Candidates discuss range of issues at meeting

NANAIMO – Many topics discussed at Wednesday evening's all-candidates meeting.

Parksville-Qualicum NDP candidate Barry Avis addresses the crowd at the all-candidates meeting held Wednesday at Dover Bay Secondary School.

Parksville-Qualicum NDP candidate Barry Avis addresses the crowd at the all-candidates meeting held Wednesday at Dover Bay Secondary School.

Child poverty, a new health-care delivery model, food sustainability and labour relations with teachers were some of the questions asked at Wednesday evening’s all-candidates meeting.

Organized by the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, the meeting at Dover Bay Secondary School was for candidates in all three of the area’s constituencies – Nanaimo, Nanaimo-North Cowichan, and Parksville-Qualicum – the only all-candidates meeting that included all ridings.

More than 100 people, including teachers, retired teachers and medical staff, showed up to ask questions of candidates, all of whom showed up except for the Liberal candidates in each riding.

On education funding, David Coupland, Conservative candidate for the Parksville-Qualicum riding, said his party is committed to stable funding and getting resources into classrooms.

Nanaimo Conservative candidate Bryce Crigger criticized the NDP’s promise to set aside $100 million for a needs-based, non-repayable student grants program.

He said this program has hidden costs not factored in – for example, revenue lost by the government through additional tuition tax credit could equal more than $30 million.

As for labour relations with teachers, Nanaimo-North Cowichan Conservative candidate John Sherry called for better relations between government and the teachers’ union and engaging in meaningful, passionate dialogue with teachers.

“We’re not the enemy, we’ve got a common goal,” he said. “We really have to do things better.”

Nanaimo-North Cowichan NDP incumbent Doug Routley said the key to negotiations with teachers is having all the working conditions on the table – the teachers’ union has repeatedly asked that issues such as class size limits and the number of special needs students be returned to teacher contracts.

Ian Gartshore, Green Party candidate for Nanaimo, said to have any labour peace, decisions need to be made at the local level.

Another question was on child poverty.

The Green Party’s solution is a guaranteed livable income – people below the poverty line would qualify for a subsidy, said Mayo McDonough, Nanaimo-North Cowichan candidate.

Parksville-Qualicum NDP candidate Barry Avis said his party is calling for improvements to childcare services and a child bonus plan – families would be given up to $70 per month per child.

A question coming from the nurses in attendance was about whether candidates would review a new care model to be implemented at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital that nurses say will result in fewer registered and licensed practical nurses and more care aides.

Nanaimo NDP incumbent Leonard Krog said care aids don’t have the same training as nurses and the model might work, but he’s not convinced unless there is hard evidence of it working elsewhere.

“Any wise government would review this decision,” he said.

Coupland said he would also support a review and that this issue speaks to a lack of local input in the decision-making process.

As for food sustainability, Avis said the province needs to ensure lands in the Agricultural Land Reserve are used for food production – he estimates that changing the amount of food grown locally from two per cent to 10 per cent should inject $10 million into local economies.

And for job creation, Anna Paddon, independent candidate in Nanaimo-Cowichan, suggested stimulating the economy by building a tunnel crossing between Nanaimo-North Cowichan and Richmond and a bridge between Gabriola Island and Duke Point.

Nanaimo independent Brunie Brunie believes the answer is in more local food production.