Campaign signs have dotted the Agassiz-Harrison landscape for weeks ahead of the Sept. 20 federal election. More than 15,000 voters have cast their ballots in advance throughout the Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon riding. (Adam Louis/Observer)

Election 2021: Federal hopefuls field questions about local issues

Election Day is Sept. 20

Ahead of the Sept. 20 election, candidates for the Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon riding were asked three questions pertaining to some of the biggest issues facing Agassiz-Harrison. The following is their unedited responses.

1. Tourism is a huge part of Agassiz-Harrison’s economy. Though travel restrictions were deemed necessary to keep COVID-19 at bay, the communities suffered huge revenue losses as a result. If elected, what would you do to support the tourism industry and help the area recover?

Brad Vis (Conservative, Incumbent): The Conservative Platform includes initiatives specifically designed to aid our tourism sector, like:The Main Street Business Loan – providing loans of up to $200,000 to help SMEs in hospitality, retail, and tourism get back on their feet, with up to 25 per cent forgiven.

Providing a 50 per cent rebate for food and non-alcoholic drinks purchased for dine-in from Monday to Wednesday for one month once safe to do so, pumping nearly $1 billion into the sector.

Launch the Explore & Support Canada initiative with a 15 per cent tax credit for vacation expenses of up to $1,000/person for Canadians to vacation in Canada in 2022.

Ensure that Canada’s tourism strategy supports rural tourism.

Nicole Bellay (Green Party): Strong rural communities are essential for the vitality of Canada and small businesses are the backbone of its economy. The Greens want to address the disparities in funding and make sure rural communities get their fair share to help kick start their recovery. The Green Party in the near term would continue the financial support for small businesses, including Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS). We would work closely with the provinces to provide direct support to small tourism operators, support not-for-profit tourism business, cultural facilities, and attractions.

Greens would build up broadband infrastructure in rural areas to help revitalize rural economies and give communities greater access to the services they need. We also want to make sure rural communities can depend on a dependable bus service to attract more tourism locally.

In the long term, I would work with local travel associations, businesses, and chambers to develop marketing programs to promote and boost local tourism.

Geet Grewal (Liberal): We need to fully conquer COVID-19 and ensure we provide Canadian businesses with the support they need to get through this pandemic and come roaring back when the economy fully reopens.

A re-elected Liberal government will provide Canada’s hard-hit tourism industry with temporary wage and rent support of up to 75 per cent of their expenses to help them get through the winter. We will build a national trails tourism strategy and increase youth employment opportunities in partnership with Destination Canada to enhance local economic development opportunities right here in Agassiz and Harrison.

The Liberal plan will continue to support Canadian businesses by extending the Canada Recovery Hiring Program to March 31, so businesses can hire more workers and Canadians can get back on the job. We will also help small businesses afford costs of new technology with microgrants of up to $2,400 and zero-interest loans for larger projects.

Tyler Niles (PPC): If elected, I would work to repeal and reverse all COVID-19 measures and any related vaccine passports. Reopening the province and allowing Canadians to tour their province easily at will, without being harassed for their medical choices will greatly increase tourism throughout the province.

Lynn Perrin (NDP): I appreciate how small businesses are extremely challenged during the COVID 19 restrictions. I owned and operated a small tourism related business during the 9/11 tragedy which curtailed tourism for over a year. Jagmeet Singh and the NDP will continue to provide financial assistance to small businesses which they pressured the Trudeau government to improve 18 months ago. Rather than call this unnecessary expensive election during a fourth wave MPs should have been in the House of Commons working on solutions that would help small businesses. The NDP will continue to help the ones who employ most Canadians – small businesses!

2. In Agassiz-Harrison there’s a delicate, tenuous balance between holding good agricultural land for future food security and the pressures of population growth throughout the Fraser Valley. How would you balance development with preserving crucial ecosystems and agricultural land?

Vis: While this issue falls primarily under provincial jurisdiction (Agricultural Land Reserve), COVID-19 has demonstrated the vital importance of a strong agricultural industry to maintain our supply chains and ensure the food security of Canadians, and the Conservatives have a plan to safeguard Canadian agriculture.

We also have a robust plan to address the Housing Affordability Crisis, including leveraging federal infrastructure investments to increase housing supply and require municipalities to increase zoning densities.

Bellay: Agriculture and food sector is vital to the economy and social fabric of rural communities. They’re also key to ensure a safe food supply, and essential to the health of the environment.

A Green government will replace one third of Canada’s food imports with domestic production. This would bring 15 billion food dollars back into our economy to foster economic diversification and rural revitalization. I would work to support family farms by reallocating research, development priorities and investments in infrastructure to support local and regional value chains. As well, we will assist farmers going through the transition to clean energy.

The Greens support the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and would provide financial support to communities to ensure they can fund core infrastructure assets, upgrade ageing infrastructure, and provide essential services. I would work to ensure municipalities have the tools to explore green zoning and construction practices to allow for the continued growth in housing supply and industrial land base while protecting the ALR lands.

Grewal: Agassiz-Harrison has always been an important agricultural hub in our region and part of protecting this hub is recognizing the region as a fast-growing tourism destination while simultaneously protecting the environment on which we rely.

We know climate change is having a big impact on our local agricultural community. That’s why we’re increasing the agri-recovery funding to help farmers with the additional costs associated to drought and wildfires.

That’s why we will work with the B.C. government and farmers— including Indigenous and young farmers—to update business risk management agriculture programs to fully integrate climate risk management, environmental practices, and climate readiness.

A re-elected government will also triple funding for cleantech on farms, including for renewable energy, precision agriculture, and energy efficiency to ensure we preserve these critical ecosystems.

Niles: If elected, I would like to work closely with city planners, local farmers from across the region, environmental and forestry planners. There is more than enough available real-estate in the Agassiz-Harrison area to meet the population growth of the area. We would work with local communities to get input on the type and style of housing offered. That way we can preserve the beauty and intricacy of the area, not just with medium/high density condos but a good mix of single and multi family housing/row homes.

Perrin: I am a long-time advocate of the policy to preserve our food growing lands. In the Fraser Valley agriculture is the primary economic driver which is worth over $2.5 billion per year and employs over 11,000 people. It is also essential for food security for B.C. and beyond. In the past two decades, there has been speculation on farmland from foreign buyers which has put pressure on the availability and affordability of homes which has caused pressure to remove land from the Agricultural Land Reserve. The NDP will discourage speculation by charging foreign buyers 20 per cent.

3. Other than what’s already been listed, what do you think are the biggest issues facing Agassiz-Harrison constituents and how would you or your party address them?

Vis: Fixing the Housing Affordability Crisis: Young people are being priced out and struggling to rent, never mind buy. Housing has only become more expensive under the Liberals, but Canada’s Conservatives have real solutions, including an Indigenous Housing Strategy.

Jobs and the Economy: A top priority is getting as many people back to work in good jobs everywhere – not just the big cities – as quickly as possible. We’re focused on building a foundation of success for every constituent and have a plan for a Fair Deal for Rural Canada to ensure more federal resources go to small communities like Agassiz and Harrison Hot Springs.

Bellay: The cost of living is the main issue and the Green would implement a Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI) to all Canadians to ensure no one lives below the poverty line. GLI also promotes health, work, entrepreneurship and boosts the economy. Canada is the only country to have universal healthcare, without also offering universal pharmacare. Greens would fully fund a universal pharmacare program. We would expand Medicare to include free dental care for low-income Canadians. We’re a rich country and we need to redistribute wealth more equitably. Greens would ensure everyone is paying their fair share of taxation.

Grewal: Agassiz-Harrison is a scenic rural community with a growing touristic economy as well as an aging population.

One of the issues I’ve been speaking to Agassiz-Harrison constituents with on the doorstep is how our seniors are still struggling to secure a dignified retirement. One of the first things we did as Liberals was restore the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement to 65 years from 67 years, putting thousands of dollars back into the pockets of seniors and reversing a Conservative policy that targeted retirees.

Many seniors are living longer and relying on monthly benefits to afford retirement. And some seniors continue to be at heightened risk of living with a low income.

Our Liberal plan will move forward to continue supporting seniors by boosting the OAS by 10% next year for seniors 75 and over. We will also Increase the GIS by $500 for single seniors and $750 for couples, starting at age 65.

Niles: Agassiz-Harrison, like so many other communities, is facing a housing crisis with shortages of available properties for both rentals and purchases. A PPC government will work on reducing immigration and refugee rates, which will free up more rental properties. We will work with provinces to curb speculation and money laundering by foreign, non-residential buyers in our land and housing markets as well as privatize or dismantle the CMHC, a mammoth government agency that is only fueling the housing crisis, not helping to cool it down.

Perrin: Climate change is an urgent issue for Agassiz-Harrison. The wildfires which caused the tragic loss of the entire community of Lytton also effected landowners in Harrison Lake on Long Island. A friend relayed to me to the effort it took them to save most of their property. Jagmeet Singh and the NDP have an aggressive plan to reduce our CO2 emission by 50 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030. We will do this by eliminating the billions of dollars of subsidies to fossil fuel corporations and shift financial support to green sustainable energy production and implement Just Transition legislation to aid oil and gas workers retraining.


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adam.louis@ ahobserver.com

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Election 2021