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Social: Poverty and social justice debated in Richmond

Candidates spar over funding
social chak
Coun. Chak Au has often proposed more social grant spending at city hall. Now, if elected MLA, he may have the chance to increase funds from the provincial side of things. April, 2017.

Social service-related issues were top of the agenda at an election debate held Tuesday evening at Minoru Activity Centre, although that didn’t preclude sparring about the economy and transit.

The Liberals “don’t have any problem spending billions of dollars on a bridge. They can find that easy, but they can’t find money for HandyDART,” noted Richmond-Steveston BC NDP candidate Kelly Greene

Liberal Jas Johal countered, stating the bridge will provide economic benefits by moving goods and people. In turn, the government will be better positioned to provide more social services.

This was a theme repeated throughout the evening: Whereas Teresa Wat repeated that her government is focused on the economy, including getting disabled people jobs, the NDP and Greens were quick to point out just how much social service spending had waned under the BC Liberals.

One question noted, despite a recent raise in disability assistance rates there has only been “a net increase of $78 for (people with disabilities) in over a decade and no increase specifically in the shelter portion of $375.”

Wat replied, “We want to help people on disability, so they can get a good paying job.”

The NDP has pledged to increase the rate by another $100 — still short of the minimum $1,200 being asked for by advocacy groups.

Another commonly-cited theme emerged: Charges that the BC Liberals are only increasing social spending in the run-up to an election and the increases only counter what has been taken away or not provided for, to begin with.

Such was the argument by the NDP’s Chak Au on school funding and seismic upgrades for schools.

“They’ve done nothing in the past 10 years. A month ago they came to Cook school to announce funding.

“The fact is, in 2014, they promised there would be a rebuilding of Gilmore school. What happened? Nothing. This is a government of denial and arrogance,” said Au.

Liberal John Yap pledged a capital works project office to fast-track 24 school upgrades.

And, “we’re looking forward to restoration of class sizes,” said Yap, citing a Supreme Court of Canada ruling, which concluded the government had underfunded schools for 15 years, via unconstitutional legislation.

Food banks were also discussed.

One question noted there has been a 33 per cent increase in the use of food banks since 2008. Candidates were asked what they would do to reduce reliance on food banks.

Green candidate Michael Wolfe said the region needs to move toward sustainable, local agriculture.

Liberal Linda Reid agreed. She said food banks can benefit from local growers, citing community farms along No. 5 Road backlands.

Reid and Johal noted the government had recently spent $10 million in new funding for food banks, to help with refrigeration costs.

Many point to the fact welfare rates have been frozen for 10 years.

Johal said a strong economy is needed to increase social spending. 

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