Voters in Saanich North and the Islands received not one but two opportunities Thursday to learn more about the trio of candidates running in the provincial election scheduled for Oct. 24.
Incumbent BC Greens MLA Adam Olsen, New Democratic Zeb King and BC Liberal Stephen Roberts faced off in two all-candidates forums including an in-person event organized by the North Saanich Residents Association (NSRA) at a local church with president John Kafka moderating.
The format of that event saw candidates respond to three questions they had received in advance before responding to nine questions on topics ranging from municipal-provincial relations to local shoreline issues in the face of climate change. While this format did not allow for direct exchanges between the candidates, they nonetheless tried to draw sharp differences in their answers.
Olsen used the opening portion of the forum to say he would use a hypothetical $10 million gift from the provincial government for North Saanich to improve public transit among other projects, to broadly defend the speculation tax, and to call on the provincial government to improve the local supply of primary physicians in praising the work of the Shoreline Medical Society,
King said he would like to see that hypothetical money go toward child care among other projects, defended the speculation tax by stressing his opposition for local exemptions as Central Saanich councillor, while touting larger New Democratic investments in health care at large that reversed changes by the BC Liberals during their time in government.
Roberts (returning to the subject later as well) said he would use the hypothetical money to help build a second boat lunch among other projects, denounced the speculation tax as unnecessary and economically harmful, and accused the New Democrats of not having done to train more primary physicians (as the BC Liberals had done).
Of considerable interest was the dynamic between Olsen and King, two former colleagues on Central Saanich council, each representing parties that until recently were subject to a supply and confidence agreement that lasted three years until last month’s dissolution of the provincial legislature at the behest of the New Democratic leader John Horgan.
King frequently used his time to defend the government’s record on broad provincial issues like raw log exports and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic by mentioning health minister Adrian Dix in the same breath as chief public health officer Bonnie Henry.
At the same time, he stressed his environmental credentials and highlighted areas where the Greens did not support New Democratic initiatives but without mentioning their name by speaking of the “other parties” while promising action on local issues like securing a second boat lunch, provided that local residents elect him as part of a future NDP government.
Olsen for his part highlighted his accessibility to local constituents and familiarity with local industry, stressing his role as a local spokesperson on issues such wildfire safety among others. At the time same, he sought to put distance between the Greens and the New Democrats on issues like the speculation tax, whose initial rollout he described as a “absolute mess” that required fixing (while supporting the tax broadly). He also openly attacked the New Democrats on education accusing them of doing the bare minimum and economic management in accusing them of wanting to “frack, log, and dredge” the province.
Olsen then used his closing statement to make his case for a “robust” government response with “strength on every bench” and “not a majority government that can stuff through whatever it wants with dozens of obedient MLAs.” Olsen then presented himself as a skillful individual legislator, who held the New Democratic minority accountable, while working with it in “good faith,” a less than subtle critique of the election call.
Roberts also made a similar point. Voters should not reward New Democrats for their “craven” and “grossly opportunistic” election in arguing that the governance of the New Democrats has been a “disaster,” having failed to deliver on promises like $10-a-day daycare.
King for his part promised that New Democrats would govern with an eye toward creating an “compassionate society” in responding to the economic, environmental and public health crises currently unfolding simultaneously. He had also earlier made the broader point that New Democrats would be pragmatic if returned to government insofar they would not let “the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
The trio had faced off earlier Thursday afternoon for 90 minutes during a virtual all-candidates forum organized by the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce with long-time Sidney resident Stasia Hartley, area director for private home care Bayshore Home Health and member of Sidney’s economic advisory committee, serving as moderator.
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