While much of the media's attention has been focused on the face-off between B.C. New Democratic Party's David Eby and Premier Christy Clark, the B.C. Greens' Françoise Raunet presents herself as a candidate who transcends the usual vicissitudes of right and left.
As an eco-minded minded mother with experience living in Asia, Raunet's ideas will likely strike a chord with many voters in the Vancouver-Point Grey by-election May 11.
Raunet shared her views with VO about the economy, the environment and how her days as a newcomer in a foreign country helped her understand the situation of new Canadians in her riding.
In what way would you work toward creating a strong economy while also ensuring sustainability for the environment?
Our current economic model is based on GDP growth, increased consumption and unsustainable use of our planet's natural resources. As a mother of an adorable two-year-old, whose future is very important to me, I believe we need to ask ourselves this question: is our current use of resources limiting the economic possibilities of future generations?
It's time for us to take a step back and think critically about how we can build strong, healthy and sustainable economies that will survive well into the next century and beyond. Infinite growth is not possible on a planet with finite resources. Instead of measuring the health and success of our economy by how quickly it grows, we need to start looking at how well it does the things we want an economy to do. How well does it create jobs? Are the jobs being created fulfilling and well-paying? How well does the economy support families to keep a roof over their heads and food in the bellies of their children? Is the wealth created by our economy distributed evenly across all members of society, or is it increasingly becoming concentrated in the hands of a small few (often at the expense of everyone else)?
Here in B.C., we have shockingly high rates of child poverty, many people are just one or two paycheques away from being homeless. We are losing manufacturing jobs in resource communities every year, and school boards across the province are cutting educational services as they struggle to pay the bills.
The Green Party of B.C. thinks that it's time to start moving away from GDP growth as the main economic goal and start re-investing in smaller, localized, regional economies. Our hope is a future where regions use the resources that they have at hand to produce more of their own food, generate more of their own energy, and build local infrastructure to create strong, healthy and inclusive communities. Obviously, these changes cannot happen overnight, but it is essential that we start planning for the economy of tomorrow today. If we wait until we run out of oil, gas, fish and other resources before making the necessary changes, then the shock to our system and way of life will be severe ... if such a transition will even still be possible.
To support the development of sustainable, regional economies, the Green Party of BC has many good ideas, including:
- Shift the tax burden off of average families and onto economic activity that causes social or environmental damage. Basically, we will tax "bad stuff" (pollution, waste) so we don't need to tax "good stuff" (local food, our paycheques).
- Immediately end the $350 million in subsidies that the oil and gas industry receives in B.C.
- Support small business, cooperative, not-for-profit and public jobs over large multi-national or out-of-province corporations
- Invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency to create new "green collar" jobs and to shift BC to a low-carbon economy
- Introduce a "Buy Green BC" campaign to encourage consumers to buy made-in-BC green products and services
- Offer tax credits for green business initiatives
For more on the Green Party's economic platform, you can check out http://www.greenparty.bc.ca/greenbook2011
You've lived five years in Taiwan, which you say gives you a background in understanding the challenges of new Canadians. Could you please elaborate a bit on this?
When I first arrived in Taipei, I couldn't speak a word of Mandarin, I couldn't read the street signs, I didn't understand the local customs and I had no idea how to get around the city. As a result, even the simplest of tasks, like shopping in a grocery store, was a challenge. I would buy things thinking they were one thing, only to get home, open the jars and realize that I had bought something else entirely. I felt totally dependent on my English-speaking friends and colleagues, which was very difficult, as I have always prided myself on my independence.
With time, my language skills improved, and once I could communicate in Mandarin I became more confident. My husband and I started venturing out of the city on weekends (using the amazingly efficient and widespread network of trains), and enjoying the spectacular hot springs and hiking trails of northern Taiwan.
Now that I've been living in Vancouver for five years (I returned from Taiwan in 2006), I regret that my Mandarin is nowhere near as good as it once was. I can still keep up with basic conversations, but I have forgotten much of the vocabulary I used to know.
I know that there are many new Canadians living in Vancouver and Point Grey who are probably feeling as isolated as I was when I first arrived in Taiwan. Working for the school board and at local community centres, I have met many children whose parents are unable to speak any English at all. I think that good ESL and parent support programs are essential if we want to welcome immigrants to our society and help them to make a new home for themselves here in Canada.
As MLA, I hope to reach out to new Canadians and make sure that my door is always open to them if they need help navigating the ins and outs of our system. Unfortunately, I have met many new Canadians who don't vote, often because they feel they don't know enough about our political system to make an informed decision. I firmly believe that in order for a democracy to be effective, everyone's voice needs to be heard.
The coming century will be full of new challenges and problems that humanity has never before faced. We will only come up with the best solutions if we hear a variety of points of view. The Green Party is not left-wing or right-wing -- we recognize that good ideas may come from all over the traditional political spectrum. Because the environment is the one thing that affects us all equally, it should be at the heart of all government policy and decision-making.
Also, many new Canadians moved here because of British Columbia's natural beauty. Only the Green Party has a real plan to preserve it -- today and well into the future.
Vancouver's public transit is very well developed, but it is less accessible to certain populations. How will you ensure that more people will have utilize public transit?
My husband and I don't own a vehicle, and I have been using Vancouver's public transit system since 1982, so its cost and quality is an issue of great personal concern to me. The cost of a monthly fare card, especially a 2- or 3-zone one is already too high for many people, so I think that the system is already less accessible than it could be.
I think that B.C.'s carbon tax, which is currently being used to give tax breaks to corporations, should be used to support building cheap, accessible public transit systems in all the major urban areas of the province. We need to build light rail in the Fraser Valley, on the Island, and in the Interior, where there are many communities, very close together, that are currently inaccessible without a car.
Transportation currently accounts for 37 per cent of B.C.'s greenhouse gases, and the only way that we will be able to reduce people's dependence on their personal vehicles is if we invest in transit infrastructure and make sure it is affordable to everyone.
Vancouver Point-Grey is a very wealthy neighbourhood with a history of voting Liberal. Have you found that the Greens' "neither left nor right" position resonates with the community there?
Definitely. There are many environmentally-minded voters in this riding, and they are expressing deep frustration with the way that both the B.C. NDP and the B.C. Liberals have handled the environment over the past few decades. As the one issue that affects us all equally, the environment should be at the heart of government decision making. Voters are sick of the partisan nature of politics in Victoria.
Only 51 per cent of Point Grey voters bothered to vote in the last provincial election and I think that many people who didn't vote stayed home because they are sick of politics and politicians that pay little attention to the issues that really affect everyone. Instead of spending time arguing, they need to be getting down to the business of governing.
I truly believe that, no matter how we vote, people in this community agree on more than we disagree on. We all want good health care and schools, and a healthy environment for our children to grow up in. Why can't politicians spend more time focusing on our areas of agreement and moving policy forward there?
It's time for something new, and if elected MLA, I promise to represent the shared concerns of all us in Victoria: I will stand up for a healthy future for our children, for rational and efficient government policies, and for responsible use of our tax dollars on the problems that affect us all.
What is your position on the HST?
Like many British Columbians, I was horrified when the Liberals imposed the HST, just months after promising not to in an election campaign. After governing for a decade, their decision showed disrespect for the electorate and a sense of entitlement; once in power it seems they feel they can do anything they like, even if it means breaking promises they made to voters.
That being said, however, I am no tax expert. As a consumer, I hate paying tax on the goods and services I pay for. My haircuts, much of my shopping and my restaurant bills have all become more expensive now that I have to pay HST. But I also know that government needs to generate revenue somehow in order to pay for our schools, our hospitals, and the light rail transportation systems I hope we will build in the coming decade.
Is HST a better way to generate this income than our previous taxation system? I have spoken to many small business owners who like the HST because it makes filing their financial paperwork easier. I've heard university economics professors who say that HST is a necessary modernization of our tax system. And I know that other provinces in Canada have HST systems of their own.
The HST debate should have happened before the 2009 election campaign, not after. Government needs to become more accountable to citizens. I also think that we need to stop giving tax breaks to industries that pollute. We need to shift the burden off consumers and onto those highly profitable companies, like those in the energy and oil and gas sectors, that are leaving us with environmental damage that we as taxpayers will be paying to clean up for decades to come.
The Point Grey provincial by-election will be held May 11. Further information can be found on the Elections B.C. website.