All candidate’s forum, read on

  • May. 9, 2005 8:00 p.m.

Questions, questions, questions
Since there is not going to be an all candidates meeting on the islands, the Queen Charlotte District Teachers’ Association and the QCI Chamber of Commerce put together a list of questions they’d like the candidates to answer.

We had hoped to publish full-text versions of all the candidates’ responses here Monday night, and have responses here from Hondo Arendt, Bill Belsey and Gary Coons. Their answers are included now, and we’ll ad the responses from Dave Johns of the Marijuana Party when we finish processing them, likely Tuesday afternoon.

1. Will your party continue to reduce both business and personal taxes to ensure that BC remains competitive with its neighbours and an attractive place to invest and work?
2. How would your government work to increase employment opportunities on the islands?
3. What is your position on the privatization of Crown Corporations? What is your position on reversing the process?

Bill Belsey
The BC Liberal government doubled the small business tax threshold to $400,000 to allow more businesses to benefit from the lower small business rate, and we reduced the corporate income tax rate from 16.5 per cent to 13.5 per cent. The BC Liberal government also provided significant personal income tax relief both on its first day in office and in the most recent budget. As a result, British Columbia has gone from one of the highest to lowest tax jurisdictions in Canada.
A BC Liberal government will launch a comprehensive review of B.C.’s tax policies and legislation, including the provincial sales tax, to develop options for simplifying, streamlining and enhancing fairness.
I will work to create a permanent Small Business Roundtable, to provide ongoing advice to government on making B.C. the most business-friendly jurisdiction in Canada.
I will also work with the new B.C. Competition Council to review B.C.’s competitiveness in every sector and region. The Council will identify barriers to growth and opportunities for improvements for government and the private sector alike.
Over the past year, the BC Liberal government’s plan to revitalize our economy helped to generate 4,600 jobs in the North Coast/Nechako – an 11.3% growth, second best of all BC regions.
As MLA I will continue to work with ALL communities to find common ground that would lead to an Island community forest initiative. A forest initiative that encompasses forest tenure, long term supply to island saw mills, training for those seeking employment and revenue generation. Only after the island log supply is met will there be logs available for export from the community initiative.
I will work with the B.C. Competition Council to recommend a long-term strategy for reviving and securing B.C.’s pulp and paper industry.
And I will work with BC Ferries to deliver three new ships and improved ferry service between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert, along the mid-Coast, and Queen Charlottes.
The BC Liberals will lead Canada’s fight for a fair resolution to the softwood lumber dispute, and will work with First Nations to provide new opportunities for revenue sharing and increase Aboriginal participation in B.C.’s forest industry.
We believe that British Columbia’s crown corporations serve the interests of taxpayers well. The BC Liberal government has already passed legislation guaranteeing that BC Hydro will remain in public hands. We will not privatize ICBC. And BC Rail remains a provincial crown corporation, retaining ownership of the tracks, railbed and rights of way.
This is in marked contrast to the NDP, which actually sold BC Rail’s telecommunications branch to a Burmuda-based company co-founded by the son of cosmetics queen Estee Lauder for $55 million. And they considered selling a “big ticket symbolic asset – an activity that government should no longer/might no longer be involved with”. The list included BC Hydro, BC Rail, BC Ferries, BC Transit, ICBC, the West Coast Express, Skeena Cellulose and Columbia Power.
70% of all visitors to BC visit the Vancouver coastal area and mountains. If elected, what would your government do to encourage the tourists to visit the rest of the province, particularly these islands.

Bill Belsey
Starting this year, the BC Liberals will increase funding for Tourism BC to double tourism marketing in B.C. and around the world – a measure the NDP intends to reverse. We will also increase tourism’s share of the hotel room tax from 1.65% to 3% by 2008, to ensure its marketing revenues grow as the tourism industry grows.
We provided each of BC’s six tourism destination regions $2 million more for marketing their tourism products. In addition, we will work with the Union of BC Municipalities to market tourism throughout BC, with $25 million in new funding.
We will continue to promote summer and winter tourism with domestic marketing campaigns across BC and implement the BC Resort Strategy, to create new and expanded all-season resorts throughout BC, with $4 billion in new investment.
In contrast the NDP position has the North Coast hotels and tourism businesses shocked and dismayed that their platform document released recently would slash a much needed $43 million increase to the provincial tourism budget. In the words of the Council of Tourism Associations of British Columbia “We are flabbergasted the NDP would literally rip the heart out of BC’s tourism budget to pay for her promises”. There are hundreds of employees across my riding and surrounding area that depend on the strong tourism component of our North Coast communities.
And the BC Liberals will invest $16.5 million more over the next three years to improve park conservation and safety with up to 50 new Conservation Officers and Park Rangers and a new BC Conservation Corps.
1. How will your government ensure that the BC timber sales for small business are protected and expanded to allow greater opportunities for small businesses?
2. New forestry legislation is viewed by many as a framework for big companies to have control over forestry resources. Will you commit to consulting with small business and northern communities to better understand concerns and the long-term implications of changes such as the removal of cut levels tied to communities.
3. How would your government implement policies to stop the export of raw logs and require local value-added processing?

Bill Belsey
A BC Liberal government will expand the community forests program, with new stumpage arrangements to help new entrants in the forestry industry. We have already provided opportunities for smaller operators, community forests, and First Nations, by reallocating 20 per cent of the timber supply from large licensees. Fair compensation has been paid to affected large licensees.
In addition we will continue with our offer to the Haida that includes both volume and funding to start up an independent logging operation.
Under the NDP BC became the highest cost producer of fibre in North America. According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the NDP policy and taxation regimes made BC’s forest industry “smaller and less competitive. Under the NDP’s own admission, the Forest Practices Code added at least $1 billion in costs to the forest industry for no public benefit.
New forestry legislation is viewed by many as a framework for big companies that have control over forestry resources. Will you commit to consulting with small business and northern communities to better understand concerns and the long-term implications of changes such as the removal of cut levels tied to communities.
A BC Liberal government will always consult with small business and northern communities about issues that affect them. Land Us Planning on our land base provides greater stability, improved long-term forest management, and confirms public ownership of Crown lands.
In the last four years, 29 community forest opportunities have been extended across British Columbia to give local communities new control and opportunities in forestry.
Without question, the BC Liberals prefer timber harvested in British Columbia be sold here. Allowing some log exports creates employment in parts of the province that are struggling. In the Northwest, about 2,000 forest workers are currently working who would otherwise be unemployed.
The overall policy on raw log exports is the same as the previous NDP government. We do not permit immediate export of wood; there is a process in place that must be followed by putting up the wood for sale in BC first.
If there is no bidder/buyer, then a request may be made to export the wood.
The power of a strong economy created by the BC Liberal government will help stop the export of raw logs. Our plan is working. The volume of raw logs exports has declined under the BC Liberal government. Raw log exports now amount to less than 1.5 per cent of the total Annual Allowable Cut.

What is your stand on lifting of the moratorium for oil and gas exploration in Hecate Strait?

Bill Belsey
The BC Liberals have always said we would only proceed with development of the offshore if it could be done scientifically sound and environmentally safe. In addition our commitment to meet with coastal communities and First Nations before any decision is made to lift the moratorium remains. We have met with Haida representative over the Oil and Gas issues. We have included Island residence in fact finding tours funded by the Province to other regions where oil extraction is being practiced.
The Union of BC Municipalities has overwhelmingly supported lifting the moratorium on offshore oil and gas and 45 individual communities have passed resolutions supporting offshore development.
Offshore oil and gas development has the potential to create billions of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs for British Columbians.

If elected, will your government ensure health care clinics are funded for small communities without hospitals, on the QCI islands and other northern communities?

Bill Belsey
When the BC Liberals formed government, we faced significant challenges because the NDP government had a fragmented health care structure that did not meet the needs of patients. We took action and restructured BC’s health care system, integrating and coordinating facilities and health care providers. Health authorities now have 3 year rolling budget plans so they can plan beyond the current fiscal year to meet the short, mid and long term health care needs of all communities in their regions. This type of planning did not occur under the NDP. As a matter of fact under the NDP they promised a new hospital at Balance Rock but broke that promise to Islanders.
The result of multi-year planning under the BC Liberals is that a functional space plan is being designed for Queen Charlotte City and a new facility is being developed for Masset to replace the out-dated facility. We also created a $74 million Primary Care Transition Fund to provide primary care clinics in smaller communities.
The BC Liberals continue to attract more doctors and nurses to smaller communities across the province. We have added more than 2,500 new nursing seats since 2001 with training programs in rural areas. And our plan is working. This year, 84 per cent of UNBC nursing graduates chose to work in northern communities.

The economy and tourism can only advance as swiftly as the transportation system can move goods and people. If elected, will your government ensure that ferry transportation is protected and upgraded for the QC Islands?
Bill Belsey
A BC Liberal government will work with BC Ferries to deliver three new ships and improved ferry service between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert, along the mid-Coast, and the Queen Charlottes. We will support plans to build new ferries and expanded terminals through open tendering, to avoid risks and costs for taxpayers. And we will ensure that BC Ferries’ rates and routes remain independently regulated and free of political interference by fighting the NDP’s plan to re-politicize the management of our ferry system.
The NDP’s plan for BC Ferries would add nearly $600 million to the provincial debt, and we don’t need that burden for us or for our children.
Imagine what kind of ferry service we could have today if they had only listened to their own people that were telling them the Fast Ferry design would not work.
Aboriginal Interests
What is your position on the legal decisions recognizing rights of the Haida? Would your government honor existing commitments?

Bill Belsey
A BC Liberal government will continue to comply with court direction to consult and accommodate First Nations. The challenge is to do that while creating opportunities for all British Columbians, native and non-native.
Efforts to accommodate the rights and title of the Haida Nation are ongoing – through land-use planning processes and cross-government accommodation measures.
A BC Liberal government is committed to negotiating with all First Nations in the treaty process. There are 198 different first nations in British Columbia, and each has its own perspective and its own vision. Of those 198 First Nations, 112 are in the treaty process. They negotiate through different organizations at a total of 42 treaty negotiation tables. That’s good news, but those numbers clearly show how big the project is and how much work we are going to have to do before we get to final treaties.
In addition, we currently have more than 300 different individual agreements with first nations in areas such as forestry land use, including forestry revenue-sharing agreements; oil and gas agreements; new economic project agreements to foster job creation and partnerships; parkland management agreements; and many others. An example is the BC Liberal government’s commitment to open up new forest sector opportunities to First Nations by sharing $135 million in forest revenues over 4 years and more than doubling – to 8 per cent – the allowable annual cut available to First Nations.
We will continue working with First Nations to develop a new framework for recognizing aboriginal rights and title in the absence of treaties. And we intend to forge a new relationship with First Nations, based on recognition, respect, and reconciliation.

Public Education
1. Across the province, 113 schools have been forced to close because of under-funding. On Haida Gwaii, two of our schools are in small communities where students and parents live in fear of their school closing. What will you do to ensure that no schools are closed in Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte?
2. During the last four years the BC Liberals have used declining enrollment to justify the cuts made to education. In fact, only one in four of teachers cut can be attributed to declining enrollment. What will you do to ensure that staffing levels are sufficient to provide top notch educational programs?
3. Before the Teachers’ Collective Agreement was stripped by the Liberal government, students had more schools to attend, more selection of courses, more attention in the courses they were taking, more access to libraries, and more support from specialist teachers. What will you do to ensure that these very important aspects of public education are again guaranteed for students?
4. The Liberal government removed all the contractual protections for students with special needs. Now they are integrated into regular classes without adequate support. This situation has become a great concern in schools of Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte. What are you prepared to do to ensure adequate support for students with special needs?
5. Will you support full collective bargaining rights for teachers, including the right to bargain working and learning conditions?

Bill Belsey
The BC Liberals recognize that the decision to close a school is not an easy one. Since 2001, enrolment in School District #50 Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte has decreased by 17.4 percent. School boards are in the best position to make decisions about school closures, based on the needs of students and local communities. This is the flexibility school boards asked for when we first were elected. School boards across my riding have done an incredible job in balancing facilities and declining enrolment.
The BC Liberal government has provided the highest per student funding in the history of the province. We have the highest operating budget for K to 12 schools and the highest total budget for education.
Under the BC Liberal government, funding to B.C. public schools increased by nearly $460 million: $305 million in operating funding and $153 million in special, one-time grants. Per student funding is the highest ever and has increased by $881 since 2001 despite a decline in enrolment of 30,000 students over the same period. Next year’s funding increase of $150 million is the largest in more than a decade and will help school districts continue to focus on improving student achievement.
There has never been a better time to be a student in British Columbia. The commitment of teachers, parents, principals and trustees to improve achievement is paying off – British Columbia students are doing better:

· the provincial high school completion rate remains at a record 79 per cent;

· a record 47 per cent of Aboriginal students finished high school in 2003/04, an increase of five percent from 2001;

· B.C. students scored higher on this year’s provincial exams;

· boys, girls, aboriginal and ESL students in grades 4 and 7 all
scored higher in reading compared to the previous year; and

· B.C. students continue to be among the top five in the world in math, science, and reading, according to the most recent international assessment.

The BC Liberal government amended the School Act to provide increased choice and flexibility in public schools so students and their parents can now choose to send their children to any school in the province that best meets their needs, provided space is available. School boards across British Columbia provide over 5,000 program choices.
Next year’s funding increase of $150 million is the largest in more than a decade and will help school districts address key priorities such as libraries, learning resources like textbooks, quality arts and music programs, and improved services for students with special needs. The power of a strong economy means that we are able to invest more in public services like education.

The BC Liberals are committed to improving the achievement of all students, including those with special needs. The $150 million increase in education funding next year will help ensure that students with special needs get the support they need to achieve their best. Since 2001, special needs funding has increased by almost $75 million. School boards have autonomy to make decisions about how best to meet the needs of students.

Teachers are able to engage in collective bargaining subject to the provisions of the School Act and the Labour Relations Code.