VICTORIA – B.C. Liberal leadership candidates made their pitches to coastal loggers at their annual convention this week, vowing to continue the B.C. government's efforts to develop Asian export markets and homegrown demand for wood.
Candidates George Abbott, Mike de Jong and Ed Mayne took part in a resource forum Wednesday evening, where they were quizzed on issues important to independent contractors who belong to the Truck Loggers' Association. Their businesses benefit from input credits under the harmonized sales tax, and all three candidates said the tax has a chance to survive a referendum.
Abbott insisted the HST might win a majority of votes even if the referendum date is moved up to late June as he has advocated. He questions how much attention people would pay to the issue during the summer.
Mayne said he "wholeheartedly" supports the HST, and the province-wide vote should be held on the scheduled date of Sept. 24, to give the government the maximum time to convince people of its merits.
De Jong agreed that the defeat of the HST isn't inevitable, but added "let's not kid ourselves" about the chances a majority of taxpayers will vote to keep it.
Business leaders have argued they need the time to demonstrate that lower taxes will translate into lower prices, increased investment and job creation.
All the candidates praised Forests Minister Pat Bell for his efforts to develop export markets for wood products in China. De Jong said India might be "the next China" for B.C. lumber producers.
Abbott offered the most detailed policy recommendations. He called for the restoration of $4 million cut last year from the $22 million budget for B.C.'s Forestry Innovation Initiative. The provincial agency supports China market development projects, the "wood first" program for public construction and other efforts to promote B.C. wood.
Mayne, who resigned as mayor of Parksville to make a late entry to the leadership contest, admitted he knows little about forest policy.
All B.C. Liberal candidates were invited to the forum, but Kevin Falcon, Christy Clark and Moira Stilwell bowed out due to other campaign commitments.