Election 2013: Eric Foster on agriculture, student debt and the economy - InfoNews

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Election 2013: Eric Foster on agriculture, student debt and the economy

Eric Foster of the B.C. Liberals says his party will drive toward solutions using their heads, not their wallets.
April 24, 2013 - 5:00 AM


Incumbent candidate Eric Foster says he won't be using cash as a band-aid for local issues; he'll be using his head.

Foster has lived in the area for over 20 years, serving as a councillor, then mayor for the Village of Lumby. He was elected as Vernon-Monashee MLA in the 2009 election, and isn't ready to step down.

The retired forest technician divides his time between Lumby, Vernon and Victoria. When he's home, he says he always shops locally.

"If you don't support local, it won't be here," Foster says. "You have to lead by example."

Which may seem odd to some people in light of the B.C. Liberals' decision in 2004 to revise meat inspection laws, now requiring processing to be done in federally or provincially licensed abattoirs. Locally, this translated into local producers dwindling from 1,200 to 300.

"I'm in a tough spot on this one, I championed the cause of the small farmer and still do. I do believe the mistake that was made (by the B.C. Liberals) was this whole segment of agriculture—the family farm—wasn't factored in. But you can't just go back to farm gate sales," Foster says, adding the regulations were somewhat rushed during the mad cow scare.

In addition to a pilot project involving five new licenses, Foster says a Buy Local program targeted at assisting mid-sized abattoirs will help the agricultural sector. He says the Liberals will fund advertising for the program, which will encourage local grocery stores to carry locally sourced meat.

"For instance, we might send a government marketing expert to help with promotion," Foster says.

Encouraging and promoting, rather than subsidizing, is a big component to Foster's campaign. From his downtown office, he's watched storefronts go dark as businesses are forced to leave.

"Our role is to keep their business tax low, not to subsidize them," Foster says.

He has a similar philosophy with regards to education and student debt. Rather than raising taxes, he says the Liberals have done things like open up new universities, like UBCO. He says this helps Okanagan students by allowing them to live at home and save money. Improved transit, like the UBCO connector, is another way government can ease financial pressures on students, but beyond that, Foster says it's up to the students to carry the responsibility of higher education.

"I honestly believe people have to pay for the things they really want," Foster says. "The job of government is to enable people to be the best they can be. It's not our job to do it for you."

For Foster, enabling people to be the best they can be includes connecting them with the health services they need. Overcrowding at Vernon Jubilee Hospital is a concern not wholly put to rest by the Liberals' announcement of 14 new beds.

In a region heavily populated by seniors, Foster says the hospital will be able to meet the traffic of elderly patients expected to burgeon in the years ahead. They'll just have to make a few changes first.

"At any given day, we have 25-30 people that should be elsewhere," Foster says.

A seniors care facility will open soon in Lumby, and Foster says that's the kind of practical solution that will alleviate pressures at the hospital. He also believes in leaning more heavily on organizations like the Upper Room Mission to provide services to the mentally ill and those suffering addictions.

The common thread in Foster's stance on many, if not all, issues—both municipal and provincial—is reinforcing existing structures rather than funneling money into new ones. And he says he's not going to promise money if he doesn't have it.

"Our platform talks about managing the economy, managing our budget, and sticking with this plan," Foster says.

Foster's campaign office is located on 30 Ave. across from Bookland.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infotelnews.ca or call (250)309-5230.

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