By Kyle Reid | Feb. 10, 2021
Provincial election candidates in Conception Bay South district gave their take on the local economy, healthcare and tourism during a meet-the-candidates forum last week hosted by the Conception Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club of Avalon Northeast and Manuels River Centre.
Moderator Tom Williams posed three questions to the candidates, who were provided with the topics in advance. All but one of the four candidates in the race participated. The NDP’s Andrew Lovell declined due to work commitments.
NL Alliance candidate Warrick Butler kicked things off.
“I’ve voted for all the parties over the years,” said Butler. “I’ve listened to what they have to say, to offer for my future, but still here we are again; another election and a little worse off than we were last time.”
Butler promised to advocate for a $15 an hour minimum wage, promote preventative healthcare and for more government investment in technology, arts and agriculture.
He added he would like to see a review of spending in all government departments, agencies and corporations to find savings. “And I’m not proposing layoffs,” Butler clarified.
Liberal candidate Shelley Moores kept her opening statement short, introducing herself and highlighting her career as a community volunteer.
Moores said while on the campaign trail she’s heard from constituents who would like to see less bickering in government. “I’ve heard various issues from seniors, farmers, youth (and) Brownies who have told me we need to stop bullying and we need to have more girl power,” Moores said.
Progressive Conservative candidate Barry Petten highlighted his track record as the incumbent MHA, touting the RCMP detachment building in CBS as among his accomplishments. “It was something the residents told me they needed and they demanded it, really, because people were getting scared to live in our communities,” said Petten.
Turning to health care, Petten said there is a critical family doctor shortage in CBS and a need for added transportation services.
Candidates were then asked how they would work with the local municipal government, businesses, and community groups to grow the Conception Bay South economy.
Moores said development of tourism in CBS is a priority.
“The development of our tourism industry will, in turn, benefit our small businesses and recreational programs,” she said.
Petten took a dig at the Liberal government not releasing Moya Greene’s economic recovery report, arguing that rumoured cuts to the public sector, healthcare and marine transport could be damaging to the economy.
“You can’t shock the economy,” said Petten. “You can’t just go cutting while right now our economy’s in a very fragile state…What I’m hearing through the Greene report and (what) the public (is) concerned about, there’s privatization, there’s possible cuts — realistically no one knows. It’s kind of (like) the boogeyman.”
Butler suggested businesses need less red tape when setting up in CBS and across the province.
“I will work to remove the red tape that so many of us find in our own businesses,” said Butler, who himself owns a small business. “I will work to reduce the mass amount of fees and taxes imposed on them. We need to develop programs that will generate jobs and revenues that in turn will generate taxes for the government.”
Butler pointed to the 25 per cent renovation rebate rolled out by the government during the COVID-19 pandemic as a good government program to grow the local economy and collect tax revenue.
Next, candidates were questioned about the district’s biggest challenges regarding COVID-19 and the provincial health system.
Petten said the government needs to implement point of entry testing, adding that people are still fearful of an outbreak. He added hospitals are backlogged because of delayed services during the height of the pandemic shutdowns.
Butler pointed to preventative healthcare measures, such as finding ways to make healthy eating more affordable and looking for ways to entice doctors to stay in the province through research grants to address shortages.
Moores focused on the Liberal government’s record during the pandemic, pointing to the successful re-opening of businesses, as well as the prioritizing of health and fitness.
Finally, the three candidates were asked how they would work to revive tourism.
Moores touted Liberal government spending on the $25 million hospitality and support program and the 2020 Stay at Home Year campaign, as well as the planned 2021 Come Home Year.
Butler said government needs to commit to further promoting tourism and suggested there are opportunities for “virtual tourism” when physical travel is restricted.
Petten highlighted his experience formerly working as an assistant to the then Minister of Tourism, noting that as a seasonal economy, the tourism industry requires a lot of government support.
“It’s not about growth, it’s about sustainability,” Petten said.
In their final remarks, Petten and Moores once again highlighted their resumes; Petten’s as the incumbent MHA, and Moores’ as an active community volunteer. Butler repeated his argument for political reform.
“Without it, we’ll be back here (next time) with different issues and the same problems,” said Butler.