Jobs and growth are key issues for all communities, and figure prominently in the rhetoric from every politician in nearly every election.
But what do the communities think they need from the government.
Neil Wyper, chair of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce, said they would like to see an approach that took in the larger picture of building business and jobs.
“It’s not just pushing for more industry, but also making sure that we’ve got housing that families can move into,” said Wyper. Another factor would be having enough doctors so employers could present a full package to draw prospects.
“That would support our community more than what are they doing just for jobs or just for housing. It’s how they to make those things work together,” said Wyper. “We’ve got people that come to town and they simply have nowhere they can find to rent. We can’t have business without having the community and having support for families to be here as well.”
Tarik Sayeed, NDP candidate for the Penticton riding, says the NDP has a policy to invest in affordable housing, noting the large increase in housing prices Penticton has seen recently. The province needs to help establish a foundation for communities to gain a better balance.
“The reason we need to invest in affordable housing is so it can create that balance,” said Sayeed.
Incumbent Liberal MLA Dan Ashton pointed to the government’s record on both job creation and affordable housing. He said it’s a matter of working together, like the planned affordable housing development on Brunswick Street.
“There have been a lot of affordable housing units created in Penticton, not only by government but by societies,” said Ashton. “My attitude is a rising tide lifts all boats. There are challenges.”
Green party candidate Connie Sahlmark says it’s not enough It is not okay to just create jobs, it has to serve a purpose.
“We need something that is going to be stable and pays a living wage, and is going to be stable. We need something that is ongoing,” said Sahlmark, adding that the province does need to take a wider view to jobs and growth.
“We need to have funding going in supporting the whole company, not just the pet project of the government at the time.”
Mayor Andrew Jakubeit also sees housing as a problem for growing jobs and the local economy, calling affordable housing options a “key hurdle” for growth. He agrees a housing first strategy is good, but says it can detract from solutions for young families and the working poor.
“I hope the province creates more programs to help the demographic that is supposed to be powering our economy,” said Jakubeit.
Jakubeit recalls a visit by Minister Shirley Bond, where she met with several local businesses to learn about their needs and understand concerns around retention and recruitment of skilled labor. He’s like to see more of those roundtable discussions with cabinet ministers and their staff hearing directly from employers.
“It was good to have the candid conversations and one result was a labor market study and centralized online portal funded by the province to help local business,” said Jakubeit.
It’s a concept that both Sahlmark and Sayeed support. Sahlmark said that is the best way to know what your resources are, but talking isn’t enough – there needs to be action.
“People come and talk, but do they follow through?” she asked.
Sayeed said it’s a practice that should be expanded, bringing in not just business and political leaders, but also representatives from local service groups like the Community Resource society and other organizations.
The region’s economy has benefited from more than $500 million invested in building the Oliver Correctional Centre and expanding Penticton Regional Hospital, which Jakubeit said created construction jobs and new full time employment plus expanded health services, training, doctors, and technicians.
The province has been helpful and supportive, he added, with developing agricultural and specifically viticulture opportunities.
“I would like to see more incentives and or targeted approach to create more technology and green energy based companies developing and locating here,” said Jakubeit.
Modular building manufacturer Britco recently laid off most of the staff at their Penticton plant. Plans are to retool the plant, with the possibility of adding single family homes to the line.
Britco’s layoffs might not be permanent, but other communities have experienced the loss of an industry.
Ashton notes that when he was growing up, there were four similar manufacturing plants in Penticton.
“The economy is changing, how business is conducted changes,” said Ashton, referring to the Internet, and linking to the closure of his family’s chain of clothing stores. “You have to make positive changes and I think the government has done that.”
“They missed out on the contract for Site C. However, there is a lot more camps in the future as LNG is developed,” said Ashton. “We all have to work together. It’s a sign of the times.”
Sayeed said the province can do more by helping reduce the load on struggling businesses, referring to the NDP platform, which recommends reducing the business tax rate.
Sahlmark, who just completed the Sustainable Construction Management Technology program at Okanagan College, had more concrete recommendations to help get a business like Britco back employing people.
“Britco are talking about reconfiguring their plant to make tiny homes. That’s a permanent solution that deals with giving people jobs. It helps the community and it helps the planet,” said Sahlmark. “Reconfiguring or retooling, that’s where the province can step in and maybe alleviate some of the burden. We want to get that going again before people move away.”
For more stories on the Penticton riding and the B.C. election click here.