New Westminster candidates field questions on opioid crisis, COVID-19 and more

BC Votes 2020

Five candidates are vying for your vote in New Westminster in the Oct. 24 provincial election.

Here’s whose names will be on the ballot when you head to the polling station or fill out your mail-in ballot:  Lorraine Brett, Liberals; Benny Ogden, Conservatives; Cyrus Sy, Greens; Jennifer Whiteside, NDP; and Don Wilson, Libertarian.

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To help community members get to know their local candidates a bit better, the Record recently sent questionnaires to each of the candidates. Along with a short biography and several policy questions, we also threw in a few lighthearted questions – just for fun.

Biographies were limited to 50 words and policy questions were restricted to 150 words each. In cases where the candidate exceeded the word count, the responses have been cut off and replaced with ellipses. ( …)

Lorraine Brett
Lorraine Brett, BC Liberals - File

Meet Lorraine Brett, BC Liberal Party

Occupation: Realtor

Brief bio: Lorraine Brett is a Realtor with a background in marketing and communications and a 26-year resident of New Westminster. Lorraine’s many leadership roles in the community include being a founding member of the New Westminster Homeless Coalition and a former chair of the Queens Park Hospital Foundation.

What do you think is the top issue facing New Westminster in this election? How will you address this issue? Be as specific as possible.

B.C. is at record levels of unemployment, business failures, and the public health threat from COVID-19 is still very real. Meanwhile, John Horgan and the NDP continue to try to convince voters their unnecessary election isn’t about anything more than a power grab. If we want our economy to get moving again, we need to jumpstart it. A BC Liberal Government will eliminate the PST for one full year and then reduce it to 3% until COVID is behind us. This will help small businesses and put money back into people’s pockets. A family of four earning $60,000 per parent will save $1,714 in the first year alone. The PST is a regressive tax (it places the biggest burden on low income earners). By eliminating it we are putting money back in people’s pockets, stimulating growth for struggling small businesses, addressing income inequality, and making housing more affordable.

The next government of British Columbia will have the responsibility of guiding the province through the COVID-19 pandemic and into recovery. What makes you and your party best positioned to carry out this work? What specific actions would you take to guide this process?

The BC Liberals not only hired Dr. Bonnie Henry when in government, her hiring provided the NDP government with the seasoned and wise oversight it needed to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. The BC Liberals adopted a non-partisan approach to dealing with the challenge of this pandemic. B.C.’s overall response to COVID-19 has been a team response. But this thoughtful, principled approach to government during the crisis has been destroyed by the NDP’s cynical, power-hungry election gambit. British Columbians are now faced with months of uncertainty while awaiting billions in delayed emergency aid so the NDP can focus on their partisan goals. A BC Liberal government will immediately put a multi-billion dollar economic stimulus in place in the form of a one-year PST elimination. This bold move is in a sharp contrast to the NDP’s blatantly partisan strategy.

Students and families in New Westminster have been vocal in their concerns about the safety of schools in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. What specific actions would you take to address these concerns?

In matters related to COVID-19, all parties in the legislature worked in a spirit of cooperation and unity. This approach, and the steady guidance of Dr. Bonnie Henry, resulted in a rapid reduction in transmission of the virus, saving lives and keeping as many residents of our province as possible healthy and safe. The concerns of parents and school staff are well-warranted. But our children must continue to advance in their education. All measures that increase the confidence of parents, staff, and students should be considered and tailored to the specific needs of each school and population. Options such as learning from home should be readily available, as should measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission and infections in school spaces where it is necessary for students and staff to congregate in the furtherance of individual education goals.

Affordable housing continues to be top-of-mind for New Westminster residents. Name at least three specific, concrete actions you would take to address this issue, locally and within B.C.

As a Realtor, I am often faced with the challenge of finding affordable housing for clients. But whether for purchase or for rent, in the context of high demand, the only way to generate more affordable housing options is to increase the supply.

The Urban Development Institute estimates that PST relief will save $9 per square foot on wood-frame construction and $12 per square foot on concrete construction. This could save up to $6,000 on the cost of a 500-square-foot apartment and almost $19,000 on an average-sized home. Because construction costs are passed onto renters and buyers, this will allow for the construction of homes at lower prices, which will improve affordability.

So while Horgan continues to search for excuses for this unnecessary election, the BC Liberal team is focused on bringing forward ideas and plans to restore confidence and rebuild BC.

Anti-racism and Indigenous reconciliation have come to the forefront of public discussion in recent months. How would you ensure this important work is carried out when you are elected? Be as specific as possible.

In 2017, in my leadership role with the Hyack Festival, I was proud to collaborate with our local Qayqayt First Nation to ensure that Indigenous culture and stories were at the forefront of New Westminster’s celebration of Canada’s 150th year. We used “150+” to signify that this land’s first peoples have a history thousands of years in the making. If elected, I commit to continue that spirit of reconciliation, acknowledging the truth that Canada’s ill-advised historical approach to First Nations culture and communities created generational harm. I will also speak up for the Indigenous people who work in B.C.’s resource sector. Mining, for example, is the largest private sector employer of Indigenous people in Canada’s north. The NDP, who silenced a strong Indigenous woman in the heart of B.C. mining country, put their quest for political power ahead of Indigenous voices and needs.

The opioid crisis continues to make headlines and affect the lives of New Westminster residents. What specific actions would you take to address the crisis? Provide at least three concrete examples.

After the 2017 election I watched as New Westminster’s MLA was appointed minister of mental health and Addictions, with a budget comparable to the NDP premier’s office budget! Now, after thousands more deaths, instead of accountability, B.C.’s most deadly health crisis has been left rudderless for months as the NDP put their political interests ahead of those who are dying. A BC Liberal government will increase addiction treatment and recovery programs and ensure those who need help getting off drugs have a clear pathway to treatment. This stands in contrast to the NDP’s approach to warehousing people with addictions. Today, when B.C.’s health-care system is under government investigation for systemic racism against Indigenous people, the potential exists to place the NDP candidate in New Westminster in a direct conflict of interest when it comes to criticism of the health-care system, including its deadly failures with the opioid crisis.

Just for fun:

Cats or dogs? Dogs!

Favourite book or movie?Lord of the Rings. The books and for sure all the movies!

Preferred Halloween treat? Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups!

 

Benny Ogden
Benny Ogden, BC Conservatives - File

Meet Benny Ogden, BC Conservative Party

Ogden did not return the questionnaire to the Record.

Cyrus Sy
Cyrus Sy, BC Greens - Contributed

Meet Cyrus Sy, BC Green Party

Occupation: Marketing leader

Brief bio:  Born to working-class immigrant parents, I’ve worked in the high-tech industry for 20+ years as an engineer and marketing leader. As a father of two, I want a sustainable and resilient future for my kids and community. Now is the time for change where community comes ahead of party self-interest.

What do you think is the top issue facing New Westminster in this election? How will you address this issue? Be as specific as possible.

The top issue facing New Westminster is recovery from the impacts of COVID-19. Many residents faced job loss or insecurity, increased health concerns and empty storefronts. The BC Greens are committed to significant investments in childcare, including free care for children under 3. If elected, we will help small businesses with a $300-million rent-subsidy program that would see up to 25% of rental costs covered. I will also push to establish a system that provides our elderly with quality care and dignity, and surround them with well-resourced and respected health care professionals. The BC Greens recognize the strain the pandemic has had on our mental health and are committed to covering mental health under MSP.

The next government of British Columbia will have the responsibility of guiding the province through the COVID-19 pandemic and into recovery. What makes you and your party best positioned to carry out this work? What specific actions would you take to guide this process?

Over the last three-and-a-half years, the BC Greens have proven to be the only party willing to speak the truth about the issues. The Greens use data, evidence and science to find the best solutions to achieve results that are best for all British Columbians. The BC Greens pushed the NDP to implement the Fair Wages Commission that would raise the minimum wage above the NDP promise of $15 per hour. The BC Greens played a significant role in rolling out Clean BC because we are the only party that understands that a strong economic plan is a climate plan. Clean BC will get us to meet 75% of our climate targets which is why we were the only party to stand up against the $6B in fracking subsidies and continuing to invest in the Site C boondoggle.

Students and families in New Westminster have been vocal in their concerns about the safety of schools in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. What specific actions would you take to address these concerns?

The safety and well-being of students, teachers and staff needs to be a priority for the government. The government needs to provide school districts with the resources to navigate the COVID landscape. If elected, I will fight to protect operating funding so districts can focus on protecting the safety of students. I will advocate for additional counsellors so kids and families have the supports needed. I will advocate for additional education assistants to limit the number of students they are responsible for. We need to give districts targeted funding to go towards technology support, better air quality, smaller class sizes, and better options for parents and teachers who are not able to come to school in person. We also need to provide teachers with model courses and resources to save them time and focus on supporting their specific student needs.

Affordable housing continues to be top-of-mind for New Westminster residents. Name at least three specific, concrete actions you would take to address this issue, locally and within B.C.

The BC NDP made promises in the last election to renters that they never followed through on. I am committed to implementing the $500 million earmarked by the BC Greens to a new means-tested Renter Support program, to addressing the rising cost of strata insurance, and to working with all levels of government to expand the supply of affordable housing, including co-operative housing, affordable rental and the missing middle. If elected, I will continue the advancements the BC Greens have made to ensure folks in New Westminster earn a livable wage to close the gap on the affordability crisis for low and middle-income households.

Anti-racism and Indigenous reconciliation have come to the forefront of public discussion in recent months. How would you ensure this important work is carried out when you are elected? Be as specific as possible.

Our governments have stood far too long as systemic racism has been part of our society. As a person of colour, I am committed to ensuring we work to abolish racism inherent in our systems and make real and meaningful progress in reconciliation. As MLA, I will support initiatives to identify and rid systemic racism in our public institutions. I will put into action Bill 41, the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as implementing the recommendations from the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry. I will support the protection of valuable shared natural resources such as wild salmon and stand up against Site C the dam project where First Nations rights have been disregarded, and farmland and fishing grounds are threatened.

The opioid crisis continues to make headlines and affect the lives of New Westminster residents. What specific actions would you take to address the crisis? Provide at least three concrete examples.

We need to first acknowledge that the overdose crisis, like COVID-19, is a public health crisis that can only be addressed with a more compassionate, fact-based approach. In the short term, we can help save lives immediately by scaling up access to harm reduction, including the availability of pharmaceutical-grade alternatives to combat the toxic drug supply. We must also work with all levels of government for more treatment programs, mental health supports, affordable housing, income and other wrap-around supports. BC Greens will allocate $1 billion to help address mental health issues within the medical services plan that would include: establishing accessible mental health treatment options for those struggling with anxiety and depression, implement a Loneliness Strategy, and accelerate capital plans for the construction of tertiary care facilities and detoxification beds.

Just for fun:

Cats or dogs? Dogs

Favourite book or movie? Shawshank Redemption

Preferred Halloween treat? Mr. Big

 

Jennifer Whiteside
Jennifer Whiteside, BC NDP - Contributed

Meet Jennifer Whiteside, BC NDP

Occupation: Secretary-business manager for the Hospital Employees’ Union

Brief bio: Jennifer has a long history of fighting for what matters through her work with unions, NGOs and community groups. She has dedicated her career to fighting for the rights of working people and has advocated for better public healthcare and ensuring people are treated fairly – including leading B.C.’s first living wage campaign.

What do you think is the top issue facing New Westminster in this election? How will you address this issue? Be as specific as possible.

Access to health care is a key issue for people in New Westminster. Health care is not only a big part of our local economy with RCH and other health care facilities as large employers, but we also educate health care workers at Douglas College. And with a rising seniors’ population, improving home care and the quality of long term care is important. After years of BC Liberal neglect, John Horgan’s BC NDP government has made massive investments in building or improving hospitals, improving access to diagnostic procedures, reducing surgical wait times and improving seniors’ care. In the next term John Horgan’s BC NDP government will fight for a national Pharmacare program, make contraception free, build a second medical school and continue to improve access to primary care.

The next government of British Columbia will have the responsibility of guiding the province through the COVID-19 pandemic and into recovery. What makes you and your party best positioned to carry out this work? What specific actions would you take to guide this process?

John Horgan’s BC NDP government has steered the province as safely as possible through the pandemic so far. Our record is clear: acting immediately on the advice of Dr. Bonnie Henry, we reinforced physical distancing, increased testing capacity, and pushed the federal government to close borders. We’re fixing the problems with seniors’ care left by years of BC Liberal neglect by hiring 7,000 new front-line health care workers in long-term care and assisted living, and improving home care. To keep the economy going, we implemented a PST rebate on machinery and equipment so people can invest in their business, and provided grants to 15,000 hard-hit small and medium businesses to protect 200,000 jobs. A re-elected BC NDP government will continue to invest in British Columbians with a pandemic relief benefit, assistance for renters, and our $1.6 billion investment to fight COVID will create jobs and keep people safe.

Students and families in New Westminster have been vocal in their concerns about the safety of schools in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. What specific actions would you take to address these concerns?

The results of nearly two decades of the BC Liberal’s attacks on public education have been hardest felt during the COVID–19 pandemic. In just three years as government, the BC NDP hired 4,200 new teachers to start the process of reducing class sizes – something the BC Liberals fought in court to avoid. We’ve also invested a record $2 billion over three years for new schools, expansions and seismic upgrades. We will continue to keep kids and teachers safe during the pandemic by installing new ventilation systems, Plexiglas barriers in key areas and comprehensive cleaning stations; we are also fast-tracking improvements to remote learning.

Affordable housing continues to be top-of-mind for New Westminster residents. Name at least three specific, concrete actions you would take to address this issue, locally and within B.C.

The speculation tax is starting to work – 11,000 more condos were used for long-term rentals in 2019 because of this tax. I support the speculation tax and will support its continuation as a part of the BC NDP’s plan to realign the market.

We want young people to stay in New Westminster, not move away. We need to help renters in our community. A BC NDP government will freeze rent increases until the end of 2021, and restrict increases after that. Additionally, we will provide a renters’ rebate of $400 a year for households earning up to $80,000 per year.

For the many people living in condos in New Westminster, I know that increases in strata insurance is creating big problems. A BC NDP is committed to tackling this issue, and if rates aren’t corrected by the end of 2021 we will develop a public strata insurance option.

Anti-racism and Indigenous reconciliation have come to the forefront of public discussion in recent months. How would you ensure this important work is carried out when you are elected? Be as specific as possible.

I am proud that under John Horgan’s government BC was the first province to pass legislation to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The BC NDP has consistently made Indigenous rights and reconciliation a priority: we made B.C. the first and only province to fund on-reserve housing, we signed a long-term agreement to guarantee 25 years of revenue sharing with First Nations, and we are working with First Nations and other levels of government to protect coastal habitat.

We’ll continue to support the revitalization of First Nations languages and reflecting Indigenous Peoples’ history and cultures in provincial parks and wilderness areas. Further, B.C.’s Multicultural Act is 25 years old and in need of a review. We’ll conduct a full review of anti-racism laws in other jurisdictions and launch a full consultation with stakeholders, leading to a new Anti-Racism Act that will better serve everyone in B.C.

The opioid crisis continues to make headlines and affect the lives of New Westminster residents. What specific actions would you take to address the crisis? Provide at least three concrete examples.

Until the pandemic, the BC NDP had made significant progress to reduce overdose deaths, and there is much more still to do.

We are doubling youth treatment beds from 104 to 247 – whereas the BC Liberals cut youth treatments beds just as the crisis was growing. We are committed to adding 800 more treatment beds and build new facilities across B.C.

On the advice of Dr. Bonnie Henry we will fast-track the move to decriminalization, along with the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs to call on the federal government to decriminalize small amounts for personal use. If necessary we will look at a made-in-B.C. approach.

We will expand access to safe prescription alternatives to help separate people form toxic street drugs.

There is much more work to do, but we’re doing it all and building a full continuum of care. We have to keep going.

Just for fun:

Cats or dogs? Cats for cuddling, dogs for walking

Favourite book or movie? So many! I love Eden Robinson’s Trickster series

Preferred Halloween treat? Caramels

 

Don Wilson
Don Wilson, BC Libertarian - Contributed

Meet Don Wilson, BC Libertarian Party

Occupation: Lawyer

Brief bio:  Donald is a family lawyer practising in New Westminster. He is also the managing partner of his law firm. Donald grew up in B.C. and lives with his partner and daughter in Uptown New Westminster.

Policy questions:  (These have been limited to 150 words each – responses going beyond that have been cut.)

What do you think is the top issue facing New Westminster in this election? How will you address this issue? Be as specific as possible.

The ongoing COVID-19 state of emergency and pervasive fear of the virus is the biggest issue facing New Westminster and the province at large in this election. I would call for an end to the state of emergency and an end to the daily press briefings related to COVID-19. They are fostering an environment of irrational fear. I would ensure that public information and policy was no longer driven by unreliable “case totals” but on more reliable metrics such as hospitalizations and death rates. I would facilitate the provision of positive data and evidence from reputable institutions around the world showing that risk levels been at normal for several months. People must stop living in fear and get back to loving their families and making New Westminster the amazing city that it always has been.

The next government of British Columbia will have the responsibility of guiding the province through the COVID-19 pandemic and into recovery. What makes you and your party best positioned to carry out this work? What specific actions would you take to guide this process?

 Hospitalization rates and death rates in British Columbia returned to normal in our province by May 2020. They have been normal for five consecutive months. It is not coherent to refer to the pandemic as “ongoing.” This same “curve” of hospitalizations and fatalities, with some variation, has been repeated around the globe at our latitude, regardless of local lockdowns. The first step of recovery is to eliminate the pervasive fear of the virus. The public health orders need to be rescinded except for those related to long-term care homes. This would address 90% of the economic shock caused by the lockdowns. Secondly, the government must be careful not to saddle our future with unsustainable debt for well-intentioned but dubious political projects. The tax burden on businesses and individuals must be lessened. Low-skilled labour must be given a way to access the work-force, even if they can’t earn $15 per hour.

Students and families in New Westminster have been vocal in their concerns about the safety of schools in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. What specific actions would you take to address these concerns?

Statistically speaking, there is no longer an elevated risk of getting sick or dying from a viral infection in British Columbia as compared to previous years. Accordingly, the safeguards in place in previous years are appropriate to the current risk level. The public needs to be provided information about the declining fatality and potency of Sars-Cov-2.

Affordable housing continues to be top-of-mind for New Westminster residents. Name at least three specific, concrete actions you would take to address this issue, locally and within B.C.

The principle causes of the rising cost of housing are artificially low interest rates and decades of government policy ensuring housing prices can never go down. Our housing stock has become an international investment product; its economics based on the demands of international finance, not local economics. Realistically, there is little a provincial government can do to alter this course in the face of contrary intentions by the federal government and the Bank of Canada. The provincial government likewise has a conflict of interest in collecting more property transfer tax on higher value homes. The province should aim to reduce the tax burden on new constructions and simplify provincial-level housing regulations. The province should consider model zoning regulations and building codes for municipalities to allow for the building of micro-suites, something that is currently happening under the table in many cities, meaning they are not taxed or serviced properly.

Anti-racism and Indigenous reconciliation have come to the forefront of public discussion in recent months. How would you ensure this important work is carried out when you are elected? Be as specific as possible.

 “Anti-racism” is something of a catch-phrase going around and I think it is wholly inadequate to address the real complexities of our government’s relationship with First Nations. At its worst, blaming racism is a cop-out, an easy way to avoid reconfiguring the structure of our entire approach and relationship. In my view, a paternalistic attitude towards First Nations has greatly contributed to the despondency and dependency we see in First Nations communities. Depending perpetually on another human being for survival is corrosive to the human spirit, in all its forms. I would encourage engaging with First Nations on a party-to-party basis, including negotiating historical land claims on a good-faith basis through the lens of private property rights. It is imperfect to the historical circumstances but it would treat First Nations as equal negotiation partners and it would be consistent with common law principles.

 The opioid crisis continues to make headlines and affect the lives of New Westminster residents. What specific actions would you take to address the crisis? Provide at least three concrete examples.

The COVID-19 lockdowns are contributing to a tragic increase in overdose deaths. At current rates, the increase in overdose deaths in 2020 over 2019 will surpass all deaths from COVID-19. The first step is to end the lockdowns. Secondly, it is time to start talking about the supplier of virtually all fentanyl entering the province: China. Diplomatic or trade restrictions must be considered. The BC Libertarian Party will also let doctors, not politicians, determine what pain medications are appropriate for their patients. Finally, we would explore a pilot project in the worst-hit areas for non-profits to operate drug-testing facilities so that drug-users could test if their drugs are contaminated with fentanyl.

Just for fun:

Cats or dogs? For my entire childhood I grew up with our beloved family cat, who I will cherish forever as a dear friend. As I grew older I began to see dogs as a better companion for good adventures, though.

Favourite book or movie?  Book: Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price. Movie: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Preferred Halloween treat? Reese’s Peanut Butter/Oh Henry Bar

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