Polarization in B.C. politics makes it difficult for the province's two parties to work collaboratively, an NDP candidate told Kamloops Rotary Club on Monday in her first speech as a politician.
"We forget the degree to which we both support social values," said Kathy Kendall, a Kamloops lawyer with her own family law practice. "It makes it very difficult to work together toward solutions."
That rigid partisanship discourages citizens from becoming more engaged in the electoral process, she said. One million eligible B.C. voters did not participate in the last general election. In Kamloops North Thompson, 44 per cent didn't vote.
"We need to focus on issues that matter," Kendall said of her party's ambition to form the next government. "Skills training is going to be a No. 1 issue for an NDP government."
The Clark government cut funding for skills training in the last budget, but greater emphasis is essential to head off labour shortages expected in the near future.
Kendall also underscored the need for low-interest loans for post-secondary students, another promised of the NDP. High dropout rates are a result of the high cost of higher education, she noted.
"We need to make sure that kids who go to university or adults who go to university can finish," she said. "I don't think people are dropping out because they're not capable of doing the work."
Asked what the NDP would do to reduce the toxicity of political dialogue, Kendall said NDP Leader Adrian Dix has promised to steer clear of vicious attack ads.
"It's going to be an interesting experiment," she said. "It is our hope that will come through in the polls."
Another club member expressed concern that an NDP government would squeeze out private-sector involvement in service delivery. Kendall said she believes the NDP will consult with all stakeholders and pursue moderate, practical steps in policy change.
As a family lawyer, Kendall said she is often confronted by poverty, dealing with people who must choose between feeding their children or paying the rent.
On a trip to Ethiopia with her daughter - where they worked with children diagnosed as HIV-positive - she grew firmer in her conviction that those who are privileged have a social obligation.
"I believe deeply in my core being that we cannot not give back," she said. "I really believe that there's far too much inequality in our society."
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