Local provincial election candidates talked children and youth issues at a sparsely attended all-candidates meeting at the Neigbhourhood Learning Centre at Chilliwack Secondary School (CSS) Wednesday morning.
The BC Liberal and NDP candidates for Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Kent, along with Chilliwack Green Party candidate Wayne Froese, answered questions about child poverty, public education, marijuana legalization, poverty reduction and more.
The meeting was hosted by the Chilliwack Child and Youth Committee (CYC).
Recurring themes from the two major parties were heard, with Chilliwack BC Liberal candidate John Martin and Chilliwack-Kent BC Liberal candidate Laurie Throness focused on jobs and the economy to help B.C.’s most vulnerable. In contrast, the Chilliwack NDP candidate Patti MacAhonic and Chilliwack-Kent New Democrat Tracey O’Hara targeted the current crises in various areas affecting youth, which they blame on the incumbents’ track record over the last decade and a half.
In opening remarks, Throness said an estimated $30 billion is currently spent in taxpayer dollars annually on those most in need.
“We live in an unparalleled era in terms of prosperity and generosity to those who are less fortunate,” he told the group of approximately 30 people in attendance.
MacAhonic, on the other hand, said the BC Liberals have chronically underfunded mental health and addictions since they took power in 2001. She pointed specifically to the tragic death of Nick Lang, the 15-year-old Chilliwack boy who died on June 9, 2015, while in provincial care.
“His parents could not find help,” she said, addressing Lang’s case in her opening and closing remarks, a subject she also brought up at a candidates meeting at Mt. Slesse Middle School on April 6.
“We are the only province in Canada to not have a poverty reduction plan,” MacAhonic said.
On the specific question about a poverty reduction plan, Martin said the BC Liberal policy on reducing poverty is to get people working.
“Our poverty reduction plan is called the BC Jobs Plan,” Martin said.
O’Hara addressed CYC statistics that one in five B.C. children live in poverty, many of whom are in families with working parents. She said the NDP has put forth a poverty reduction plan six times and six times the Christy Clark Liberals have blocked it.
Further on child poverty, a very specific question was asked whether each party would support redesigning the early childhood tax benefit to cover children up to age 18 and double the maximum benefit to $1,320 per child per year.
As with most issues, Throness echoed the BC Liberal campaign messaging, asking the question: “Where is the money going to come from? Even the NDP hasn’t included this in their platform.”
Indeed, MacAhonic confirmed this specific funding was not in their policy, but rather the NDP has other ways to help families struggling such as freezing BC Hydro rates, eliminating MSP premiums and blocking ICBC increases.
“People can’t afford this,” she said.
On raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, O’Hara outlined the NDP’s policy to do just that.
Martin responded that a sudden jump to $15 an hour hurts small businesses, and can lead to job loss hurting the very people who rely on minimum wage jobs.
“McDonald’s can put in automation to order your food,” he said. “They don’t need young people up there.”
Martin also stated the oft-repeated line of the BC Liberals that minimum wage is meant for young people entering the workforce not as a long-term income but as a starting place towards higher wages.
Froese said that while that may be the intent, it’s not what happens in practice.
“The reality is that many people are stuck with minimum wage for years,” he said, adding that there is an argument to be made that increasing the pay for those on the low-end helps the economy by spreading more money around.
Green Party candidate for Chilliwack-Kent Josie Bleuer was not at the meeting as she is in firefighter training.
The next public all-candidates meeting is hosted Chilliwack Healthier Community April 25 at 7:30 a.m. at CSS. (Note: an earlier draft of this story online and the Progress in print said the meeting was at 9 a.m.)