Politics

Election 2021: Meet your Cowichan-Malahat-Langford candidates

Candidates spoke to Capital Daily about their priorities, from housing to the opioid crisis—and we asked them all for their climate solutions

By Capital Daily Staff
August 31, 2021
Politics

Election 2021: Meet your Cowichan-Malahat-Langford candidates

Candidates spoke to Capital Daily about their priorities, from housing to the opioid crisis—and we asked them all for their climate solutions

James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Politics

Election 2021: Meet your Cowichan-Malahat-Langford candidates

Candidates spoke to Capital Daily about their priorities, from housing to the opioid crisis—and we asked them all for their climate solutions

By Capital Daily Staff
August 31, 2021
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Election 2021: Meet your Cowichan-Malahat-Langford candidates
James MacDonald / Capital Daily

For the 2021 election, we'll be speaking with candidates of the 4 major parties in each CRD riding. For each riding, we'll ask the candidates to outline their local priorities, and then we'll focus on a single issue for that riding. In Cowichan-Malahat-Lanford, we've chosen climate as a pressing issue to ask each candidate about.

Unless otherwise specified, all interviews are conducted live, not via email.

Riding profile:

Cowichan-Malahat-Langford is the biggest electoral district geographically in the Greater Victoria region, covering an area of 4,500 square kilometres. It includes Langford and the Highlands, the Cowichan Valley Regional District, and Port Renfrew. While the electoral district is divided by a mountain range, it’s also divided in other ways. According to 2016 census data, the median age of Langford is 38, more than 10 years younger than the Cowichan Valley’s median age of 49.9. A much higher percentage of people in the Cowichan Valley live in single-detached homes (73%), versus 40% in Langford. The electoral district’s median household income is right on par with that of the province at just under $70,000.

Langford, which has doubled in size since 1996, was ranked the “most livable” community in Canada by RATESDOTCA this year based on its size, affordability, growth, mortgage costs, and lifestyle. Langford is often characterized by its fast growth and rapid development, and 2020 did not buck the trend. Langford became BC’s fastest growing community last year, while the number of subdivision applications more than doubled. In contrast, throughout the past year, the Fairy Creek watershed on the western edge of the riding has become synonymous with the environmental movement to end old-growth logging in the province.

This election will see several repeat federal candidates, including two—Lia Versaevel and Alana DeLong—who have previously faced off at the provincial level.

We asked each candidate to outline their priorities on the local level, and to address a single issue for each riding. In Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, that issue was climate.

Notable recent coverage:

‘Should not have happened’: new documents outline potentially catastrophic failures in Danbrook One design

Langford is nearly 30 years old and has only elected one mayor

Capital Daily’s Fairy Creek coverage, so far

NDP: Alistair MacGregor (Incumbent)

NDP candidate Alistair MacGregor. Photo: Facebook

Incumbent Alistair MacGregor of the NDP was first elected in 2015 by a wide margin against the Liberal candidate, and re-elected in 2019 by a similar margin, finishing nearly 10 percentage points above the Conservative candidate. Prior to his election, MacGregor worked as a constituency assistant and a tree planter.

MacGregor’s top two local issues

Housing: Many important local issues, in MacGregor’s view, tie back to affordability, from health care to housing. “If you look at how many families are struggling with their monthly costs…It’s often a very fine balance to make ends meet each month,” he says. He credits the provincial government with giving people “a bit of a reprieve” from increases to housing costs but says it’s bound to increase sooner or later and measures need to be put in place to avoid those impacts. On home ownership, he says prices are “not reflective of reality, and I’m sure there will be a correction in the future at some point.” The NDP has promised to build 500,000 new units of affordable housing. “If you do have an activist federal government on the housing file and building more housing, that will have an effect” on prices, he says.

Health care: MacGregor and the NDP want to see dental care and pharmacare brought into the national health-care system. “We have millions of Canadians who don’t go and see a dentist regularly,” he says. “They’re skipping out because of the cost.” MacGregor wants to see transfer payments for health care tied to the provision of pharmacare and dental care.

Our issue: climate change

“If there was ever a year when the Earth was trying to send us a message, this was it,” he says. On the Island in particular, he points to droughts as a sign that the effects of climate change are already well underway locally. Aside from the NDP’s promises on climate change—which include putting more pressure on industrial emitters, creating a “climate accountability office,” and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050—MacGregor wants to create a national soil strategy to enlist farmers and ranchers in the fight against climate change.

Liberal: Blair Herbert

Liberal candidate Blair Herbert. Photo: Facebook

A farmer and beekeeper as well as a Realtor and a former RCMP officer, Blair Herbert is running for the second time in this riding. In 2019, he placed fourth with 15.8% of the vote.

Herbert’s top three local issues

Economic recovery: While Herbert recognizes environmental problems are at a critical point, he says economic recovery must come first: “We can’t make much headway on the environment when the economy is in turmoil.” He says the pandemic hit small businesses and independent workers like musicians especially hard. “We want to push to get things back up to full employment if we can as soon as possible, because we don’t want this recession to last nine years like the last one did.”

Housing: Prior to the pandemic, Herbert says the real estate business was on eggshells. “When COVID came along 18 months ago we were getting views from experts that the market was going to tank 20%,” he recalls. That, obviously, did not happen. Extreme rises in housing prices have left many people out—some of whom were hit double by restrictions on their businesses. “The ones that I’m concerned with are the ones that were not in the housing market before that were punished over the last 18 months by COVID restrictions.” While he recognizes the government may have a role to play in fixing that problem, he resists large-scale government involvement in housing. “Every time the government seems to get involved in the market, it doesn’t work out.”

Child care: The Liberals have promised affordable child care through deals with the provinces. In BC, Herbert says that could reduce child care costs by half. He sees such deals as one way to stimulate the economy coming out of the pandemic. “I’d like to see the economy moving to get those people up and working,” he says. “The daycare initiative is one thing that’s going to help with that.”

Our issue: climate change

In the Cowichan Valley, Herbert says he’s seeing the climate change in front of his eyes. “There’s lots of runoff-type creeks in our area, there’s no water running through them at this point,” he says. “We’ve hit temperature levels that we’ve never ever seen before.” He says watching that change take place at his Mill Bay farm over the past decade is what caused him to seek political office. But he’s not eager for the government to take charge. “It seems to me that everyone wants the government to look after [climate change],” he says. “It’s people making individual choices that can bring down greenhouse gas emissions.”

Key among those individual choices, he says, is the decision to buy an electric car, an idea he returned to several times in our conversation. “We are travellers here, and we are driving cars,” he said. The communities outlying Victoria are among the most commuter-heavy on the Island, and although he also says he would like to see rail come back, Herbert is unconvinced of its feasibility. He says a rail line out to Langford would be a doable first step.

Ultimately, however, he returns to electric cars as a more plausible solution for the near term. “A lot of people think it’s a good idea to get cars off the road, but that’s so that they can get to work faster in their car,” he says.

Conservative: Alana DeLong

Conservative candidate Alana DeLong. Photo: Facebook

Alana DeLong started her political career in Calgary where she served four terms as an MLA for the Progressive Conservative Party. She later ran provincially for the BC Liberals in 2017, coming in second, and ran for a federal seat in her current riding in 2019, also coming in second with 25.8% of the votes.

DeLong’s top two local issues

Inflation: DeLong says this countrywide issue is really being felt at a local scale in the riding because of the number of people on a fixed income or who have a middle or lower income. “It’s a local issue; it’s something we see every day,” she says. This has translated to higher prices for groceries, and rising rental costs. She adds that many people in the riding are having to live with roommates in order to afford the rising rental costs: “It’s simply because people can’t afford to rent a house or rent an apartment by themselves.”

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Accountability: While out door-knocking, DeLong says it’s become very common to come across people who express their distrust of politicians. Ethics are crucial in government, she says, but ethical breaches with inadequate consequences have eroded Canadians’ trust of the system and contributed to political apathy. “That’s actually damaged our democracy,” she says. “We really need to get this fixed and we need to make sure that there’s teeth in those laws.” She believes that, as representatives of the people, politicians should be set to a higher standard.

Our issue: climate change

Running in a very vehicle-reliant riding, DeLong says the current federal target of all new vehicles being zero-emission by 2035 is not reasonable. “We’ve got to deal with reality,” she says; at this point she does not believe the resources and technology are there to make a full transition to zero-emission vehicles.

On a global scale, DeLong points to the fact that Canada produces less than 2% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. “We’ve actually got to approach it as a world problem,” she says, adding that Canada’s role should be providing high-emitting countries with cleaner fuel.

As forest fires continue to ravage parts of the Interior, DeLong says forest management and putting more resources into prevention solutions are key. “We really need to deal with the problem and make sure that we’re treating it in a scientific manner and actually coming up with solutions that work.” Though the effects of climate change like fires and floods are largely a provincial issue, she says, the federal government should step in with military assistance if asked for help.

Green: Lia Versaevel

Green candidate Lia Versaevel. Photo: Twitter

Versaevel, a newcomer to federal politics in the 2021 election, worked for nearly three decades as a correctional officer and counsellor before leaving the Island for Nevada. She returned in 2013, and now works as a poverty law advocate in the Cowichan Valley. She ran for the Greens in the 2017 provincial election, and finished third.

Versaevel’s top three local issues

Food security: With this summer’s heatwaves, Versaevel noticed the extreme stress the heat put on animals and crops locally. “Of course food security is so closely tied to climate,” she says. “It’s just been a devastating summer all over the country, in terms of the climate’s impact on food.” That, she says, is only exacerbating a problem that has already existed for some time on the Island, with limited food deliveries from the mainland. In turn, that’s adding to a rising cost of living.

Housing crisis: The housing crisis, she says, “is so closely tied to the need for a guaranteed, livable income, which is something that the Green Party has been talking about for at least the last three election cycles.” In addition to helping people pay the rent, she would like the federal government to be working with local and provincial governments to encourage them to find ways to add housing stock locally. She would also like to see stricter requirements for people to occupy the homes they own.

Opioid crisis: “We have a terrible situation in the Cowichan Valley that is affecting everybody,” she says. “A lot of the people I work with because I’m a poverty law advocate are homeless and are using.” She advocates for the decriminalization of drugs, and cites Dr. Bonnie Henry’s own advocacy of decriminalization as an example—an apt example, given that, in her words, “This is another epidemic that we’re facing.”

Our issue: climate change

The commuter-heavy nature of Versaevel’s riding is not lost on her. She wants to see more investment in keeping people within their communities, in part to avoid generating the emissions that come with commuting. “We know that we have to make communities more livable, and make services within those communities more livable, so that people don’t have to be in their vehicles, transiting between different areas of the Island to get the services that they need,” she says.

She would like to see restrictions on vehicle use within cities as another way of reducing emissions. “There are many incredible examples around the world where we can regulate the use of vehicles where we can not have vehicles within city cores,” she says, citing the idea of rotating odd and even licence plate numbers to allow entry on certain days, an idea that has been tried in cities like Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Delhi, and Chengdu.

Versaevel advocates for more transit infrastructure to link the communities across the large riding. “We need to build a bigger system that works within each of those communities depending on all the other infrastructure,” she says.

Mark Hecht (PPC)

We have decided that due to limited time in this campaign and limited resources to cover it, we would focus only on the four major parties: Liberal, NDP, Green, and Conservative. We spoke with Mark Hecht before we made that decision.

The conversation was alarming. Hecht—previously best known for a controversial op-ed in the Vancouver Sun that was later removed by the newspaper and disavowed by his then-employer, Mount Royal University in Calgary—has in the interim embraced that infamy with a slogan on his website alluding to it: “I was cancelled, twice. Now I’m fighting back!”

Hecht makes wild accusations in videos on his YouTube channel and Twitter account regarding Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, accusing the former of being blackmailed and the latter of having been involved with the Air India bombing (he was nine years old at the time). When Capital Daily asked Hecht about these claims, he did not dispute them, nor offer any proof of his accusations, but rather said he was merely positing “hypotheses.”

We will not be profiling Hecht beyond the information above, which we believe to be relevant to voters in the riding.

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