Top row, left to right: Tony Harris of the B.C. Liberals and Justin Greenwood of the B.C. Conservatives; bottom row, left to right: Michele Ney of the B.C. Green Party and Sheila Malcolmson of the B.C. NDP. GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin

Nanaimo byelection candidates condemn legislature staff expenses

All-candidates’ meeting was held Thursday at Beban Park social centre

With a legislature staff expense uproar in Victoria the week before the Nanaimo byelection, candidates were quick to offer their condemnations.

Accountability within government was one of a range of themes that came up during an all-candidates meeting Thursday night at the Beban Park social centre, hosted by the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce.

All six candidates participated: Justin Greenwood of the B.C. Conservatives, Tony Harris of the B.C. Liberals, Sheila Malcolmson of the B.C. NDP, Michele Ney of the B.C. Green Party, Robin Richardson of the VanIsle Province Party and Bill Walker of the B.C. Libertarians.

All six indicated they were upset by the spending scandal at the legislature.

“Every day we are learning more about the culture of entitlement with the B.C. Liberals. Another example where we cannot go back,” said Malcolmson. “Between the clerk’s office and the dirty money laundering scandal, people are talking with disgust and shock about the revelation and [demanding] that the B.C. Liberals come clean about what they knew and reveal what’s at the root of this.”

Harris said the clerk expenses need to be addressed aggressively “with all parties’ support” and said there needs to be an audit and a call for transparency with all legislative expenses publicly available online.

“I know that I certainly wouldn’t tolerate this in my business and I certainly wouldn’t tolerate it in any of the non-profits that I work with,” he said. “So you can rest assured that if I’m in Victoria, I absolutely won’t put up with any behaviour like the behaviour that’s been alleged down in Victoria.”

Ney said she found the situation “appalling” and said she wants an audit done to “clean out” the legislature so there are trustworthy politicians there.

“This is people’s hard[-earned] money that they’ve taxed, that you’ve given to the government,” she said.

Greenwood said “transparency equals accountability” and called for the legislature expenses to be open for the investigation so that all the dollars are accounted for. Richardson said the audit should go back 20 years and any “guilty” parties “should pay back to taxpayers the money that they’ve stolen.” Walker said entitlement and a lack of transparency is “pretty common practice” in governments and said if there was fraud, it should lead to charges and even jail time.

“Everyone knows that if they fiddle the books that way and do that sort of thing, there’s going to have to be repercussions.”

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The all-candidates’ meeting also included discussion of supportive housing, crime and transportation. The format of the debate allowed for rebuttals, so there were a few instances of candidates engaging in back-and-forth discussion.

Greenwood was asked about the president of the Nanaimo-Ladysmith Conservative Electoral District Association Mark MacDonald endorsing the B.C. Liberals and cautioning against vote-splitting.

“Obviously a B.C. Liberal supporter and as he said in his retraction, he spoke on his own and not [for] the party and that’s just part of the game of what we’re doing right now,” Greenwood said.

Harris responded, saying he’s receiving support in the community because he’ll strongly represent Nanaimo whereas “Mr. Greenwood’s actually from Vancouver; he lives in Vancouver and people want a representative from Nanaimo for Nanaimo to work on Nanaimo’s needs and I’m a strong voice.”

“I guess Mr. Harris’s stance of not getting personal went out the window,” Greenwood replied, explaining that though he lives in Langley, he’s from the Island, born in Victoria, lived in Saanich and is staying at his brother’s house in Nanaimo.

“I’ve already made it publicly clear … that I’ll move to Nanaimo if elected and if you have a problem with that, then obviously that’s the latest issue you have and that’s what we have going on in Victoria right now with this whole elitism and entitlement.”

Immediately after that, the two frontrunners traded barbs as Malcolmson was asked if there are any files on which she could work well with the B.C. Liberals and she made a show of being stumped.

“Don’t take my lack of affinity with the B.C. Liberal platform, which I strongly believe has damaged our community, as a lack of [intention] to work well with almost all others,” she said.

Harris said, “I, on the other hand, find it quite simple to find commonality” and mentioned how his calls for a new ICU at the hospital and expansion at École Hammond Bay school were quickly funded by the NDP.

“Byelections do not change policies like that,” Malcolmson responded, saying that both projects had been in the works for months or years.

“The NDP has been working on [the school expansion] since March, that’s when the school district developed their plan, same with the ICU. Your party had the opportunity to fix it in 2013 and refused to.”

RELATED: Nanaimo byelection candidates outline their priorities

Candidates used their closing statements to make another pitch to voters. Walker said there’s too much government and government intervention and it stifles freedom and productivity.

“I want less government and lower taxes and I think most hard-working, responsible people are for this,” he said.

Richardson reminded voters they have a “unique opportunity” to elect a VanIsle Province Party MLA.

“If you elect me, I will hold the balance of power for the next three years and I will demand in the budget a whole lot of things that are in my platform, plus others that have been mentioned by some of these other candidates,” he said.

Ney said Nanaimo can be leaders in a clean economy with science and tech investments and can revitalize its downtown core with small and mid-size businesses, affordable housing and modern transportation.

“Finally our voice can be heard and only I can bring a strong voice, a true voice. I will not be a backbencher,” she said.

Malcolmson referenced the “B.C. Liberals’ record of cutting services in Nanaimo and hurting people here” and said the NDP has brought health care and education spending and affordable housing.

“We are indeed in the most important byelection of our lives,” she said.

Harris said he’ll fight for Nanaimo and always be there for Nanaimo and said that’s why he got into politics, “to really raise Nanaimo’s profile and deliver a message and aspirational thinking towards the future to solve complex challenges of Vancouver Island north of the Malahat.”

Last word went to Greenwood, who said his party will make life more affordable through measures like scrapping the carbon tax and reforming ICBC.

“We can bring that to you and we are yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s B.C. Conservatives,” he said. “And I am a Justin you can trust in.”

To watch the debate in its entirety, click here.

RELATED: Nanaimo byelection candidates get their first chance to debate



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