Federal candidates bring their answers to Manitoulin

MANITOULIN—As is our tradition during elections, The Expositor hosted an all candidates’ meeting with the six hopefuls seeking the Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing seat in Parliament. Out of an abundance of caution, this year the event was held via the popular online digital forum of Zoom. More than 137 attendees logged on during the evening.

Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin, who has garnered extensive experience in chairing online meetings throughout the pandemic, graciously agreed to moderate the all candidates’ event.

All of the candidates attended the evening’s proceedings: incumbent NDP MP Carol Hughes was joined onscreen by Christian Heritage Party’s Clarence Baarda, People’s Party of Canada’s Harry Jaaskelainen, Liberal Party of Canada nominee Duke Peltier, Conservative Party of Canada nominee John Sagman and Green Party of Canada nominee Stephen Zimmermann.

Expositor publisher Alicia McCutcheon began the evening by thanking the candidates, attendees and Mr. MacNevin for moderating the evening and offering her best wishes to all of the candidates.

Mr. MacNevin also thanked the candidates for their efforts in putting their names forward before introducing each candidate.

As is not unusual in digital meetings taking place across a wide area in Northern Ontario, there were a number of initial glitches that needed to be overcome. Mr. Baarda had a challenge with his microphone at the start. Ms. Hughes assisted Mr. Baarda by sending one of her workers over to the candidate’s home with a headset so he could participate. Mr. Peltier’s internet began unstable, but settled in. 

Each of the candidates were then given an opportunity to address the online audience as to why they felt they should be the voter’s choice. Names had been drawn for the initial order prior to the start of the meeting.

Liberal Duke Peltier won the initial draw. Opening with a traditional introduction in Anishinaabemowin, following his intro by expressing gratitude to incumbent Carol Hughes for her many years of service representing the riding. 

He pointed to his experiences in representing his community at all levels of government. He said that he brought a unique perspective, years of experience and lived experience, as well as experience in representing issues at all levels of government, including environmental issues such as the defunct oil well left in his community.

He noted that he was appointed by the Chiefs of Ontario to deal with the issues of Indigenous languages, the result of which was passed legislation to enhance the protection of those languages. He has been tapped to lecture at Queen’s University to their law students on the subject of Indigenous relations as well as the Indigenous Bar Association on his interactions with the government.

“I bring with me this wealth of experience, not only from a political perspective, but also from a legal perspective,” he said. He pointed out that it is one thing to hear a party’s platform, but also important to hear from a candidate who “is living and raising a family in the realities of this riding and having first-hand knowledge of the gaps and challenges.”

Stephen Zimmermann of the Green Party was next. “AMK is a vast riding,” he opened, noting the diverse economies and issues facing the riding. He selected two of those issues as most important, the first being the ongoing opioid crisis, “part of a wider substance abuse crisis,” the second being reconciliation. Mr. Zimmermann advised listeners to go to the Green Party website for details on the major issues and how his party would address them. 

Mr. Zimmermann then went on to note two national issues that are critical to the country. 

The first was action on the climate crisis and the second democratic revitalization. He said every party has a plan on the first, but added “will they take action?” He suggested that the Green Party would. “If other countries can do it, so can we,” he said. If not, he said, Canada would be left behind, relying on older technology.

He gave the example of burning renewable wood pellets, as he does, and suggested that Canada could be a world leader in the production of that fuel. 

His second issue was electoral reform, noting that candidates often win with less than a majority of the votes. “Our system does not reflect what people want.” He pointed out that the Liberal leader reneged on the promise of electoral reform. “We need a system that reflects the will of the people.”

Mr. Zimmermann also highlighted regional issues, such as access for all to broadband internet, referencing the issues faced at the start of the evening and the need for better transportation options across the North, noting that the twinning of the highway and better public transit across the region is “long overdue.” He also called for the upgrading of the power grid and better focus on renewables.

Mr. Jaaskelainen was next. He started with the major issues. “National sovereignty is high on that list,” he said, alleging that all of the parties have been eroding that sovereignty. He noted that COVID is an international issue that the country is seeing but that his party opposes many of the polices being imposed to combat the pandemic, including lockdowns and masking, untested vaccines—calling them “a total failure. We are going through medical tyranny.”

He called for lower immigration, noted the energy sector is under attack from both outside and inside. He characterized green energy as a “pipedream” and suggested the country will still be reliant on the oil and gas sector for the next half century. 

Mr. Jaaskelainen called the United Nations disarmament policies an attack on legal gun owners. He said that foreign aid is going to corrupt regimes. “We are a Canada first party.” He said the party would end development aid to other countries.

He went on to say that his party would bring in balanced budgets and encourage small business investment, alleging that COVID restrictions are “totally bogus.” He said his party would invest in the oil and gas sector.

He said that conservative voices have been stifled by the media.

“We will allow debates on any issue,” he said, using abortion as an example.

The Conservative Party’s Mr. Sagman was next on the docket. “I bring to the table technical ability,” he said, noting that natural resources provide huge revenues but the region is not getting enough back. “We need support from Ottawa and we need someone who will go get it.” He said that the situation with First Nations relations “is in tatters. The first thing we need to do is to listen.”

“Environmentally we are not getting the technical support we need,” he added.

“We have a plan to tackle this horrendous economy,” said Mr. Sagman, alleging the country is doing the worst among the G7.

He pointed to $620 million in funding earmarked to tackle the addictions crisis.

“We want to pay 25 percent of employees’ salaries when they come back to work, 50 percent if they are off for longer than six months.”

Mr. Sagman also said his party would provide interest-free loans to small businesses, $200,000, of which 25 percent would be forgiven depending on how much revenue loss could be proven.

Clarence Baarda was next. He said that human life is under attack in Canada today. “Innocent human lives, traditional family values and even our Charter of Rights and Freedoms are under attack,” he said. “The Christian Heritage Party will protect human life from conception to natural death, promote marriage as God intended and protect your freedom of speech and conscience. Just think what our country would be like if we still had an abortion law and had saved the five-plus million lives lost through abortions since 1969.” He added to that the loss of life from medically assisted death. He proposed medical assistance in living.

He pointed to the issue of First Nation children being taken from their homes, saying that nothing has changed since the 60s Scoop. “Now we call them foster homes,” he said.

“We are the only ones committed to protect everyone, including those who cannot protect themselves,” he said. “Pro-choice means pro-death. I choose life over death.”

The NDP’s Ms. Hughes was next, beginning her main speech by focussing on the calling of the federal election while the country is facing two defining issues of our time. “The fourth wave of the pandemic and climate change,” she said. She maintained that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the election to seek a majority.

Ms. Hughes said the electorate wanted the parties to work together. She pointed to rising costs and cuts to services families depend on. She said that years of neglect have left industries struggling. Indigenous communities continue to be underfunded while the government chooses to spend millions fighting in court, she said. “Our region remains on the front lines of climate change,” she said, noting that emissions continue to rise.

Switching targets from the governing Liberals, Ms. Hughes said that “there is no way Erin O’Toole is suddenly the answer.” She alleged that Conservatives cut taxes for the rich and cut services for everyone else. “That’s what Harper did, that’s what Ford is doing—that’s what Conservatives always do.”

She noted that the NDP was the only party to release a platform for Northern Ontario.

“Only New Democrats are willing to take on the cozy relationship between Liberals and Conservatives and big pharma and telecoms,” she said. 

Ms. Hughes went on to say the NDP would build a true reconciliation with Indigenous peoples along with proper funding for services and working within the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.

She said that life was becoming even less affordable for people, citing high student debt, the lack of public dental coverage, pharmacare, telecommunications, housing and energy costs, but pointed to NDP plans to tackle those issues.

Ms. Hughes singled out long-term care as a particular issue, noting that her party would “take the profit out of long-term care” and boost wages for PSWs. She said the NDP would protect workers’ pensions by changing bankruptcy laws and lift seniors out of poverty by enhancing Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement.

To attract workers to the area, the NDP would expand the immigration pilot program into a permanent one. She also said her party would forgive up to $20,000 in student debt and work to make post-secondary education part of the public education system.

All infrastructure projects would have to prioritize materials from Canada.

“We know, better is possible,” she concluded.

Each candidate was then allotted three minutes in which to rebut the other’s statements. The candidates went again in the original order.

Mr. Peltier suggested that electors seek out the Liberal platform for details, but on the issue of broadband pointed to the federal funding that has been awarded to a grassroots broadband effort that will not only improve access to high speed internet across the region, but also provide good jobs as well. He also pointed to his environmental record in defending the waters of the Great Lakes in opposition to the Line 5 pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac.

Mr. Zimmermann again referred his party’s platform. He suggested that a vote for the Green Party would send a clear message to any government.

Mr. Sagman said that it was disheartening to hear the rhetoric about a Liberal/Conservative hegemony when it was clear that the past government has been an NDP/Liberal coalition. “We have to get a plan together and get moving,” he said, referencing his career as an engineer.

Mr. Jaaskelainen said that man-caused climate change in Canada and globally is “a non-issue.” He said that carbon dioxide has been vilified. “This is not a toxin, it is a requirement for life on earth,” he said. “We are wasting billions of dollars on a non-issue.” He asserted that Canada is carbon neutral. He attacked the “global reset” as a Marxist conspiracy. He said the COVID restrictions were “all unscientific.” He called the Green Party position “a farce.”

Mr. Baarda said that as he watched the promises coming out of the parties, he just keeps hearing more dollars. He suggested the Conservative Party plan will take one full-time job and turn it into four part-time jobs. He agreed that carbon dioxide is not an issue and went on to say the government believes people don’t know how to be responsible. He did, however, suggest that the COVID-19 masking and handwashing is effective and helps protect against all kinds of colds and flus.

Ms. Hughes said she had to scratch her head when she saw Mr. Peltier run for the Liberals, although adding she had a lot of respect for him. She pointed to the Navigable Waters legislation that was gutted by the Conservatives that the Liberals did not reinstate and called the cancellation of the Algoma Central Railroad as a hit to the North. She pointed to the science that shows that vaccines are effective.

Mr. MacNevin then proceeded to pose the questions that had been filed with The Expositor office to the candidates, noting that some questions were posed to particular candidates, but each would have a two minute opportunity to respond, should they so choose.

Topics ranged from how the candidates would advocate for the riding, to the dichotomy of mental health and addictions care system for Indigenous and non-Indigenous, nuclear power and waste to reconciliation, agriculture, the arts and the right to refuse the vaccine, to whether the candidates would accept a cabinet position, if offered.

The questions and responses that completed the evening can be found online on The Expositor website at Manitoulin.com.