The candidates agree that the economic situation is one of the biggest issues facing Vancouver Island North but, of course, they don’t agree on the solutions.
Or even how to describe the problem.
Sue Moen of the Green Party believes the solution lies in taking the economy out of the hands of large corporations and encouraging small-scale entrepreneurship.
“I believe in re-localizing the economy to keep sustainable green jobs and keep the money home,” Moen said. “We don’t need a lot of huge industry.
“Bring the economy back to the smaller scale so that there are more people employed.”
The Green Party is focusing on small-scale economic enterprises that are more sustainable and efficient in the long run. Moen said there are jobs to be created in energy conservation.
“In energy efficiency there are jobs to create those efficiencies and in conserving that energy,” she said. “Once we’re there, we switch over (to alternative technologies) to replace the old fuels.”
Examples of alternative energy production include the tidal energy that the City of Campbell River is studying.
“I am very curious and I am watching what they are doing with the tidal energy up there in Campbell River,” Moen said.
There are also opportunities in geothermal energy and solar and wind power generation.
Moen agreed that it might surprise people that the Green Party has an economic policy focused on job creation.
“They may find it unusual but we’ve always thought that way,” she said. “(It’s) focused within the limits of our environment. That’s where we differ (from the other parties) significantly.”
Liberal candidate Mike Holland said economic recovery begins with a balanced federal budget. The Conservatives have not been good fiscal managers despite their reputation as such.
He said the federal Conservatives have been cutting taxes for corporations and increasing spending. There’s also 30,000 more people working for the federal government now than when Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to power.
“Canadians have watched the Conservatives run the economy into the ground,” Holland said. They turned a decade of surpluses into deficits.
“People forget what a great (economic) inheritance that Stephen Harper got,” Holland said. “The debt was paid down…the economy was thriving.”
The economy overlaps with a lot of things, Holland said, but jobs are the focus and in the North Island, jobs are hard to find.
“It’s kind of tough right up to Port Hardy and Campbell River,” he said. “You can walk downtown in Campbell River and (see) all the boarded up (businesses).”
But despite that, he said Campbell River is “doing great, considering that the pulp mill closed.”
The Conservatives did nothing to help Campbell River’s situation, Holland said.
“When the mill in Campbell River went down, Stephen Harper said it was a great buying opportunity,” he said.
But most workers at the mill “just wanted to pay their mortgages,” not invest in a pulp mill. Even with the resource industries rebounding, he said, you’re still not going to see the amount of jobs that there used to be in the past.
“With the change in technology in the forests and in mining, it’s not realistic to expect them to employ more people than when they did in the past,” Holland said.
Job creation opportunities lie in food production and in improving the energy grid with solar and wind power. Increase food production and increase revenues for farmers, Holland said.
“Why haven’t ranchers’ and farmers’ incomes shot up” even though the population of the world is increasing, Holland asked.
Meanwhile, Canada needs to invest in green jobs like the United States is doing, he said.
Even established industries, like coal production and fish farming can be expanded, as long as they are done with the appropriate environmental protection included, Holland said.
“But it has to be based on science,” he said.
NDP candidate Ronna-Rae Leonard said Vancouver Island North’s biggest economic issue is the same one facing all Canadians – affordability.
“There’s a lot of communities that are struggling and a lot of people who are struggling,” she said.
North Island communities have seen mill closures and jobs disappear and many have had to leave the region to find employment.
That compounds the problem of the high cost of health care, the lack of seniors care beds, expensive drug costs, high cost of home heating fuel and, on top of that, the HST. The defeated Conservative budget did nothing to alleviate any of those costs.
“That’s exactly what people are looking for – affordability,” Leonard said.
Seniors, in particular, are finding the cost of living difficult, she said.
“The government’s budget was going to be providing more for seniors but it was really a slap in the face of the people who built this country,” Leonard said.
The NDP will introduce measures like a pharmacare program and raise the Canada Pension Plan “so that people can afford to be retired,” she said.
For incumbent Conservative MP John Duncan, the economy is always the biggest issue.
“It’s always the economy,” he said. “People are looking around the globe and looking in their own backyard and everybody’s concerned about the fragility of the economy.”
Canada is doing “extremely well,” he said but our neighbour to the south is experiencing much grief so our good results can’t be taken for granted.
Duncan is anticipating a rebound in the forestry sector but in the North Island in particular, there’s been a lot of restructuring over the last couple of years, having a huge impact on the riding.
“The Catalyst Mill and the Elk Falls sawmill were huge losses,” he said. “Many of these people are working but many of those people aren’t working in the riding. We have to recognize that and we have to have more investment in Vancouver Island North.”
The best route to acquiring that investment, Duncan said, is to having a majority Conservative federal government and free enterprise-oriented provincial government.
Give the Conservatives the majority they seek and efforts to support Canadian forestry producers will continue. Joint federal/provincial efforts that secured increasing access to China for forest products will grow. That has kept 10 mills in B.C. going, Duncan said.
In the riding, the federal government put money into the Neucel mill in Port Alice to match the black liquor subsidy the AMerican government is giving their forest products.
Meanwhile, in Campbell River, the federal Conservatives have support intiatives to develop infrastructure in Campbell River like the highway and the airport as well as the cruise ship terminal.
“We put a lot of money into the quality of life in the Campbell River area,” Duncan said.
That has spin offs into a growing trend towards people working from their Campbell River homes for companies headquartered elsewhere.
“They have chosen to live in Campbell River because it’s a good place,” he said.