Burnaby South candidates trade barbs on housing at town hall

Voters seeking a respite from the brawls typical of the leaders’ debates during the current federal election might have felt at home at Tuesday evening’s town hall event at the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby.

On stage from Burnaby South were Green Brennan Wauters, Conservative Jay Shin, People’s Party candidate Al Rawdah and Liberal Neelam Brar. Taking the stage instead of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was New West-Burnaby New Democrat Peter Julian.

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The forum saw all varieties of questions, ranging from keeping small business competitive, affordability, balancing energy and the economy, diversity and innovation, early childhood development and whether each party would support a coalition in the event of a minority situation.

The event was billed specifically as a town hall, and moderator Shachi Kurl kept a keen eye on moving the dialogue forward and not getting caught up in individual scraps. And for the most part, the candidates remained civil.

But that rule was made ever more clear after Kurl chastised Julian taking up time from a question on balancing environment and economy to respond to a point made by Brar in her answer to a question on affordability.

In her statement on affordability, without a past federal NDP government’s record to attack, Brar went after the B.C. NDP. She told the crowd the federal Liberals were pumping $40 billion into Canada’s first national housing strategy, “knowing full well that the NDP provincial government wasn’t doing enough.”

“On housing, the B.C. NDP government has actually created more affordable housing units than all the other governments in Canada put together,” Julian said in his response to a question on the environment and the economy. “Secondly, the current (federal) program has actually cut what was already pretty pathetic funding from the former Harper government.”

That aside, however, there was little in the way of disruptions, and candidates were able to articulate their points without the multiple voices talking over one another that was characteristic of the leaders’ debates.

Candidates were also asked about how they felt about a potential coalition if the election results in a hung Parliament, and both candidates from the two front-running parties appeared to see the Greens as key allies.

Wauters said his party has “made it clear that we’re here to talk to everyone. No one is off limits.”

“If there is a hung Parliament, I think it will be a success on our part because maybe the parties will start talking to each other and co-operate,” Wauters said.

Shin said his party is working for a majority, but “on a personal level,” he said he “would love” to work with the Greens, referencing the Conservatives’ work on acid rain in the 1980s.

“The Conservative government at the time tackled that issue head-on and actually Elizabeth May was an advisor to the Conservative government at the time,” Shin said.

Brar, too, offered her respect to the Green Party:

“If there’s one party whose values I respect, it’s the Green Party’s values on environment and climate action, and I will ensure that they have support on moving those agendas forward,” she said, pointing to her party’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Julian pointed to some of the issues he would like to push in the case of a minority government, including “stopping Mr. Trudeau’s boondoggle Trans Mountain pipeline.” That’s notable because in the NDP’s six “urgent priorities” for supporting a minority government there is no mention of the pipeline.

Julian added that the NDP would be pushing affordability issues and universal pharmacare, both of which are explicitly mentioned in the NDP’s priorities.

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