The candidates running for the Maple Ridge-Mission riding locked virtual horns in an online all-candidates meeting Wednesday afternoon.
The NDP’s Bob D’Eith and Liberal Chelsa Meadus spoke for almost 90 minutes in an event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce serving Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. Matt Trenholm for the Green Party could not take part.
Chamber past president Ken Holland was moderator, and started with the contentious issue of homelessness, asking candidates how their parties would address the matter locally.
D’Eith said when he and MLA Lisa Beare took office in 2017, Andrew Wilkinson and BC Liberals had left Maple Ridge with a tent city, growing homeless and a divided community.
“Where are we now? We’ve housed over 100 people in temporary supportive housing, and the tent city is resolved, and people are starting to work together,” said D’Eith, adding that a new youth safe house is an example of the new cooperation in Maple Ridge.
The NDP is also committed to the city’s request for more addiction treatment beds in the city, he said.
“So much so, that the party platform actually singled out Maple Ridge as a target for treatment opportunities,” said D’Eith, noting the government has been working closely with Mayor Mike Morden on the issue.
He said homelessness is a complex issue that involves poverty reduction, supports for mental health and addiction, and crime control and prevention.
Meadus answered that as a city councillor in Maple Ridge she was hearing about treatment facilities in Maple Ridge for the first time. She said that lack of collaboration is a problem, and the new shelter facilities were not done with input from citizens and businesses.
“Right now we are warehousing people, and everyone in this audience can attest that it is not working,” Meadus said.
Meadus also said the NDP has created more shelter spaces than the city needed to clear the camp.
“You created 50, 100 beds for really 14 people,” she said. “Completely unnecessary, and we’ve all paid the price – neighbourhoods have paid the price, and citizens have paid the price.”
She said Liberal plan is to bring more treatment, harm prevention and enforcement. She said there is a lack of safety in the city, so council stepped up and create a CSSI (Community Social Safety Initiatives) program. The city had to step up and do a job the province should have, she said.
“Homelessness is not getting better, it’s getting worse. We need a new approach, and we need a health care approach,” she said.
What do you believe is the biggest issue facing small business in Maple Ridge-Mission, and what will your party do to address this issue, asked Holland.
D’Eith said COVID-19 is the largest challenge, and they have offered support in the form of tax relief, BC Hydro rebates, allowing restaurants purchase alcohol at wholesale prices, and there will be $300 million in grants for small businesses in economic recovery plan.
Meadus said Maple Ridge had a safety and security problem, and then was hit by COVID-19.
She said the Liberal party would eliminate the two per cent small business tax, and eliminate the provincial sales tax for one year to create more spending, with an approach to “put more money in your pocket.”
“The NDP want you to feel guilty because you have a business, and you employ people, and you sustain them so they can raise their children and buy a home,” she said. “Don’t feel guilty about it, we need businesses and we need employers in this community…”
D’Eith said Liberals are working for people at the top, and want to give tax breaks to the wealthy and big corporations.
“Getting rid of PST, what does that do? That actually helps people who might want to buy a yacht, or buy an expensive vehicle,” said D’Eith. “For people who want to buy groceries, the PST is already exempt. For people who want to buy clothes for their children, it’s already exempt. For people who want to buy car insurance, it’s already exempt.”
“And it would take $8 billion out of our revenue at a time when we need that money most,” said D’Eith.
He said the NDP has promised a one-time benefit of $1,000 for families, which will be spent at local businesses.
Meadus responded the PST applies to things such as cell phones, toilet paper and work clothes.
“To say that PST is only going to affect those people buying a yacht is completely out of touch with what consumers buy.”
She said the Liberals will open the auto insurance market to private competition against ICBC, which will bring prices down.
“You can give everyone $1,000, but you might spend yours at the casino, I might put mine in the bank,” she said, whereas a PST cut will only be a benefit when people spend money, and is “more economic and fair.”
The candidates were asked how each party’s platform will affect taxes on businesses and homeowners?
D’Eith said his party believes in investing in communities by building hospitals, schools, daycare spaces.
He said the NDP would not be increasing taxes on middle class families.
“We won’t kid British Columbians, the deficit is currently $12.8 billion, and the budget won’t be balanced overnight,” added D’Eith. “Our priority right now is helping people, and helping businesses in their lives and their livelihoods throughout this pandemic.”
Meadus said the current government has downloaded financial responsibilities.
“You had a camp you had to clean up. That cost you $1 million, even though it was on provincial land. We all paid for that on our local property taxes,” she said. “The MSP that is supposedly eliminated just got passed down to the employer, and for the city of /Maple Ridge alone was about $500,000 that you as a taxpayer had to pay. “
Candidates were asked how they will address the shortage in doctors and other medical services?
D’Eith said the NDP would put a new medical school in Surrey which will be “transformative,” for health care, and noted the new urgent and primary care centre in Maple Ridge’s Haney Place Mall will improve connections to doctors.
Meadus said the NDP promised to hire 200 doctors, but only managed to recruit two. The Liberals would attract foreign physicians by allowing qualifications for international doctors to be recognized in the province, cutting red tape.
She added that the NDP has been taking credit for facilities started by the previous Liberal government, such as the the new MRI machine at Ridge Meadows Hospital.
“As a city councillor, I have myself cut many ribbons on project that I did not start,” she said.
There were numerous other questions with detailed answers which can be viewed at on the chamber’s Facebook page.