Liberals promise $100M to boost internet access; NDP pledge to protect salmon stocks

The leaders of British Columbia’s main political parties were back on the campaign trail on Vancouver Island and in the south-central Interior on Sunday, making pledges on issues ranging from wild salmon protection to home ownership as the provincial election entered its final week.

Provincial Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson brought his campaign to Osoyoos, B.C., promising to spend $100 million on improving internet access in rural communities if elected after the Oct. 24 vote.

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He said the money would also support better mobile connectivity in large parts of the province where it’s impossible to get a cellphone signal.

The pledge would match $100 million the province has invested so far in the Connecting British Columbia program created in 2015, with the largest infusion of $50 million announced last April.

Wilkinson also touted the Liberals’ promises to eliminate the provincial sales tax for a year and implement a $7,000 annual tax cut to help older people remain in their homes rather than entering long-term care.

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau, meanwhile, criticized her rivals’ records on housing affordability during a campaign stop in Duncan, B.C.

Furstenau said the Liberals treated the early days of the housing affordability crisis as an “economic boom,” in which real estate prices drove up wealth for homeowners in particular neighbourhoods.

She said the boom came at an enormous cost, as a generation of young people in B.C. have been priced out of owning homes in their communities.

Furstenau acknowledged progress to cool the housing market and protect renters under the NDP minority government, which the Greens supported, but said the province can’t keep “tinkering around the edges” of the crisis.

She promised the Greens would do more to reduce speculation in the housing market, tackle rising insurance costs in strata buildings — in which people own their private units and share collective ownership of common assets — and to support people who spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent.

NDP Leader John Horgan was also on Vancouver Island, pledging action to protect and revitalize wild salmon stocks while visiting Campbell River, B.C.

He said a re-elected NDP government would double its contribution to the B.C. salmon restoration and innovation fund, a nearly $143-million partnership with Ottawa.

The province currently contributes 30 per cent and the federal government provides 70 per cent for the fund that focuses on innovation, infrastructure and science partnerships to support sustainable fishing practices and protect wild salmon.

“I understand that the constitutional experts will tell us that the federal government is O.K. with managing the fishery. I’m here to say today that British Columbians want a greater say in managing that fishery and we’ve been doing that over the past three years,” said Horgan.

Furstenau responded to his announcement in a news release, saying the initial funding for the salmon restoration and innovation fund arose from work by the Greens’ former interim leader Adam Olsen.

She said the Greens would go further than the New Democrats by cancelling open-net ocean-based fish farm tenures and providing support for the transition to land-based pens throughout B.C.’s coast.

The incumbent B.C. Liberal candidate in the riding of Vancouver-False Creek also faced criticism Sunday for using a quote by a long-time advocate for people who use drugs in a campaign video.

Garth Mullins took to Twitter to explain that a statement he made over the summer was used without his consent in the video recently posted to social media by former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan.

Mullins is quoted as saying, “I am not going to stand at an open hole digging graves with John Horgan” — a reference to the spike in fatal overdoses B.C. has recorded throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

But he said the political ad misrepresents his words in order to bolster opposition to a new overdose prevention site proposed in the riding where Sullivan was first elected in 2013.

Mullins said he’s not voting for the Liberals and he’s written a letter to both Sullivan and party leader Andrew Wilkinson to demand the ad be removed.

The Liberals responded with a statement from Sullivan, who said he’s taken Mullins’ concerns into consideration but decided not to remove the quote.

“The accuracy of the quote has been confirmed, which was put forward in proper context regarding frustration with the NDP’s ineffective handling of the drug problem in our city and was made in the public domain.”

Sullivan said he will address the situation during a community Zoom meeting on Monday.

Mullins hosts Crackdown, a podcast about drug policy and the opioid crisis, and accused the Liberals of scapegoating drug users and people without housing in their messaging about community safety.

— by Brenna Owen in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2020.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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