a bridge will be the only way to protect salmon stocks, and that a tunnel won’t have enough lanes because some will be used exclusively for transit.
Like the other candidates, she was in favour of the SkyTrain, but also emphasized that the government should create more rapid bus routes in the near future to connect people farther out in the Fraser Valley.
That question led to one about the much-mooted revival of the Interurban Railway line, which once ran from Vancouver to Chilliwack through Langley, and whose rails still carry modern freight trains.
Mercier said there’s a need for solutions on climate change, but didn’t comment directly on the Interurban, saying that SkyTrain’s development has been done, and it just needs shovels in the ground.
Polak said that the cost of converting the rails for interurban trams would be more expensive than SkyTrain. “The tracks are not suitable for passenger rail as we know it in the modern day,” she said, and that the cost of buying land for stations would be prohibitive.
Interurban needs to be assessed but there are lots of other options, said Masse, including a line down Fraser Highway to Aldergrove.
“We do need kind of a provincial line, for lack of a better word, a regional line,” said Jan, who was more supportive of the idea of an interurban.
On childcare, the Greens had an ambitious plan.
“Our approach to childcare is to roll it into the school system,” Masse said, with free childcare for kids under three, and then early education in schools after that.
Mercier, who noted he has a two and a half year old, talked about the NDP’s investments in rebates and fee reductions for local parents already. “But we need to do more,” he said, saying the government has to create spaces and ensure training and good wages for more early childhood educators.
“Definitely public and private childcare systems need to be opened,” said Jan.
Polak talked about the Liberal plan for $10 a day childcare for people making $65,000 a year or less, with $20 and $30 a day tiers for higher incomes, as well as past Liberal investment in creating programs like Strong Start and all-day Kindergarten.
She said parents lives could be made easier with reform of waiting list sign up systems, as well.
A question about free contraception, which led to a controversy when ex-Liberal candidate Laurie Throness compared it to eugenics in a debate in Chilliwack last week, did not generate any issues for Langley candidates.
Polak, Mercier, and Masse all said they supported free contraception, while Jan said she did not on budgetary grounds.
A question submitted by a member of the public asked how the parties would ensure family values were upheld in schools.
“The School Act does recognize that parents are the primary educators,” said Polak, noting that there are all kinds of families represented in B.C. schools.
If we agree love and character are family values, teachers are trying to instill those all the time, Polak said.
Mercier said B.C. has a world-class school system and part of that system is creating a safe space and tolerance.
“We need to maintain that, because the school system is about our societal values. Family values, that really happens in the home, with the family,” Mercier said.
“I guess it depends on what you mean by family values,” said Masse, who emphasized that schools should communicate with parents.
“Parents should have a choice of schooling, and what’s being taught in schools,” said Jan.
The candidates touched on a number of questions related to how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the economy, including one about how to support local tourism businesses through the pandemic.
All the candidates agreed the situation has been bad for tourism and restaurants.
“The first thing we need to do is to keep people safe and manage the pandemic, because that’s the fastest way past his,” said Mercier.
He noted specific funding top-ups from the NDP and a change to allow restaurants to buy alcohol a wholesale prices, about a 25 per cent savings.
“Many of them are seasonal and have experienced absolutely zero revenue over this particular season,” Polak said. She then criticized the NDP for delaying aid by holding the election, and said the Liberals would immediately inject cash or consider bridge financing.
“They need help from government just to hang on, to keep afloat,” said Masse, and said the Greens would put forward funding to help with that cost.
Jan said bringing in tourists from within Canada is necessary, and that the Conservatives would create a tourism tax credit for family vacations inside the country.