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Talking housing and labour on the federal campaign trail

Local candidates state their cases for improving housing and labour in the Sea to Sky

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After visiting a string of unoccupied houses during a recent door-knocking trip to Whistler, Conservative MP John Weston came up with an idea.

"I've got a solution for the housing crisis," he joked.

It might not qualify as a full-blown crisis — the Whistler Housing Authority recently announced plans for 100 new employee beds — but it's no secret that Whistler is feeling the squeeze.

And in Whistler, the questions of housing and labour go hand in hand.

"I see this almost as a jigsaw puzzle," Weston said, noting the various moving pieces at play, from workers and employers to various levels of government.

Being a homeowner in Whistler means he's uniquely equipped to fit the pieces in the right place, he said.

"It's about advocacy, and it really ties into the ability of a person to live and breathe Whistler, understand it and translate its needs to national decision makers," Weston said.

If reelected, Weston said he would continue working with local governments to take Whistler's concerns to the national level, like he did this past summer in bringing employment minister Jason Kenney to the riding.

The Conservative Party has promised to expand the homebuyers plan to $35,000, expand the tax free savings account and establish a permanent home renovation tax credit, Weston said.

Through his own travels throughout the riding, NDP candidate Larry Koopman has heard of the current troubles firsthand — he attended the August meeting hosted by the Whistler Chamber to discuss the resort's staffing struggles.

"My heart goes out to the business community, and being in the tourist business myself... I totally appreciate the frustration of trying to find workers for their businesses," said Koopman, who manages a cottage rental business in Gibsons.

There is no "silver-bullet solution" for the two issues, Koopman said, but he would work hard to build bridges between the Whistler business community and potential untapped labour markets like in First Nations communities or people with disabilities.

"No politician, no party has all the answers," Koopman said. "What we need to do is we need to sit down, we need to listen, and we need to work and facilitate finding solutions, and I think I can do that."

The NDP is proposing a national housing strategy, "and that means partnering with municipalities, the provinces and First Nations communities to restore the funding and make investments in affordable housing," Koopman said.

"One of the things that we have proposed in our policies is to provide incentives for construction for 10,000 affordable market rental housing units," he said. "And then also we're going to renew the cooperative housing agreements that are set to expire, and we've made a pledge to invest over $2 billion in co-ops and social housing by 2020."

For Pamela Goldsmith-Jones and the Liberal Party, a major investment in infrastructure is seen as a large piece of the puzzle — the party has pledged $60 billion to infrastructure, $20 billion of which would go to affordable housing.

"For sure, the infrastructure investment is going to help with employment... and housing is a big part of that," Goldsmith-Jones said, adding that the Liberal Party is also creating a youth employment strategy that aims to create 40,000 new youth jobs.

The Liberals would also renew cooperative housing agreements as well as eliminate GST on new capital investments in affordable renting housing, "which will help developers to keep the prices low," Goldsmith-Jones said.

"We want the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation to support construction by the private sector and social enterprises and co-ops. We want to give them that mandate," she said.

With the labour crunch being felt up and down the corridor, Goldsmith-Jones said there may be some efficiencies to be found between the communities, "but overall, from a federal government perspective, we are not only injecting money in infrastructure investment to create jobs, and not only focusing on incentivizing hiring young people, but we're also cutting income taxes to that middle income earner by seven per cent," she said.

"That frees up the ability to grow your business, that frees up the ability to afford housing."

But it's the Green Party that has been speaking "longest and loudest" about the gaps in Canada's national service, said local candidate Ken Melamed.

"Canada is one of the few developed countries that still doesn't have a national climate strategy, a national housing strategy, a national transportation strategy," Melamed said.

"Basically the recurring story, and this is possibly the story of the campaign, is that we've got perpetual Canadian governments that are not serving Canadians."

During his time as Whistler's mayor, Melamed said he secured additional land and funding to meet the community's future resident housing needs.

"I believe there are about 250 acres remaining, of the original 300 acres, secured as a pre-Olympic bid condition. Significantly, the terms of the RMI included use of those funds for resident housing and transportation," he said.

The Greens have committed one per cent of GST — the equivalent of about $6.5 billion a year — to be transferred to municipalities to help close the infrastructure gap, Melamed said.

"Some communities may have an up-and-running transit system, or they might have their water issues dealt with, in which case they can use their federal infrastructure transfer for housing, or create a fund to help try and close those gaps," he said.

The Green Party doesn't support the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, but would push for more immigration, Melamed said.

Whistler federal all-candidates meeting

The Whistler Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Whistler Arts Council,

Pique and Whistler Question, will host a federal all-candidates meeting Sept. 28 at Millennium Place starting at 6 p.m.

Candidates John Weston (Conservative), Pamela Goldsmith-Jones (Liberal), Ken Melamed (Green Party) and Larry Koopman (NDP) will give a brief presentation, and attendees will have an opportunity to ask questions on topics that are important to them.

The evening will be moderated by Dave Davenport. The election is Oct.19.

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