The Chamber of Commerce hosted an all-candidates forum Wednesday for the riding of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows. (Special to The News)

The Chamber of Commerce hosted an all-candidates forum Wednesday for the riding of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows. (Special to The News)

Homelessness, health care chief topics for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows all-candidates forum

Forum hosted by the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce

The candidates for the riding of Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows came out swinging in yesterday’s Chamber of Commerce non-partisan all-candidates forum.

Ken Holland, past president of the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce, served as moderator for the hour and a half all-candidates meeting which was posted live online.

BC Liberal Party candidate Cheryl Ashlie, and incumbent BC NDP candidate Lisa Beare were both passionate in their opening remarks before addressing questions on homelessness, affordable housing, Indigenous economic reconciliation, and health care.

Chamber executive director, Flori Chaykowski, was in attendance and event coordinator Jania Banns kept track of the time – giving each candidate two minutes to respond to each question.

There were no opportunities for rebuttals.

Beare started off by saying British Columbians should be proud of how “we handled the pandemic together”. She emphasized the BC NDP have invested in health care, child care, seniors care, education and economic recovery and have a plan to take care of the province for the remainder of the pandemic.

Ashlie followed Beare in her opening remarks, reminding voters of her two terms on Maple Ridge city council, ending in 2014. Her track record, she said, included lobbying to remove red tape and supporting Chamber initiatives like mobile business licences. She touched on how small businesses are the backbone of the province and how COVID-19 has presented the province with “unprecedented times”. She accused the BC NDP government of creating an “us and them” environment and stressed the BC Liberals will focus on balanced budgets, consistent debt reduction and strong long-term fiscal management.

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The first question revolved around homelessness, asking each candidate what their position on the issue is and how each respective party will address the matter locally and on the provincial level.

Ashlie, the first to answer, acknowledged the issue is caused by multiple situations people face in life – like addiction, poverty, and mental health.

She said her party plans to get to the root causes of why people are homeless.

“We are going to implement the four pillars – where we are not just focusing on harm reduction, which we believe has gotten us in the situation that we are in right now with the warehousing of people without adequate supports,” but they will also examine harm reduction, enforcement, treatment and prevention, said Ashlie.

The BC Liberals, said Ashlie, will make sure there is treatment available for people and that police will also be joining forces with mental health workers.

She also emphasized, “what we are designing in our community is designed with the people within the community at the table,” giving examples of Alouette Heights and the new build at 228 Street and 119 Avenue, a BC Liberal project, she said is the site of a new six storey building that will be the future home of Community Services, along with 94 affordable rental apartments.

Beare accused the BC Liberals – who were in government from 1994 until 2017 – of a lack of investment in affordable housing, mental health services and treatment beds. Over the past three years, her government, she said, has delivered or are currently building 25,000 affordable homes across the province and have introduced the province’s first every poverty reduction strategy. She said they have also created the first ever minister position for mental health and addictions, along with increasing the number of treatment beds across B.C. and doubling youth treatment beds.

Candidates were also asked about what measures each would take to help small business thrive.

READ MORE: Candidates debate homelessness, budgets and more

Ashlie quicly pointed out her party would eliminate the small business income tax entirely. Other initiatives the BC Liberal Party would take, she said, included helping small businesses through the pandemic with personal protective equipment through WorkSafe BC surpluses, a full disclosure of WorkSafe premiums, a full review of property taxes to make sure small businesses can survive, appointing a non-partisan panel to reduce the red tape burden on small businesses, put a cap on online food delivery charges by third party apps at 15 per cent, and to permanently allow liquor delivery with take out to support the hospitality industry.

Beare said keeping people safe was the BC NDP Party’s priority. She noted that her party eliminated the MSP and bridge tolls.

Then the candidates were asked about what plans they have if elected to advance economic reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

Ashlie said that her party would work with Indigenous peoples, “to ensure we don’t saddle future generations with unresolved issues of rights and title.”

She said that the BC Liberal Party would work to clearly define how the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a non-legally-binding resolution passed by the U.N. in 2007, relates to land use decisions and existing cases regarding title held by Indigenous people and the right to self determination. Ashlie promised the BC Liberals would actively support the rights of First Nations to negotiate for the economic benefit of their people, promising additional supports from the province. They would provide a financing mechanism, she added, to enable First Nations to access affordable capital to co-invest in revenue generating economic opportunities.

The BC Liberals want to prioritize sector specific job training opportunities for Indigenous people and expedite Indigenous led Liquid Natural Gas export projects through collaborative agreements, said Ashlie.

Finally, Ashlie said, they would require every provincial employee to “undertake cultural safety and humility training” and work with the First Nations Health Authority to improve the health and wellness of Indigenous people across province, including the elimination of systemic racism from across the health care system.

Beare answered the question by telling voters how she has been personally able to advance reconciliation and economic development for First Nations throughout the province as the Minister of Tourism. She explained there are more than 400 Indigenous owned tourism businesses in B.C., but the number should be larger, she said. She noted many First Nations are looking to tourism as a source of economic development, and as a way to diversity their economy, adding it is one of the fastest growing areas of tourism in the province.

“I have the privilege of working with them to build partnership opportunities to work in collaboration with Indigenous Tourism BC,” said Beare.

“That is reconciliation in action,” she added.

One other topic of importance the candidates answered questions on was health care. They were asked how they, or their party, would address the shortage of doctors, or other medical services in the community.

Ashlie started by saying there are around 20,000 people across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows who do not have a family doctor. She complimented former BC Liberal Party leader Christy Clark and her GP For Me program, that Ashlie said helped bring doctors into the community. But, she said there are barriers for internationally trained doctors to come to our communities or to Canada, for that matter, and become practicing physicians.

“Many of our kids, because they cannot get residency here, leave and get trained in other countries,” explained Ashlie. And even though they are “very proficient and capable of coming back to our country and serving as doctors”, there are barriers against that.

“We are going to remove those barriers,” she said.

Beare said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how fragile and fragmented the system of care in B.C. has become, she said, after decades of under-funding.

She reminded voters that before the pandemic the BC NDP government had opened, and were in the process of opening, 21 new Urgent Primary Care Centres across the province, including one in Haney Place Mall.

“These didn’t exist before we took office,” she said.

Beare said by opening up the primary care centres they were able to quickly transition many of them to COVID-19 Response Centres in March when the pandemic hit and the temporary location on Laity Street in Maple Ridge is still serving as a functioning COVID-19 Assessment Centre. She reminded voters that her government brought in two primary care networks to connect people to doctors and other health care professionals, and that if reelected they will be bringing a second medical school to B.C.

There were numerous other questions with detailed answers which can be viewed on the chamber’s Facebook page.

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