Sparwood community members came out to the Causeway Bay Tuesday evening to hear what the two candidates in the running to serve as Kootenay East MLA had to say. The all-candidates forum saw Liberal incumbent Bill Bennett facing off against NDP candidate Norma Blissett.
Hosted by the Sparwood Chamber of Commerce and The Free Press, the forum gave the candidates the chance to answer a few pre-submitted questions before opening up the floor to the public. As Glen Purdy moderated, Bennett and Blissett shared their views on several topics, including supporting small businesses, addressing the selenium water problem in the Elk Valley, and ensuring B.C. has affordable housing.
As the forum moved into an open-mic format, it became clear that health care was an overwhelming concern for the voters in attendance.
Bennett was quick to call attention to the improvements made to health care in the Valley over the last decade, while recognizing that a lack of local doctors is still an issue.
“I know people in this room who have had to use our regional health care system, who have had to be taken to the regional hospital from Fernie, from Sparwood, and their lives have been saved. If you are really hurt, or really sick today in this region, your chances of survival are significantly better than they were 10 years ago,” he commented. “There are a number of things that we have done to keep health care strong in the Elk Valley, and does it need improvement? Absolutely.”
Bennett added, “This is not a political issue, it’s not a financial issue, it’s an issue of guys my age who are doctors retiring, and there just aren’t enough doctors in the western world.”
Blissett agreed that health care was a large concern and one she would work towards addressing. “There aren’t easy answers here, but we need to make it a big priority and work on it as best we can, and work with the community and all levels of government to do what we can.”
Following further questions about improving childcare services, generating government revenue, temporary foreign workers, and expanded training facilities for the Valley, the candidates wrapped things up with their closing remarks.
Blissett began. “You have a decision to make about whether you want to continue with more of the same, or if you want to take a chance and make a change to try to make things better,” she stated.
“We have a long term plan, we’re not going to be in for just one term, because it’s going to take more than one term to make things better in this province, but we have to start somewhere, and it’s going to start after May 14.”
Bennett countered, “Instead of changing for the sake of change, go with what’s working, work together, and help us build a stronger economy. Help us raise more revenue so we can finish the construction that needs to happen on Highway 3. We’ve already added a half a dozen passing lanes, we’ve replaced every bridge on Highway 3, we put a new high school here in Sparwood, we spent an enormous amount of money in the Elk Valley during my 12 years, and that comes because we have a strong economy.
“You should want to keep that going and not change back to a failed model that has proven to be unsuccessful.”
The Sparwood forum was the second of three Elk Valley forums leading up to the May 14 provincial election. The first was held in Fernie on April 24 and the third will take place in Elkford tonight.
Read last week’s editorial about how the two candidates performed in the Fernie forum here.