A week before the May 14 provincial election, local hopefuls squared off in an all-candidates’ meeting about public education at Thomas Haney secondary on Tuesday night, but Marc Dalton missed it.
The incumbent Liberal Maple Ridge-Mission MLA, and former teacher, explained that he was involved with “campaign activities” in Mission on Tuesday night, including meeting with seniors groups.
“There are only so many days to the election, and this is a tight one.”
Dalton said he has attended three all-candidates’ events already, and will be at a fourth in Mission on Thursday.
“I’ve definitely been available.”
That left Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows candidate Dr. Doug Bing to defend the Liberal Party’s record on education, and it was regularly assailed by NDP candidates Elizabeth Rosenau for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows and Doug Bocking for Maple Ridge-Mission.
Bocking charged that the provincial government’s two largest responsibilities are health and education, and said, “We believe the B.C. Liberals have failed to protect public education.”
He said the NDP will increase education spending, “turning back the clock on more than a decade of neglect.”
Rosenau added that “classroom conditions have deteriorated drastically over the last 10 years.”
She said she knows teachers who spend their own money to buy classroom materials and supplies. At the same time, schools spend millions in carbon taxes, which the government has turned over to large corporations.
“Our children deserve better,” she said.
Bing, running against Rosenau in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, said education spending is at a record $5.3 billion, and has risen 29 per cent over the past 12 years.
“The problem is the money is used inefficiently,” he said. “There is enough money going into the system.”
He added that the NDP plans to tax the wealthy or tax businesses is just a different way of cutting up the “pie” of the province’s economy, while a Liberal government is more focussed on “growing the pie.”
Bing also commented on eight job actions by teachers in the past 15 years.
“Is this putting children first?” he asked. “Let’s get politics out of the classroom.”
Green Party candidates Alex Pope of Maple Ridge-Mission and Michael Patterson of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows were both at the meeting, and conceded that their party is unlikely to form government, but has a goal of electing four MLAs to bring the Green perspective to Victoria.
Manuel Pratas, Conservative for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, spoke about the critical need for education, from the perspective of a parent of a 19-year-old son, and said his party would support post-secondary education by offering tax credits to university students.
“Grade 12 right now doesn’t mean a thing,” Pratas said. “You’ve got to go to university, and you’ve got to do something.”
Chad Thompson, the Conservative candidate for Maple Ridge-Mission, also missed the event.
Asked who won, and who lost, members of the public were most impressed by the veteran politician Bing, a city councillor, and the well-spoken Rosenau.
“Elizabeth talked the most on-topic, and gave direct, fact-based answers,” said David Parent.
“I was disappointed that Marc Dalton didn’t show,” he added.
Another man said the night’s debates didn’t change his rankings of the candidates.
“I had a one-two-three-four, and they’re still number one-two-three-four,” said a man who did not want to give his last name.
“The doctor expressed himself quiet well, but he’s probably the most practiced politician.”
June Richards attended with her daughter, Sarah, who is in Grade 12.
“Now I’m more confused – they all said the same things, basically,” lamented Sarah. “It’s my first time voting. I don’t know who to vote for, and I don’t want to make an uninformed vote.”
Her mother agreed that there was a lot of overlap in comments, as candidates answered questions from the floor.
“There were some good points made,” said June. “I saw the coverage in the paper, but it’s good to see them in person.”
From the meeting:
Quotes from the all-candidates’ meeting at THSS:
• Bocking on skills training:
“We have a lot of people who need jobs, and we have jobs that need people.”
“I don’t see education as a cost burden the way some people do. I see it as an investment in citizens.”
• Patterson on private schools
“The big problem is, there is a perception that there is degradation of the private school system.”
• Pope, on the relevance of school boards
“They should have more power to make decisions for their communities.”
• Pratas, opposing centralization of school boards
“They can look after people, the way they have for years.”
• Bing on unwarranted criticism of the education system
“Would we be doing as well as we are if it were true?” he asked. “We are the forefront of education in this world really, and I don’t think we have anything to be embarrassed about.”