Korry Zepik

Korry Zepik

Employment dominates first Vernon-Monashee forum

Close to 100 residents turned out to hear four of the five riding candidates debate at the Schubert Centre.

Vernon-Monashee candidates had their first opportunity to square off Wednesday night.

Close to 100 residents turned out to hear Conservative Scott Anderson, Liberal Eric Foster, NDP’s Mark Olsen and independent Korry Zepik at the Schubert Centre. Green candidate Rebecca Helps did not attend.

The event, put on by the Okanagan Mainline Real Estate Board and Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce, featured 13 questions.

The top issues were: economy, taxes, debt, local government reform, skills training and transportation.

With the growing shortage of skilled workers, candidates spoke to their goals to train students.

“Eighty per cent of future jobs are going to require some form of post secondary education, so we need that now,” said Olsen, noting the NDP’s proposed $100 million needs-based grant.

The other candidates agreed that more training needs to be done at the high school level.

“One of the shortfalls we have in our system is we don’t have a lot of those opportunities for high school students,” said Foster, who worked in the education system for 15 years, at which time he saw the benefits of students being trained in forestry and ready to enter the workforce upon graduation.

Zepik said more needs to be done to keep residents from leaving B.C. to go to higher-paying jobs in Alberta.

“People leaving university are making $4 less an hour than we did in 1976, yet their debt is exponentially greater,” said Zepik, a 55-year-old Vernon resident and single father.

Anderson agreed with Zepik.

“This is an investment into our future,” said Anderson, noting the Conservative’s plan to look at expansion of apprenticeships.

Affordable housing was another topic particularly with property transfer taxes (it’s currently one per cent on the first $200,000 of home purchases and two per cent on the remainder).

Anderson says the carbon tax is ineffective and unfair and the Conservatives will work towards eliminating the property transfer tax.

“We can make it easier for people to afford a house and take away onerous taxes.”

Zepik favours using a carbon tax.

But Foster points out that property transfer taxes are a large part of the revenue stream, so he suggests raising the threshold in an incremental way.

Olsen shared Foster’s thoughts: “This is a rarity, on some points I’m actually agreeing with Mr. Foster.”

The link between economic prosperity and transportation was another topic.

Olsen and Zepik agreed that more reliance on  rail is needed as an affordable and environmentally favourable option to transport goods.

While Anderson and Foster said resources need to be focused on transportation corridors in the Interior and north.