Part II: All Candidates Forum in Tumbler Ridge

Lynsey Kitching

In last week part one the Candidates for the South Peace MLA election gave their stances on topics such as the Enbridge Pipeline, Site C, protecting waterways, sustainability and how to help those with disabilities living in poverty.

Here are candidates Darwin Wren (NDP), Mike Bernier (Liberal), Tyrel Pohl (Independent) and Kurt Peats (Conservative) answers to five more important topics raised by Tumbler Ridge residents:

Where do the parties stand on the carbon tax credit? If you made changes to that source of revenue, where else would you find the money to make up for it?

Tyrel Pohl: I hate the carbon tax, I really do, but there are some things the government has to spend money on, for example green initiatives. I believe it should be changed a little bit. It is a blanket tax of seven percent and that doesn’t work for us here because we need heat longer, we need more fuel, we just need to use the fossil fuels more than everyone else in the province. The best thing we can do to change it would be to have taxation by region. Increase taxes say in Victoria, Vancouver and decrease them up here to offset so we don’t have to suffer as much and pay the same as everyone else. That would offset the problem of having lowered it. I believe taxation by region is the best way to go. We’re not the same; we have to look at each area differently.

Darwin Wren: Yes the carbon tax is one of the taxes no one likes. The key to it is you continually monitor why we set the tax up to start with. What we’ve seen is that the government has failed to do that. These taxes were put in place to fund new initiatives, green energy, what we are finding is the money has been misallocated to cover deficits in other program. We need to work towards renewable energies because we know that at some point the non-renewables will be gone.

Mike Bernier: The BC Liberals have just announced they are going to put a five year freeze on the carbon tax. We want to institute that freeze to allow other jurisdictions to catch up to what we are already doing here. I’m a huge supporter of green technology. As the mayor of Dawson Creek we’ve won the green city award two times in a row. The carbon tax when it goes back to some of the initiatives I agree with that, but right now it is being used to offset taxes. When we talk about being revenue neutral, it’s because we have funds that are going back to low income families. If we eliminate it, where is that two billion dollars coming from?

Kurt Peats: The carbon tax has got to go. It is unfair, inefficient and punitive to anyone who lives in northern or rural BC. If you don’t take money from people in the first place, you don’t have to give it back. Not only are you paying tax on every drop of fuel, that tax goes directly to the Pacific Carbon Trust which takes anywhere from 20-25 million dollars a year to run. The carbon tax is not used as what it was intended for, it’s used to balance the books. We need to be transparent with the people.

I consider education to be a really important part to how we move forward as a people. What are your plans to improve education?

Mike Bernier: It’s not just the secondary and elementary schools; it is post secondary as well that is really important. The Liberal government in the past year has given over three million dollars to Northern Lights College. One of the things we have also announced is 37 million dollars toward educational programs, 37 million dollars to hire 500 new teachers to help alleviate some of the stress in the class room with too many kids. One of the things we need to look at is how the formula is worked out for funding. One of the things for myself, is it isn’t a cookie cutter approach to funding in BC. We need to make sure in Victoria they remember the costs we have up here. We need to make sure with collaboration of the provincial government, that the school districts have the funding they need.

Tyrel Pohl: I am not very old; I am 24 so just out of high school six years ago. I believe the best thing to do is to look to partner with industry and to make sure they help pay for trades or health care training or school teacher training, and that they would definitely help to move forward and train people. I am a parts technician and my company paid for me to get my training. I believe more companies should move forward like this.

Kurt Peats: There is no doubt that education is the basis for all society. If you don’t have a well trained, well educated group of people, we as a society soon won’t last. As we begin to age and as we begin to grow older we need some very skilled people out there to look after us. If we don’t make those investments now, what is going to happen in the future? Right across the board, industry is looking for workers. What is their common theme? We can’t find enough workers. We have to focus our dollars on the trades coming up and focus our dollars on what are the mega trends. We can’t continue to invest in bricks and mortar when there are no students there. Are there other ways we can do education? Of course, we have to have the ability to look ahead and get those skills and knowledge out there to our students so they can take over from the society we have created.

Darwin Wren: Education is the foundation of any society and it is one of the core services government is responsible to provide to all of BC, no matter where. For too long now we have looked at education as simply an expense. Education is an investment. Our children and the next generation deserve that. The school board themselves are uncertain about what to do next because they’ve been cut to the bone every year. The NDP government is committed to hiring over 1,000 more teachers; we are going to put the investment into the people.

How will your new government protect this area and the business here and not drive them away?

Tyrel Pohl: It’s my belief that business and people need to work together. We can’t outrageously tax corporations or people. We need to find a balance. What we need to do to keep industry here is to keep taxes at a manageable level and make sure we don’t scare them away.

Darwin Wren: We went through this in Tumbler Ridge when the mines closed in ’99-2000. The issue was a commodity price failure. The price of coal fell and we didn’t have anything to fall back on. What the NDP government is committed to do is to enhance and work on all of our industries. We need to pay attention to our mining sector, forestry sector; we are seeing record raw log exports from this province, that doesn’t put people to work. We need to open up the mills again. It is about diversifying, paying attention to all of the resources. Tumbler Ridge the past few councils, have tried to strengthen our economy with wind farms and tourism. As your MLA I see that as our future.

Mike Bernier: One of the biggest things to remember in 2001, there weren’t a lot of things here. There weren’t jobs in BC. The liberal government has worked hard going around the country to say ‘how do we get investment back in BC? What systems do we need in place so you’ll come here?’ It took a couple of years. We have some of the lowest taxes in all of Canada. That is why companies come here and invest here. We are lucky in this region to have almost zero unemployment.

Kurt Peats: Economic development is a significant issue. I’m so thankful I started my own business two years ago, only to realize how difficult that was. It was a difficult thing. When you talk about the 1990s as the lost decade for business… absolutely. If you get a government that wishes to tax, spend, legislate, and regulate you are going to regulate your businesses out. How do you grow an economy? By having a business friendly environment, the taxes remain low. You look at both sides of the ledger. Taxation is only one side. There are hidden expenses. Every time a regulation comes in, it costs money. We don’t need any more regulation that is what I have been fighting against. We need to reinvest in checks and balances to allow business to do what business does best, which is increase jobs and manage business.

What will you be doing for the Mining Industry?

Kurt Peats: Without the mining industry, Tumbler Ridge would not be here. We know that mining is critical and it’s the backbone of Tumbler Ridge. Without the minerals, the good jobs mining provides, we are a much poorer people. I have invested interest here in Tumbler Ridge because I’ve lived here, worked here and worked here and now my daughter just got a job at the mine. The one thing I really appreciate is that they are long-term, stable, good paying jobs. You can begin to plan your life with a good mining job. The footprint of the mine overall is very, very small. I’ve met people at the mine; they do care about the environment. Mining is critical of the success of the South Peace. We need to get the permitting process streamlined so that when you get people wanting to make an investment, they don’t have to wait for months and years and have the unstable environment because, it is global money.

Tyrel Pohl: Mines have been up here for as long as I remember. My aunt has lived in Tumbler Ridge for as long as I remember. I truly believe that mines are important and we should make sure we keep them around because they fuel our economy. Mines have produced a lot of income. They are the key to the north and we need to protect that.

Mike Bernier: When you look around, the number of people who are employed and the possibility of future mines in this area, we in northeast BC are blessed with the minerals we have. The whole province has us to thank. When you look at the money generated in the province because of mining. A Liberal government has an excellent working relationship with all the big mining companies.

Darwin Wren: 40 percent of the revenue for this province comes from the northeast. Oil and gas, mining, the NDP party is in full support of that. We have a plan to move permits forward quicker and more efficiently. The NDP party is in full support of responsible mining. As the mayor of Tumbler Ridge I am in support of it. We saw what happened when the mines went down. We want to make ourselves more efficient so we can compete with the mining companies around the world and all the jurisdictions who have the same commodities we do.

BC is the only province with Medical Service Plan (MSP) fees. What is the candidates and parties position on health care in general?

Mike Bernier: The province has about 40 billion dollars for a budget and about 17 billion is spent on health care. In the budget that was just put out we’ve increased that by 2.5 billion to try and keep up with demands of the growing region. One of the biggest things we need to do is continue with the growth in our investment. If we don’t have money coming in we won’t be able to have money going out. One of the best things we can do is continue to promote investment. We’ve talked about this around LNG with a trillion dollars coming into the province, over 25 years that is a lot of money. That is when we can start looking at paying down the debt, lowering taxes.

Darinw Wren: I work in the health care field and it is something I have seen is underfunded. Where we are at in Tumbler Ridge with doctors and nurses, it’s simply not good enough. People in the South Peace deserve better. The MSP premiums have gone up 200 percent. I know not all of you are working at a mine and I know those increases have affected you. Clearly raising that premium 200 percent in a decade in my opinion is reckless. The people being hurt by those policies are the ones now looking for retirement. We are going to review all of those decisions and try and get things back on track. Government is about representing the people that is what government means.

Kurt Peats: Just about a year ago, my mom was visiting and she found out she needed open-heart surgery. We went from Dawson Creek to Edmonton, got everything replaced and do you know what that cost us? Fuel to get there and back. I am so thankful for the health care system we have. I am appreciative of it. The thing I do know is we have finite dollars. Because of this we have to make sure those dollars are spent correctly. If you look at Northern Health right now, it is a very difficult organization to speak with because they are designed to tell you no. When you get to Northern Health even the administration is so bloated that at a regional level you need to take a look at where that money is going. MSP, who speaks for you? If we can’t get those costs under control we are going to see all kinds of fees going up. We can have low taxes, but if we get fee’d to death, it still impacts your income.

Tyrel Pohl: I believe we need these fees in place for our health care system. I think the health care system is broken because there are huge wait lines and only very emergency people get care immediately. We need to revamp and change. Privatization is not something I agree with. I believe we need to revamp so it benefits us better. We can’t have everything for free, but we can have it mostly free.