With advance voting already underway and just over a week until election day, the Sea to Sky’s three provincial election candidates traded policy points and gentle barbs but kept things mostly genial during a Whistler virtual all-candidates meeting on Oct. 15.
The two-hour meeting, hosted by Pique, the Whistler Chamber and Arts Whistler, was a dense affair, with the candidates—incumbent Liberal Jordan Sturdy, the NDP’s Keith Murdoch and Green candidate Jeremy Valeriote—stating their respective cases for more than 200 virtual attendees.
Each candidate had three minutes to introduce themselves before fielding questions from moderator Mo Douglas and some of the evening’s hosts.
Topics of discussion covered everything from Whistler’s post-COVID economic recovery, regional transit and the opioid crisis to the realities of climate change, food insecurity, endangered species, childcare and more.
A full video of the event will be uploaded to the Whistler Chamber’s YouTube channel.
THE COVID CRISIS
In response to a question from Chamber CEO Melissa Pace about support for small businesses rebuilding in the wake of COVID-19, Murdoch, who lives in Vancouver, pointed to financial support and grants already provided by the current NDP government.
The Green platform, meanwhile, proposes a $300-million commercial rent subsidy for small businesses, a retooling of provincial grants and repayable loans for hospitality, said Valeriote, a Whistler resident.
“This is the time for government spending in this area,” he said. “The debt that we’re racking up is important but absolutely necessary. Cutting taxes is not going to help us repay that debt.”
The BC Liberals have proposed to waive the PST for a year and eliminate the small business tax, among other measures, Sturdy said.
“We’ve got some loan guarantees for businesses in hospitality and tourism to help with cash-flow; we’re going to keep in place the wholesale pricing, and we’re working with the feds on a tenant relief package,” he said, adding that the Liberals will also ensure Resort Municipality Initiative funding stays in place.
With more than two-thirds of Whistler businesses saying they won’t have enough staff this winter, how will the candidates and their parties help the resort rebuild in the wake of COVID?
The labour question must be discussed in broader terms, Valeriote said.
“Housing is connected to absolutely everything, including social wellbeing and labour,” he said.
“As your MLA I would work with local governments and BC Housing to get the funding here to build the right kind of housing in the right places at the right time.”
The labour shortage is an “acute issue” given the extended border closure, Sturdy said, and the provincial government must work with its federal counterpart to get working holiday visa and other temporary workers back in the province.
“Ultimately I would agree with Jeremy that housing and transportation are key parts to ensure that we have access to the workforce wherever we can, but the workforce for Whistler in particular should be drawn from the region, and that means a quality transportation system is key,” Sturdy said, adding that it will also be important to continue to engage the “young and growing population” in Mount Currie moving forward.
Many of the workers coming from Australia or other places are unfamiliar with local labour laws, noted Murdoch, who has been leading a charge to unionize Whistler workers for the last several years.
“Certainly the main thing that I would do to try to create a long-lasting fix to this challenge is get involved and do an assessment of the provincial nominee program,” he said.
“I think there is great opportunities here for us to offer citizenship to maintain and sustain a workforce within the region, within Whistler.”
CLIMATE CHANGE and ENVIRONMENT
Judging by the submitted questions from the event’s 200-some attendees, climate change and other environmental issues have not been overtaken by COVID concerns in 2020.
A sizable portion of the queries were related in some way to Whistler’s natural environment, whether it be curbing greenhouse gas emissions, stopping old growth logging, the future of Woodfibre LNG, enhancing parks funding or ending subsidies for oil and gas.
“If the environment and climate change are your top issues … then the Green Party is definitely the party for you, and I’m your candidate,” Valeriote said, noting the influence the party’s three Green MLAs had on B.C.’s current climate plan.
“None of this would have happened without the Green Party’s influence in this minority government.”
On subsidies for oil and gas, Sturdy said he believes subsidies should be used to help industries get started, “and then at the end of the day we should be weaning these companies off of all subsidies, be it film and television, be it oil and gas.
“I think that we need to have a level playing field, at the end of the day, for industries right across the province.”
While both Sturdy and Murdoch talked about the various environmental and community processes attached to the Woodfibre LNG project in Squamish’s Howe Sound, Valeriote was the only candidate to outright oppose it.
“It’s not a good idea to reindustrialize Howe Sound,” he said.
“It’s the jewel of our region, it represents a whole host of potential for green economy and tourism jobs as well as just a beautiful natural asset, so Woodfibre LNG is a project that is not for the future. It doesn’t make sense; no thank you.”
If there was one topic all three candidates found complete agreement on, it was the importance of establishing regional transit in the Sea to Sky corridor.
It’s an issue near and dear to Sturdy’s heart, and one he’s been actively working on for years.
“We put forward a proposal to the province, we had almost got it there, but unfortunately we had a change in government in 2017, and since then we just haven’t been able to find that funding formula,” he said.
The NDP wants a funding structure that will be sustainable over the long term, and the funding formula put forward by corridor communities last year included a fuel tax, Murdoch noted.
“So the NDP is committed to going after the gas companies who are gouging folks within the area [to] create room for a gas tax,” he said.
“I’ve already spoken to [Premier] John Horgan about this, he recognizes the importance, as do I, and if I’m elected, and the NDP forms government, it’s something we’ll be able to get done no problem.”
Advance voting is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Whistler Conference Centre every day until Wednesday, October 21.
Election day is Saturday, Oct. 24.