By Jennifer Vardy Little
Nearly 150 people attended a forum held in New Minas for Kings South candidates Sept. 19.
All four candidates – Liberal Keith Irving, PC Shane Buchan, NDP Ramona Jennex and Green Sheila Richardson, who had just filed her papers on the day of the forum – participated in the event, hosted by KingsCountyNews.ca and the Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The event drew questions from the audience on issues like support for the tourism industry, reducing student debt, boosting the economy, support for seniors to stay at home longer, twinning Highway 101 and moving the Waterville airport.
On the issue of the airport, Buchan pledged, “I would support moving the airport and work very hard with the county to make sure it comes to fruition.” He added that the county couldn’t afford to pass up these types of jobs, adding that this type of “expansion is right up our alley.”
Richardson was more cautious in her support for moving the airport, saying she would want to ask more questions and know where the funds for moving the airport were coming from.
“If I feel, and the Green Party feels, these questions have been answered, and financing is there - and that's my fear. I'd want financing there,” she said. “I’d want to make sure we've looked at all the options.”
Jennex, meanwhile, commended the county for the actions it has already taken to ensure the airport can be moved if Michelin wishes to expand. Michelin, she said, has brought a lot of good jobs to the county.
“If Michelin is going to expand, we need to be ready. We live in a global economy now, we need to be ready or they won't come,” she added.
Irving said he would want to know the size, scope and timeline of the project, but believes the province has an important role to play.
“Yes, it’s a municipal planning issue, but it’s important for us, as MLAs, to be at the table, to get better handle on how project will move through,” he said. “The municipality is looking to us for guidance.”
A number of tourism operators were in the audience and questioned what the candidates would do to support expansion of the industry. Citing an increasing difficulty to get loans to expand or repair tourism-based businesses, operators questioned how the candidates would help provide access to capital.
Irving says he believes the problem started with the cancellation of the Yarmouth ferry and grew from there, negatively impacting all tourism operators in the Valley. The Liberals, he added, have two programs in its platform that will support the tourism industry, including changing the formula used for loaning money to industry.
“We have a tremendous opportunity with the wine and food industries here. We need to look for ways to enhance our products and make ourselves a real destination,” Irving said.
Buchan, meanwhile, sympathized with tourism operators, saying, “As business owner, I understand getting capital in any business is difficult. Banks want a guaranteed return,” and that’s almost impossible for businesses to do, he said. He added that he was committed to working with tourism operators however he could.
“It's great job source and we're all about building economy,” Buchan said.
Richardson said the Yarmouth ferry is key to the tourism industry in the Valley and said the region needs to be better advertised as a destination.
“In terms of capital grants, there could be repayable loans or small grants, but to me, it’s better if something’s done for the whole of tourism,” Richardson said, adding that the Greens believe promoting tourism across the province is key.
Jennex called this an “exciting time” for tourism in the area, saying, “This area is just ripe for opportunities for tourism. The tourism industry is going to make this area a world-class destination.” However, she said it’s necessary to ensure Kings County is “scaffolded properly” and added that the relocation of the provincial tourism department to neighbouring Windsor would help as well.
Read a live blog of the debate HERE and view video clips from the event.