North Island candidates talk business at chamber forum

The Campbell River Chamber of Commerce hosted the sold-out event and, naturally, the questions were business related

The North Island’s three candidates got down to business at Wednesday’s all-candidates meeting.

They didn’t have much choice.

The Campbell River Chamber of Commerce hosted the sold-out event and, naturally, the questions were business related.

“If we look at employment we can see that approximately 1,027,900 people were employed by small business in B.C. in 2011,” said Corby Lamb, the chamber’s vice-chair. “This accounts for 56 per cent of all private sector employment – second in the country – and 45 per cent of total employment including public sector.”

Lamb moderated the question and answer session at the Royal

Coachman with NDP incumbent Claire Trevena, Liberal candidate Nick Facey and Conservative representative Bob Bray.

Facing a largely pro-Liberal audience, Facey was able to open with one of the best lines of the luncheon.

“There’s nothing small about small business in B.C.,” he said.

Facey said the Liberals plan to offer small business owners a tax cut, to help them re-invest, and to streamline the bidding process for modest government contracts.

He also affirmed the party’s commitment to big business. Facey said the North Island region would benefit from a new mine and sawmill, and he touted the oil and gas sector, offering support for David Black’s plan to build an oil refinery in Kitimat that would bring in oil from the proposed Northern Gateway Enbridge pipeline.

Trevena didn’t back down from her party’s policy which is firmly against building an oil pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to the B.C. coast.

She also said big business has to pay its way, pointing out that Campbell River has “borne the brunt” of Catalyst abandoning the Elk Falls paper mill.

“Industry can’t get a free ride…and industry benefits from the services offered in the community,” said Trevena, who pointed out the NDP’s one per cent corporate tax hike would pay for training and education.

She also tried to appease the small business community by say the NDP offers stability and “no surprises,” citing the Liberal’s debacle of trying to implement the harmonized sales tax. Trevena also said the NDP would freeze small business taxes and all the campaign promises are accounted for, based on “restrained” economic growth.

For the most part, Bray preached the Conservatives’ very conservative platform: balance the budget, keep taxes low and create a business-friendly government. He also took a shot at the flip-flop on provincial and harmonized sales taxes.

“The PST isn’t business friendly,” he said. “There is some work to do.”

Bray also supported resource development and believes the risks involved in transporting oil are “exaggerated.” He said the Conservatives would implement plans to mitigate potential risks.

The subject of a balanced provincial budget provided one of the more interesting exchanges of the meeting.

Facey reaffirmed his party’s commitment to balancing the budget and to pay down debt so that, “we don’t burden the future generations with the decisions we make.”

Trevena countered that eight of the last 13 Liberal budgets have not been balanced and she questioned this year’s figures too.

“No one really thinks it’s a balanced budget,” she said.

 

Quick notes

 

  • On the subject of BC Ferries, Facey said government needs to find the roots of the problems and not patch it up with a “bandaid solution.”
  • Trevena reaffirmed the NDP plan to conduct a full audit of BC Ferries and to treat the ferry system like provincial highways.
  • Bray said his party would roll the three ferries boards into one and offer a tax credit for regular users.
  • In light of the ever-increasing skills shortage, all three candidates said their parties would invest in training programs and apprenticeships.
  • The only other all-candidates meeting before the May 14 election takes place on Monday, 6 p.m. at the Seniors Centre located at Campbell River Common Mall.

For more on the all-candidates meeting and Monday’s upcoming forum, see Paul Rudan’s column in Opinion.