Lisa Kongsdorf of Independent Living Vernon asks a question at a forum at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Wednesday night. (Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star)

Social issues front and centre

About 300 people jammed into the Vernon Performing Arts Centre for the Vernon-Monashee forum

Poverty and employment dominated as Vernon-Monashee’s four provincial candidates came together Wednesday.

About 300 people jammed into the Vernon Performing Arts Centre for the second to last forum before next week’s election.

Some of the questions revolved around the economy and Liberal government claims that 200,000 jobs have been created provincewide.

“Where are they? There isn’t the work,” said Libertarian Don Jefcoat, adding that employment levels in Vancouver don’t translate in the Okanagan.

“I wish Eric (Foster) would step up to the plate and say how many jobs did he create in Vernon.”

Foster, the Liberal incumbent, was asked how to tackle child poverty.

“The best way out of poverty is a good job. The 200,000 jobs created have helped a lot of people,” he said, adding that his party has also focused on housing, including providing down payments to first-time home buyers.

But NDP candidate Barry Dorval attacked the Liberals’ track record.

“Poverty is a shameful issue that’s pervasive in this province. It’s a decision that this provincial government has taken to ignore that,” he said, adding that B.C. does not have a strategy to address poverty.

In terms of poverty, Green Keli Westgate insists there’s a need to make Medical Service Plan premiums financially fair and her party would offer $35 million to programs that benefit children, while also increasing assistance for shelters.

Foster was also asked what he will do about homelessness in the community.

“We have done a considerable amount on the issue. We spent $8 million last year (on housing). We spent a considerable amount of money trying to get people into homes and shelters.” he said.

However, Jefcoat says welfare and disability rates must climb.

“We need to sit down with agencies. We need to find a plan that works for Vernon,” he said.

The issue of the opioid crisis also arose and Dorval says the NDP would create a ministry for mental health and addictions and add more treatment beds, while respecting the individuals involved.

“They’re people, not addicts,” he said.

In terms of the economy, Westgate was asked how the Greens would handle the forest sector.

“We’d like to stop shipping raw logs and open mills again,” she said, adding, though, that some forest workers may have to be retrained for other jobs.

“We need to diversify our economy and not just be resource-based.”

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