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Forestry, taxes among issues raised at NDP debate

It wasn’t a debate, rather a meeting of like minds as NDP leadership candidates gathered at the Overlander Hotel Monday evening.

Adrian Dix, Mike Farnworth, John Horgan, Dana Larsen and Nicholas Simons strove to differentiate themselves, speaking to issues of social justice, tax reform, value-added industry, protecting workers, overseeing the resurgence of public health care, education and utilities and the protection of B.C.’s resources for the public good.

The candidates expressed a united desire to defeat Liberal Premier- Christy Clark noting under her tenure as Minister of Education many schools across the province were closed.

In his opening remarks, Dix told the crowd of 60 that giving the electorate something to vote for would be the key to an NDP win; he suggested issues like processing B.C. timber in the province, improving care standards at seniors’ facilities, maintaining rural schools, increasing the minimum wage, strengthening labour legislation and allowing greater union affiliation would resonate with the public.

“We have to offer something specific, something real to people,” he said.

Candidate John Horgan spoke proudly of NDP-driven initiatives such as the Columbia Basin Trust, the Agricultural Land Reserve and ICBC.

He suggested that the provincial legislation governing environmental assessments needs to be “revitalized and recharged to protect the environment,” adding that the economy and social justice are “two sides of the same coin.”

Larsen spoke on tax reform, pledging to roll back the tax cuts the Liberal government made in 2001, create an additional tax bracket for high-end income earners and reinvest that in education. The provincial government, he added, needs to stand up to the federal Conservative government on the expansion of prisons and let it know that it is not the solution for drug addiction, homelessness and mental-health issues.

Simons spoke to the need for a long-term plan for poverty reduction and suggested he would increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by the end of 2012.

The wage increase, he said, is due to “the neglect this government’s showed to low-income earners.”

The candidates were united in their pledge to stop the movement of “public wealth into private hands,” as they charge has occurred during the Liberals’ tenure. They further vowed to open up contracts made with private firms or public-private partnership agreements and examine them to determine whether they meet the public good. If not, they pledged to break them.

Horgan vowed to “open contracts and ensure they were in the public interest — if not, they will be broken —” and to place a moratorium on run-of-river projects.

Simons agreed but cautioned that the speed of achieving that would depend on what was contained in the contracts.

Dix said he would pursue a public inquiry into the sale of B.C. Rail, ensure that B.C. Hydro acts in the public interest and move away from the provision of health care by private providers.

Farnworth characterized public resources as being under threat and questioned how long ICBC would remain a public entity under the current administration. He also noted that the agriculture land reserve has been “undermined and under resourced by this government.” He argued for a moratorium on independent power projects.

On forestry, Larson suggested a need for community control with an eye to maintaining resources for the long term, not “using resources as fast as possible for the quickest buck.”

“If you’re sustainable you can make a buck that lasts a long time,” Larsen said.

Dix said with the reduction in the annual allowable cut due to pine beetle kill, the government’s job should be focussed on ensuring logs are processed in B.C.

He said a focus of his would be on restocking the forest, suggesting that has not occurred for one million hectares of forest land.

Horgan pushed for greater government regulation.

“Self regulation is not working too well,” Horgan said. “The wealth is slipping through our fingers.”

Candidates also responded to the question of how to maintain a healthy economy and environment.

“You have an environment assessment act that has teeth, is resourced and funded, and set parametres based on sound science and sound research,” said Farnworth.

Dix added the NDP has a Sustainable B.C. policy that “ensures principles of sustainability are applied to economic development.”

As for tackling the provincial debt as social democrats, the candidates agreed they would reassess the current tax distribution model and potentially make changes.

“In 2001, with the stroke of a pen Campbell created a deficit that became a debt. That was the first of many tax cuts. Campbell then pulled out a 15-per-cent cut that fell like a lead balloon,” said Horgan, adding he would consider the government’s other revenue streams like resource revenue, stumpage and royalties and might increase taxes to pay for services.

Larsen and Dix both indicated they would roll back corporate tax cuts.

“We say, prior to the election, that everybody needs to pay their fair share.”

John Horgan, Adrian Dix, Mike Farnworth and Nicholas Simons are currently members of the NDP caucus.

NDP members vote for a party leader April 17.

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