B.C. Liberals candidate Kathleen Jones, left, NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson and B.C. Green Party candidate Lia Versaevel debate the issues Wednesday at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

B.C. Liberals candidate Kathleen Jones, left, NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson and B.C. Green Party candidate Lia Versaevel debate the issues Wednesday at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo candidates contrast priorities at live-streamed debate

Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce hosted candidates’ forum Wednesday

Provincial election candidates kept a civil tone at a forum tonight, though they had some different ideas about priorities for Nanaimo and for B.C.

The Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce hosted a live-streamed debate Wednesday at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre with all three of the riding’s candidates in attendance.

The first question of the night asked candidates their No. 1 priority, and each of the women gave different answers – NDP incumbent Sheila Malcolmson talked about the pandemic and recovery, the B.C. Liberal Party’s Kathleen Jones pointed to the opioid crisis and the Green Party’s Lia Versaevel mentioned affordable housing.

Malcolmson suggested the pandemic was the primary reason for the early election call.

“The work that is ahead for British Columbia both fighting the pandemic and building back better on the other side is unprecedented…” she said. “Who’s best to fight the pandemic and build the economy back better so that it works for people? We can’t go back to the B.C. Liberals and their record of harming people in our community.”

Jones said Nanaimo has “deteriorated dramatically” under the NDP’s leadership and talked about overlapping issues of crime, homelessness, addictions and other mental health concerns.

“The B.C. Liberals have a plan to restore us to safe neighbourhoods, help our most vulnerable, restore confidence and rebuild B.C.,” she said.

Discussing the opioid crisis specifically, Jones said it’s about treating the causes and preventing harm and mentioned abstinence programs, dry and wet housing, treatment and recovery programs, mental health supports and an integrated response program with police.

Malcolmson rebutted that the previous government may have supported harm reduction, but made cuts to treatment.

“If the B.C. Liberals believed that this was the most important issue for our community and for our province, they would have made investments in mental health and addictions during the 16 years that they were in power sufficient to prevent the total emergency that we’re in right now,” Malcolmson said.

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Asked about crime, Jones said the B.C. Liberals were promising 200 more police officers, 100 psychiatric nurses and mental health social workers and 40 additional Crown prosecutors, among other responses.

Malcolmson mentioned situation tables for police and other agencies to try to break cycles one individual at a time, and other social services her party has promised including wraparound supports at a navigation centre as well as a mental health outreach team.

“The impacts that we now see on our streets are unacceptable both to the neighbours of homeless and street disorder but also the people experiencing that,” she said.

Versaevel said she’s seen Band-Aids applied when long-term, comprehensive solutions are needed.

“This is directly related to the economic crisis that people are facing, the crisis around housing and affordability and the lack of vision and hope that people are placing in the government as it currently stands,” she said.

She said the Greens are committed to creating affordable, livable homes and said there are opportunities for empty buildings to be renovated or brought to code. She said the file will take co-operation across levels of government and across party lines.

“Even before [the pandemic] people were finding that it was almost impossible to find a place to rent as well as to meet all the other expectations for their families,” Versaevel said.

Jones added that the B.C. Liberals are committed to increasing the supply of housing, and would incentivize construction, offer tax relief to help people keep their homes through COVID-19 times, try to eliminate red tape to speed up development and building permits, and work with municipalities on co-op housing and other affordable housing models.

In their closing statements, Jones stressed safe streets and repeated a promise to advocate for a tertiary hospital and Malcolmson said the NDP would try to help the public education and long-term care sectors recover from past service cuts. Versaevel directed her comments to young voters, students, “children who are marching for climate change, people who are participating in extinction rebellions … this is the party that will lead you into the future.”

Advance voting takes place Oct. 15-21 and election day is Oct. 24.

READ ALSO: B.C. leaders tested in the only TV election debate of 2020

READ ALSO: Nanaimo candidates will debate provincial issues at a local level


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