The Old Guard faction of Comox Valley political activists has been trying for decades to create a cohesive voting block
Ronna-Rae Leonard | 2017 Decafnation file photo
NDP’s Ronna-Rae Leonard: voters given chance to choose long-term stability
Seeking her second term as the NDP MLA for the Courtenay-Comox riding, Ronna-Rae Leonard does not apologize for her party calling an Oct. 24 snap election.
Leonard says the call was necessary to solidify the NDP government’s successful record on dealing with the pandemic and creating economic stability.
“Our collaboration with the Green Party has resulted in the most ambitious climate action plan in North America,” she told Decafnation via a telephone interview. “But the fragility of a minority government is always at risk and that puts three years of forward progress at risk.”
This election, Leonard said, gives the people of British Columbia the chance to set a stable course for the province’s long-term recovery.
And she does not agree with the accusations that her party has broken its 2017 campaign promises on old growth forest logging, liquid natural gas (LNG) or to shelve the controversial Site C dam project.
The NDP sent the Site C project to an independent commission for analysis and so the public could see the facts of its status.
“That was the promise, and it was kept,” she said. “But the Liberals had pushed the project beyond the point of no return and without any transparent analysis.”
On old-growth logging, Leonard notes that public support has swung back and forth, pro and con, over many generations. But she and NDP leadership have committed to adopting the 14 recommendations contained in the report from the BC Old-Growth Strategic Review Panel, which was based on public and stakeholder consultations between November 2019 to January 2020, and released last month.
Among the key recommendations, she said are a promise to give indigenous peoples a place at the table, and the introduction of specific criteria by which to analyze old-growth logging proposals.
Likewise, on LNG, she said her party never promised to ban LNG projects in BC.
“We criticized the Liberals for their wide open, sell off BC policies, from which no prosperity was ever delivered,” she said. “We didn’t go chasing LNG, it came to us and we’ve developed five criteria that hold LNG to the highest standards in the world and that will meet our climate goals.”
LONG-TERM CARE BEDS
The NDP has no plan to push private long-term care homeowners out of the market. Instead, Leonard says her party will focus on stricter oversight of private operators and on more training and improved working conditions for care home workers.
“What we inherited were facilities privatized to profit on the backs of employees and seniors,” she said. “We’re committed to improving the standard of care and we’re working toward that.”
Leonard noted that in the history of BC, only one care home had ever been taken over by public control. But in the last three years, the NDP government has taken over three.
And while the Liberals had promised only 70 new long-term care beds for the Comox Valley, the NDP has more than doubled that number to 150.
“Under the Liberals, long-term care was privatized, worker rights were taken away as were jobs, and wages were lowered so workers had to hold multiple part-time jobs to live,” she said. “Our promise is for more oversight, $1.4 billion to make sure every senior has a single room and more training and higher wages for workers.”
The NDP platform includes the hiring of 7,000 new health care workers, and 2,000 of those will be trained specifically for long-term care.
Leonard pointed out that since 2018, the NDP has partnered with North Island College to fund a state-of-the-art long-term care training facility in a real hospital setting at the former St. Joseph’s General Hospital building in Comox.
NO COMMITMENT ON PATHOLOGY SERVICES
But Leonard would make no commitment on returning onsite clinical pathology services to Comox Valley and Campbell River hospitals.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority has eliminated clinical pathologist positions on the North Island and moved them to a private corporation of Victora doctors. Physicians and health care workers in both communities have warned of the dangers, including long wait times for biopsy results, and the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board has written to VIHA, the Premier and the Minister of Health demanding that the services be reinstated.
But Leonard called the issue “not clear cut,” and that it was a “challenge to work with different levels of authority,” referring to VIHA leadership.
“I’ve heard both sides of that issue and I don’t know the best path,” she said. “I’ll leave that to those in a position to know.”
RESPONSE TO CRITICS
Leonard’s election opponents have alluded to public criticisms that she has not been responsive to her constituents or to local governments on issues like clinical pathology services.
“I think this is politically motivated criticism,” she said. “I always take action whenever an issue is brought to me. I do the best I can do. I realize there are a lot of different views out there I’m here to make life better for everyone, not just the top one percent.”
ADDRESSING YOUNG VOTERS
Leonard hopes young voters will recognize the beneficial changes her party has brought made for post-secondary students.
Under the Liberal tuitions tripled, she said, but the NDP has brought back and expanded the student access grant program in February of 2019. Now, once again, 40,000 students per year are eligible for a $4,000 interest-free student loan.
The NDP also expanded the access grants to include students enrolled in diploma and certificate programs, while before they applied only to four-year baccalaureate degrees programs.
Leonard said the NDP also improved the grant program by raising the allowable maximum family household income, which increased the number of eligible students.
Born into a military family, Ronna-Rae Leonard grew up in the Comox Valley. She served three terms on the Courtenay City Council. She won the 2017 provincial elections, her first try at provincial office, by a slim margin over the BC Liberal Party candidate, Jim Benninger. BC Premier John Horgan appointed Leonard as the NDP Parliamentary Secretary for Seniors this year.
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OCT. 24 PROVINCIAL ELECTION INFORMATION
The 2020 provincial election takes place on Oct. 24.
Advance voting begins at various locations on Thursday, Oct. 15 and continues every day through Wednesday, Oct. 21. A schedule and list of polling stations are posted on the Elections BC website.
Candidates in the Courtenay-Comox riding are incumbent Ronna-Rae Leonard (NDP), Gillian Anderson (BC Greens) and Brennan Day (BC Liberals).
In the last election (2017), 66.89 percent of the riding’s 43,671 registered voters cast a ballot. The results were:
NDP Ronna-Rae Leonard received 10,886 votes or 37.36%
BC Liberal Jim Benninger — 10,697 votes or 36.72%
Green Ernie Sellentin — 5,351 votes or 18.37%
Leah McCulloch — 2,201 votes or 7.55%
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