By Chris Lewis | Feb. 4, 2021
Residents of Conception Bay East-Bell Island got to hear from their provincial candidates this past week in debate hosted by the CBA Chamber of Commerce amnd the Manuels River Centre.
Because of Covid-19 related social distancing restrictions, the debate was carried online, with each of the three candidates participating from the comfort of their homes.
Partaking in the meeting was Liberal candidate Lynn Hammond, Gavin Will of the NDP, and incumbent David Brazil, who has represented the district for the PC party for the last decade. Hammond had actually sought the Liberal nomination in a St. John’s district, but when she lost that contest, nominated herself for Conception Bay East – Bell Island, which she got by acclamation.
The first question asked by moderator Ian Patey of the Rotary Club of Avalon Northeast focused on how each contender would work with the district’s business sector to help grow and promote the local economy if elected.
Hammond said the answer to the province’s economy lies with businesses and not the government.
“People often say that government are responsible for creating jobs. We see other party platforms that say ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs.’ What we really know is that businesses create jobs,” Hammond said. “We have three vibrant communities in this area, and we need to make efforts to support the people who are really creating jobs: businesses, entrepreneurs, and communities.”
Hammond said the biggest setback for small businesses is often the red tape involved in getting something going. This, she said, is something she could address if elected.
Brazil said municipalities play a key part in making the environment conducive to nurturing businesses. He highlighted the Venture Capital Fund that is laid out in the PCs blue book, which will be used to help municipalities, businesses and the not-for-profit sector.
“One of the other things that we are proposing here is a new hire regime investment portfolio,” Brazil said. “That will include taking money from new hires to invest back into the businesses who hire those individuals, so that they can expand the products and services they provide.”
Brazil added the PCs have an “aggressive” red tape reduction program in mind. He argued the economy should be driven from the grass roots; namely the business sector in each municipality.
“The investments that we would put forward as a government are support mechanisms. They’re not control mechanisms,” he said.
New Democrat Will, who owns a small business, a publishing house based in Portugal Cove – St. Phillips, said there are two key factors to growing the local economy: infrastructure including roads, sidewalks and public transit; and supporting community organizations such as town councils and chambers of commerce, where entrepreneurs can establish economic development plans.
He said Conception Bay East-Bell Island district has been neglected by the provincial government in these areas.
“The recent five-year roads plan, for example, completely excludes this district,” Will said. “The condition of many provincial roads is unacceptable. You can’t drive along major roads in our communities without dodging potholes … There are practical, low-cost solutions that could help, however this Liberal government has completely ignored the situation.”
The issue of family doctors dominated the answers to the second question, which related to health care.
Brazil said the PCs will introduce incentives at Memorial University’s School of Medicine to make more seats available, and incentives for people to remain in the province after graduation.
“COVID-19 has really shown us the cracks in all of our systems, healthcare included,” Hammond said. “It’s also allowed us – or, really, forced us — to have to deliver programs and services differently.”
She cited her own interactions with her family doctor over the last few months. Being able to conduct “visits” over the phone has been a great benefit, she said, arguing those are the kinds of things the province needs to learn from going forward.
Will agreed the shortage of doctors and nurses is a concern, and supported the idea of offering incentives to medical graduates to remain in Newfoundland.
“We urgently need a plan for the recruitment and retention of doctors, nurses, and personal care workers,” Will said, adding community clinics are as important as ever, especially during a pandemic when people are trying to avoid large gatherings such as you might see at a hospital.
“We must improve patient to worker ratios at hospitals and nursing homes. The NDP will introduce dental care for seniors, if elected, so that health problems that can result from not having proper dental care can be caught early,” Will added.
The third and final question focused on how to boost the province’s tourism sector.
Hammond said the Liberal platform recognizes the tourism sector’s importance in the province’s economic recovery, but also understands the setbacks it is currently facing such as transportation to the province.
“Government has a responsibility to help tourism operators, just like all businesses,” she said. “There’s so much available in this district from the fossils at Manuels River, and Bell Island, which to me, is a gold mine of tourism opportunities from the U-Boat history to the cultural heritage. But, of course, if you don’t have a sustainable ferry service, those are going to face barriers as well.”
Will, whose publishing company Boulder Books has published a number of tourism guides, said many businesses suffered in 2020, and the tourism industry will likely suffer for the foreseeable future without support from all levels of government.
“We need the federal government to continue supporting local businesses, and people who provide critical services to the tourism sector,” Will said. “Support for the people who would normally be employed by the tourism sector must also continue. If not, skilled workers may no longer be available, and tourism will suffer.”
Will said the province needs to get a head start on promoting Newfoundland so that those who are eager to travel already have a destination in mind when the pandemic is over.
“Prior to the pandemic, tourism was a booming industry,” Will said. “So, let’s use that to our advantage, and promote our province as a place to visit once it is safe to do so.”
Brazil said a PC government would promote vacationing at home, or ‘Staycationing,’ to help the industry get through the pandemic. Investing in infrastructure, signage, and technology would also be important, he said.
“We would ensure that we have a collaborative approach with all the industry stakeholders,” Brazil said. “Every lens that we would put on investments in government, would also take into account what impact it would have on the tourism industry itself. So, if we’re doing something that talks about infrastructure, what impact would that potentially have on tourism?”
Brazil said there’s a wealth of knowledge within the district when it comes to tourism.
“We have the infrastructure here,” he said. “We just have to improve it, market it, and we need to develop those partnerships. That’s very easily done due to the fact that we have a chamber of commerce here, we have heritage societies, we have tourism groups that are apt to do this, so we’re in a good place to do this. We just need all of the partners to come aboard – the provincial and federal governments, and all the municipalities – and do their part.”