Candidates running for Kootenay East participated in a Zoom debate hosted by the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday afternoon. Trevor Crawley photo.

Candidates running for Kootenay East participated in a Zoom debate hosted by the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday afternoon. Trevor Crawley photo.

Candidates debate economic issues during Cranbrook business forum

Topics focused on business and economic issues in forum hosted by Chamber of Commerce

Candidates running for Kootenay East in the upcoming provincial election are coming off back-to-back debates in Cranbrook.

Following an event hosted by JCI Kootenays and Artistic Media Productions on Tuesday that was live streamed via Youtube, the candidates returned a day later on Wednesday for a Zoom event hosted by the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce, focusing on small business and economic issues.

Shypitka is the BC Liberal Party incumbent who has represented Kootenay East for the last three years, while Wayne Stetski is running for the BC NDP and Kerri Wall is running for the BC Green Party.

Candidates, appearing remotely, gave opening and closing statements while discussing a number of questions posed by moderator Christine Hoechsmann ranging from the Employer Health Tax, tourism supports in the COVID-19 era, and ways to support startups and industry in the region.

Wall fielded the first question on industry development and job creation, speaking about the importance of employment as as social determinant of health, as well as the need to transition from oil and gas to renewable energy sources and industries.

Shypitka responded by noting that global demand for oil and gas usage is increasing, and pledged more timely approvals for environmental assessments, reviews of natural resource statutes, and implementing digital and online regulatory systems. He also suggested that the Elk Valley would be a ‘great place to develop a tech hub’ and promised to reform the Agricultural Land Commission.

Stetski called the Elk Valley coal mines the ‘backbone of Kootenay East’ and pledged support for forestry and agricultural sectors. He added that hunting and trapping are important to the region, noting that the province must ‘rebuild’ wildlife local populations.

Tourism, a significant economic driver in the Kootenays that has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, was a top focus for all three candidates.

Stetski spoke about expanding tourism operations by combining dining and outdoor activities, along with addressing climate change to preserve the natural landscape. He also touted early economic supports announced by the BC NDP government such as $300 million in grants to small and medium sized businesses with a $10,000 top-up for tourism businesses.

Shypitka noted the importance of tourism operators accessing capital funding, while also touting plans for tax relief through a one-year elimination of the Provincial Sales Tax and a need for clarity on health and safety guidelines so that tourism business can safely operate though COVID-19.

Compared to other jurisdictions, Wall said the region is seen by the public as a safer place, in terms of COVID-19 transmission. She said minimum wages need to be raised to a livable wage, and more affordable housing is needed for those working in the tourism industry, while also calling for increased data for hotel occupancy or tracking travellers moving through the area.

The three candidates duelled on bridging the urban-rural divide between the Kootenays and the Lower Mainland, while also discussing the future of developing green jobs and a green economy.

The Employer Health Tax (EHT), which arose out of the cancelled Medical Services Premium (MSP), was the final question addressed by the candidates.

Stetski touted the elimination of the MSP and outlined a number of policies, including tax relief and grants for small businesses to adjust to the new EHT.

Wall said it is the provincial government’s responsibility to pay for premiums, and suggested raising the corporate tax rate.

Shypitka said the MSP was removed at 50 per cent for the final year in 2019, while the Employer Health Tax was also implemented, meaning businesses were ‘double-dipping’ by having to pay for both the MSP and shoulder the new health tax and pledged additional tax relief.

Advance voting has opened for the provincial election across the province, while general voting is on Oct. 24.

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