B.C. Green Party candidates Kathleen Harris, left, Lia Versaevel and Glenn Sollitt, B.C. NDP incumbents Leonard Krog and Doug Routley and NDP candidate Sue Powell participate in Nanaimo’s first all-candidates’ meeting Tuesday at Dover Bay Secondary School. (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

NDP, Greens debate education at Nanaimo’s first all-candidates meeting

B.C. Liberals decline invitations to participate at debate hosted by Nanaimo District Teachers’ Union

Two out of three parties debated education and other issues at Nanaimo’s first all-candidates meeting.

Three B.C. NDP candidates and three Green Party candidates attended the event Tuesday night, hosted by the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association at Dover Bay Secondary School. All three local B.C. Liberal candidates declined invitations.

At the NDP table were Nanaimo MLA Leonard Krog, Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley and Parksville-Qualicum candidate Sue Powell. Representing the Greens were Nanaimo candidate Kathleen Harris, Nanaimo-North Cowichan’s Lia Versaevel and Parksville-Qualicum’s Glenn Sollitt.

The debate was attended by almost 150 people and was moderated by Kip Wood, a former president of the teachers’ association. Organizers had indications two days prior that no Liberal candidates would be attending, but still set up an extra table and chairs at the front of the room.

“This empty table is the absolute symbol of an arrogant government that deserves to be defeated…” Krog said. “I am astonished and disgusted that tonight, when you have an opportunity to discuss one of the great equalizers in our society, the place where everyone is given an opportunity to succeed and develop their talents and their skills, the B.C. Liberals don’t have the fortitude to come out here and debate public education.”

The first question was about education funding, and Krog said his party is “absolutely committed” to restoring sufficient funding provincewide.

“It was this premier as minister of education that gutted public education. It’s this premier that set us down the path to the Supreme Court of Canada…” he said. “How many of your tax dollars were wasted fighting that fight? Christy Clark now pretends she’s thrilled in the guidance of the Supreme Court. Unspeakable.”

Sollitt pointed to the B.C. Greens’ platform that would increase education spending by $1.5 billion by 2020.

“Education is the absolute premier plank on our platform and we know that investing in education is the best return on our money. It’s the best investment we can make as a government,” Sollitt said.

He noted that the Greens recognize that education is more expensive to provide in some areas of the province than in others, and would channel money accordingly. He said that would help the Nanaimo school district, for example, in making capital upgrades to deal with high levels of lead in the drinking water at several schools.

“Are you kidding me?” Powell replied. “Here we have kids in our schools who are drinking water that is contaminated with higher levels of lead and we’re going to go and see what we can find in the budget? If I was working somewhere, WorkSafe B.C. would ensure that that was changed today.”

Another topic of debate was childcare. Krog said $10-per-day childcare is part of and NDP plan that would mean healthy, safe childcare that’s affordable, accessible and available. Green candidates lauded free daycare for children up to age three and Harris also likes a Green promise of more money for families with a stay-at-home parent.

“There’s something called attachment that is one of the foundations of being a human being,” Harris said, adding that it’s “fundamental” for children to be at home in their early years. “So if we’re brushing that off as something unrealistic, I think we have some various concerns.”

The fentanyl crisis led to some disagreement between the parties. Powell blamed Liberal cutbacks to counselling, detox and treatment beds.

“We have a system that is not a system. We have people dying…” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re responsible for this. The Liberal government is responsible for people dying because they took a battery of services away from the people that needed them.”

Harris said it’s a cop-out to blame the government, but said overdoses are linked to mental health and said that’s an issue where greater commitment is needed.

Versaevel said the opioid crisis needs serious conversations.

“We need to increase the value that people place in themselves, the value that children see in themselves, to know that there are supports and alternatives,” she said. “We can build addiction treatment centres for years. We need prevention.”

Various environmental topics were discussed. Versaevel said people in the region are “extremely conscious of sustainability issues,” but more can be done on that front.

“What we need to do is help people understand how easy it is. How easy it is to change our behaviour, to have clean air, clean water and a reduced impact of carbon emissions,” she said.

Routley said British Columbia needs a different view of its energy future than what the B.C. Liberals offer, and praised his party’s Power B.C. plan.

“We want to take the carbon tax money and redirect it into actual measures that would reduce emissions like retrofitting for public buildings, massive investment in transit and renewable energy,” he said.

Some of the other topics that were discussed included post-secondary education, tax policy, affordable housing and B.C. Ferries.

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greg.sakaki@nanaimobulletin.com