Wednesday March 28, 2012

Local Politics

First Blood

Chilliwack-Hope candidates go head-to-head in first debate

Staff/Voice file photo


Some election signage on Tyson Rd. appear to be blowing in the wind earlier this week.


hilliwack's three by-election candidates appeared on the CKNW Bill Good Show Wednesday.


BC NDP Chilliwack-Hope riding hopeful, Gwen O'Mahony opened on local issues, some of which center around affordability, healthcare and jobs.

"I feel I'm the best candidate to represent these issues that are the main issues of all the communities that make up Chilliwack-Hope," she said. "As a single parent, raising my two nieces, I feel it when MSP premiums go up, when ICBC rates go up."

O'Mahony, who's employed in healthcare as a community support worker, says she has a good perspective in the delivery of health care to families.

"I'm fighting for the middle class and the regular families because I'm a regular family," she said.

BC Liberal candidate Laurie Throness was next up to bat and opened by saying that since 1981 he has devoted his entire career to public service under a few different flags.

"I"ve worked for reformers, social credit conservatives, Chuck Strahl included, and now I'm proud to be part of the BC Liberal "Free Enterprise Coalition", because to me, party labels are of secondary importance where the best interests of the province are involved."

Throness was first to draw blood with the cutting remark that "whenever NDP governments have come to power, they've cost us billions in taxes and lost economic opportunity."

He admitted to Liberal shortcomings and seemed to want to massage the April 19th by-election into the May 2013 provincial election.

"We all make mistakes and there's always a reason to vote against the government but there are many reasons to vote for this government too," said Throness.

He showed just how adept he is at distancing himself from Chilliwack constituents by throwing on the Liberal cloak of invisibility and reminding people that they are voting for the current government in the by-election as opposed to voting for the candidate. 

Throness towed the party line, talking about achieving a balanced budget, low taxes and a low debt burden. But why mention unattainable goals? Obviously, the Liberals have never been able to do any of those things.

BC Conservative candidate John Martin rounded out the candidate's opening comments by publically flogging the Liberals before turning on the NDP.

"Not even the most loyal Liberal supporter could argue with a straight face that this government has earned a fourth mandate."

"It's legacy is incompetence and financial mismanagement," said Martin of the NDP. "No one wants to go back to the devastation of the 90s."

Martin referred to his party as the "common sense option".

With nothing to offer voters other than fear mongering, all we seem to hear from the Liberals is that a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for the NDP.

Some say politicians are only good at finding new ways to tax, but Martin contradicted that idiom saying that "a conservative vote is to make life more affordable by scrapping the carbon tax."

"It's a vote to secure the Fraser Valley air quality by opposing the Liberal incinerator. It's a vote to end the nickel and diming that this government is addicted to with never-ending increases to ICBC, BC Hydro, medical premiums, gas taxes. But most of all it's a vote to serve all British Columbians rather than the special interest groups that bankroll the Liberals and the NDP," said Martin.

Throness underscored Martin's "fear mongering" and remarked about holding on to power and about vote-splitting.

"I'm hearing that people are worried in this uncertain economy about the NDP getting in and I hear that constantly every day on the doorsteps, that we're just worried about the NDP taking power in this province," said Throness.

O'Mahony contradicts the fear factor saying "common sense measures" are what is needed and that what she hears the most are concerns around affordability and cost of living in Chilliwack.

"We will be putting out a fully-costed platform within the next year and my leader has been very clear about his promises going into this by-election," promised O'Mahony. "We will reinstate the bank tax so that we can reinstate grants to students and that falls under the need for jobs, we know that 76% of jobs in our province require specialization, skills and training, and we don't have any grants in this province after they were taken out in 2004."

Martin maintains the government wastes money continuously and that has to stop, and that he would look at why $6 million was paid for the legal fees of "a couple of operatives committing criminal offences while on the job."

"I would look at things like the $30 million payout to botched uranium deal that was solely the fault of government mismanagement. I would go after stuff like an $800,000 bill for a ridiculous pro-HST brochure that was so silly that it had to be shredded."

Throness was on the defensive more than off of it, admitting that some mistakes are "difficult to defend like the HST" but says it's important to keep the big picture in mind.

"I think the HST was a problem in the way we brought it in, not on policy, but on process," he said. "Our personal taxes are among the lowest in Canada, our corporate taxes are lowest in the G7, we have a Triple-A credit rating."

It's the Liberal belief that more jobs will be added to a staggering economy by keeping corporate taxes low.

Martin said the Conservatives were pleased when MLA John Van Dongen jumped a sinking Liberal ship and crossed the floor to join their Party this week.

"If John Van Dongen had resigned, the premier would not call an election for 6 months, just as was the case in Port Moody, so I think John Van Dongen made the wise choice the other day and I'm glad to have him aboard."

O'Mahony indicated vote-splitting wouldn't help her party. She cited the 2009 Chilliwack-Hope election as an example of how the polls weren't affected by a vote-split when she had 5,432 votes and Conservative Mulder she ended up with 1,157 to Barry Penner's 8,717.

"To win this election you have to work hard, there's no shortcuts and I want to earn every vote

She calls the teacher issue a "political wedge" that has been blown out of proportion due to the upcoming elections.

"The real part of the matter is there's a poisoned atmosphere between government and the teachers union, and basically, this issue should have been settled at the bargaining table and they couldn't do it, so our stand has always been the appointment of an independent mediator in the absence of the fact that true negotiation couldn't occur," she said.

Martin, a professor of criminology at UFV and belongs to the Federation of Post-Secondary Teachers, spoke about Bill C-22 saying that it was difficult to deal with the BCTF.

"Obviously they are very militant, often unreasonable, but the government needs to be a little more responsible than that and tearing up contracts, forcing the teachers to go to court to have those contracts reinstated is a bad way to do business and that's the type of thing that would give some legitimacy to the BCTF rather than the government handling it responsibly and professionally like they should be doing," he said.

When the question of teachers came up, Throness said when the government could afford it they gave teachers raises.

"We gave 16 per cent five years ago, and a $3700 signing bonus to every teacher, we're just not in the same financial position today and we can't afford to do that, so to appoint a mediator that would have the powers of arbitration would be costly and after 130 unions signing yes to a contract, we have to hold the line on this and we're doing that for the taxpayers of BC."

Regarding balancing the BC books, it was noted that Ontario recently brought down a tough budget, but Martin doesn't believe that would also be the case if Conservative leader John Cummins was elected premier in British Columbia.

"You've got to be fair to people in the public sector," said Martin. "There's people that haven't had a raise for years, they're not even getting the cost of living allowance, so obviously if we're in a net-zero situation, that's the fiscal reality that we're dealing with."

In light of the fact that vast sums will be added to the deficit next year, Martin referred to Throness' remark about a balanced budget in 2013 as irresponsible and dishonest.

"They're going to add $5 billion dollars to the debt, so I think we need to look very very carefully at that fiscal situation and we need to move incrementally toward a balanced budget."

Throness responded by saying that the Liberals were "responsibly renewing the infrastructure of the province" by beefing up the health, education and the transportation sectors.

"Hydro is renewing it's 50-year-old facilities which give us very cheap electricity, the third-lowest hydroelectric rates in North America, and a lot of that is not taxpayer-supported debt but is supported by revenue streams through crown corporations."

Martin wrapped up his portion of the interview saying he is running in the by-election because he wants to be a part of "significant change" in this province.

"For two long, the people have not had a choice and they've had to choose the lesser of two evils," he said. "In the last election, 48 per cent of the population stayed home because they couldn't bring themselves to vote for another Liberal government and they were not going to turn to the NDP."

Martin insists the Conservatives will make life more affordable, protect air quality and fix the justice system to keep the community safe and also that the "nickle and diming" has to stop.

"Both the NDP and the Liberals think they have the moral authority to spend money that is yet to be earned by a generation that is yet to be born," he said.

Throness droned like he was making a commercial for the BC Liberals, and swooped-in with an aim to snare some loose votes by referring to himself as as a "small-c Conservative." He was preoccupied with cheering on his own government throughout the "debate" and seemed to be speaking to general BC populace and not Chilliwack residents.

His claim to fame is that he worked for Chuck Strahl. He said he moved to Chilliwack in 1987 but has been invisible man. No one knows who he is.

When questioned by a caller on BC Rail, Throness said he wasn't familiar with the selling of BC Rail but did say that he was "encouraged by our government's fiscal discipline."

O'Mahony is what you'd call a "people's politician". She has her rivals beat hands-down on all local issues because she's so well-informed after having spent the last several years in the trenches shoulder-to-shoulder with the community at meetings, protests, marches and paying attention to people and educating herself on the issues. There isn't any plight, blight or sight that she can't talk on at length.

Martin's a great communicator. But he's been lost in the halls of academia and hasn't been boots-on-the-ground like O'Mahony. Martin's been writing articles on a regular basis for years in print media. But those awesome credentials may work against him. For example, a caller tried to pigeonhole him on a comical article he wrote some time ago on raising the voting age to 30. Martin insisted it was a satirical piece.

Martin and Throness will try to keep O'Mahony off her game and off local issues as much as possible because they know what they're up against "a pitt bull with lipstick", to borrow a phrase, and she knows her stuff.

If the Chilliwack-Hope by-election were to be decided on local issues then O'Mahony would be a shoe-in.


Copyright (c) 2012 The Valley Voice