The Delta Residents Association hosted an online federal election candidates debate Saturday afternoon.
The Delta riding candidates participating were Liberal Carla Qualtrough, the Greens Jeremy Smith, New Democrat Monika Dean and People’s Party of Canada’s Paul Tarasenko.
Conservative candidate Garry Shearer and independent Hong Yan Pan, also known as Melody Pan did not take part.
Those participating answered a range of questions including what are the top two issues for Delta they would repeatedly bring to Ottawa.
Dean said Delta has many “gems” that need environmental protection, while creating more affordability, ranging from housing to dental, need further action.
Qualtrough said a range of housing types is needed for affordability, while the continued fight against COVID-19 and increasing vaccinations is a top priority.
Tarasenko also said stronger environmental protection policies and housing to support young people are important, while Smith noted investing in mental health assistance for youth as well as housing, which he currently still sees an “overindulgence” of large houses on lots, is a top issue.
On the question what the government could have done better in the past few years, and what needs to be done immediately, Qualtrough, who later in the debate said she was frustrated the Conservative candidate wasn’t taking part, said the government has been dealing with unprecedented times.
“We’ve always had to pivot. We’ve always had to course-correct. I think, when looking back, we would have liked to do things quicker. We would have liked to help people faster, but we did the very best we could within the systems we had,” she said,
Qualtrough said the government needed to be better prepared and gaps in the last couple of years have been filled, however, there’s always room for improvement.
Agreeing the country was in a unique situation, Tarasenko said more could have been done during the COVID-19 outbreak as there was a lot of mistrust and confusion.
He also noted there were many supply chain issues, including when it came to the vaccine roll-out, while the government could have supported businesses and young workers better as many fell through the cracks and were not supported.
Smith acknowledged the government did do the best it could during these trying times, however, too many people have taken advantage of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), resulting in a current shortage of workers for Delta businesses.
Dean said families continue to be squeezed and that more needs to be done including a seamless sick leave system for workers.
Asked if they had concerns about the George Massey Tunnel replacement plan, Tarasenko said he’s pleased action is being taken, while Smith said he’s wondering what guarantees will be in place that the project proceeds as planned, especially if the provincial government is defeated.
Dean said she’s concerned about the long-term impacts.
Noting it will be an important crossing, Qualtrough assured her government has already made a commitment to provide funding.
Asked for their position on the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 expansion, Smith said infrastructure is in place at other facilities that can be expanded, while projects that pose any negative impact on the environment shouldn’t be allowed to proceed.
Dean also said the project poses a lot of negative environmental effects, adding the new terminal would be mostly automated which would take away jobs.
Saying ports play a key role in the economy, but there also needs to be a balance when it comes to the environment, Qualtrough noted more information was requested from the port on a series of questions from the federal environment ministry that still have to be answered.
Qualtrough also said she remains “worried and unconvinced” about the ability to mitigate negative impacts but will also keep an open mind.
Tarasenko said more research and consultation is needed “to make sure everyone gets a win”. More focus is also needed to increase manufacturing jobs in Delta, he said.
Among the other questions was, what would their government to do to ensure young people in Delta continue to get education and job opportunities.
Qualtrough said support for the student loan program and job creation initiatives will continue to be a priority, while among Tarasenko’s suggestions was providing small businesses with more grant opportunities to hire students.
Saying there’s a lot of failures in the current system, Smith noted trades need to be encouraged and promoted in schools.
Dean said five-year breaks for student loan repayment and other changes to the program, part of the NDP platform, should be in place.
Asked for his position on the impending policy to require all Canadian travellers to provide proof of double COVID-19 vaccination, Smith said it’s a policy that makes sense.
Dean agrees there needs to be even more federally mandated double-vaccination requirements.
Qualtrough, noting she was part of the decision-making process behind the policy, said those at most serious risk of illness and death are the unvaccinated.
Encouraging people to be double vaccinated, Tarasenko said the government should, however, not force people to have a vaccine against their will.
The Delta Residents’ Association has posted the debate on its YouTube channel here.
Advanced polls started Friday and run today (Saturday), Sunday and Monday.
Election day is Monday, Sept. 20.