Liberal, NDPs, Greens were there, Conservative was absent from platform

MANITOULIN—The stage was set for four but, for the first time in The Manitoulin Expositor’s almost 40 years as host of the federal (and provincial) All Candidates’ Nights at Manitoulin Secondary School, one of those chairs sat empty as Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing Conservative candidate André Robichaud chose not to attend the Manitoulin event.

From left, Jim VanCamp, moderator, Carol Hughes, NDP MP incumbent, Cal Orok, Green Party candidate, an empty chair for André Robichaud, Conservative candidate, and Heather Wilson, Liberal candidate at The Expositor’s All-Manitoulin Candidates’ Night. photo by Michael Erskine
From left, Jim VanCamp, moderator, Carol Hughes, NDP MP incumbent, Cal Orok, Green Party candidate, an empty chair for André Robichaud, Conservative candidate, and Heather Wilson, Liberal candidate at The Expositor’s All-Manitoulin Candidates’ Night.
photo by Michael Erskine

This absence of the government party candidate might also have contributed to the lower-than-average turnout for the October 1 event too, some audience members speculated. Candidates’ opening remarks and their positions on debate topics are reported in this article. Next week, read their responses to questions from the floor.

After drawing lots, incumbent MP Carol Hughes of the NDP began the night’s debate. “This is the most important election in decades,” she started, saying that it was either time to restore financial stability or let Stephen Harper “finish the job” he started, leading the country down a path of financial volatility.

“After 10 years (under Stephen Harper), families are working harder, but can’t get ahead,” Ms. Hughes continued. “After 10 years, we have a less diverse economy and are in Stephen’s second recession.”

She noted that, under the present Conservative government, environmental safeguards have been dismantled. “A fish without a price isn’t worth protecting,” she said of Mr. Harper’s view of the environment. “And the Liberals can’t be trusted: years of mismanagement and a sponsorship scandal that handed the government to Harper on a silver platter.”

The NDP candidate told the audience it is time to restore science-based evidence, take seniors out of poverty and help youth find employment. If households are struggling, communities will struggle too, she added.

Carol Hughes, NDP MP incumbent, takes in a question from the floor.
Carol Hughes, NDP MP incumbent, takes in a question from the floor.

“Harper is also about cut, cut, cut while handing out sweetheart tax breaks to his rich friends,” Ms. Hughes continued.

On the topic of First Nations citizens, Ms. Hughes spoke of the “constant meddling” by the Conservatives which in turn shoots holes in the nation-to-nation relationship.

“Conservatives don’t understand how things work in Northern Ontario,” Ms. Hughes added, pointing to the stalled start of the Chi-Cheemaun’s sailing season (because of a dispute between the government of Ontario and the government of Canada, which owns the docking facility on which level of government would pay for needed adjustments because of low water levels with Ontario finally acquiescing and paying the bill so work would be completed and the ferry season started, although two weeks later than scheduled) two years ago and the cancellation of the Algoma Central Railway connecting the Soo to Hearst.

“Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing needs a strong voice and I will continue to be that voice with your support,” the NDP candidate concluded.

Calvin Orok, a latecomer to the race and representing the Green Party, told the audience that Elizabeth May and the Green Party will always be on the side of the earth. “But we’re also concerned with Bill C-51, climate change, aboriginal people, homelessness and housing.”

He noted the staggering national debt and that it takes a cost of $295 billion to run every single federal government program. “But it takes $1 billion to keep the CBC going, something the Greens would like to see have stable funding for the next five years,” Mr. Orok said to much applause from the audience.

Calvin Orok takes notes during the debate session of the night.
Calvin Orok takes notes during the debate session of the night.

The Green Party would also act to put in place the actions of the Kelowna Accord, as well as recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He also spoke of the Green Party’s Housing First policy on affordable housing for all.

“In White River (the community Mr. Orok calls home) you see signs—signs everywhere,” he continued. “But in White River, there are more signs of a different kind than election signs. This riding has four potential sites for nuclear waste storage—Hornepayne, Elliot Lake, White River and Blind River.”

Heather Wilson of the Liberal Party began by saying “Canadians are tired of the inertia that plagues government. The Liberal Party believes that Canada only succeeds when we all succeed. We can deliver growth that works for everyone.”

She spoke of Canada’s growing senior population and the call for age-friendly communities for all, even for those who choose to live in the North.

“Justin Trudeau has promised a new relationship with First Nations,” Ms. Wilson continued, noting that First Nations are the fastest-growing segment of our population. The Liberals, she said, would begin a nation-to-nation process with Canada’s aboriginal population on topics of their choosing and would institute the recommendations of the Kelowna Accord, which was designed to close the gap between First Nations and the rest of Canada.

Ms. Wilson told the audience that the Liberals have promised an additional $550 million for First Nations, Kindergarten to Grade 12, rising to over $700 million the second year.

Heather Wilson, Liberal candidate, responds to a question from the floor.
Heather Wilson, Liberal candidate, responds to a question from the floor.

Her party has also pledged action on climate change, protecting the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Winnipeg Lake basin.

She also spoke of the Fair Elections Act, saying “the cure is much worse than the disease. Not voting is not protest, but surrender.”

“There is so much opportunity in the North,” the Liberal candidate added. “Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapusksaing does not need more empty promises.”

Debate format

New to the format this year, The Expositor had had a call-out for questions to pose to the candidates for a debate conducted by moderator Jim VanCamp. Many questions came in, but only four were chosen, the first of which was from Mike Wilton of Dominion Bay who asked about nuclear power and its “real world” risks.

Debate topic No. 1: nuclear power and nuclear waste

Mr. Orok and the Green Party first responded, noting that nuclear waste “is stable and we’re addicted to it.”

“It’s now to the point that it (nuclear waste) has to be buried and communities, one by one, are dropping off (the list of willing hosts) because they’re being protested,” Mr. Orok said. “They’re asking to bury it for 300,000 years, which is an eternity.”

“They want one site in Canada (to bury nuclear waste) and four of 11 sites being looked at are right here in this riding, so the chances are high,” he added, noting that Germany will be without nuclear power by 2023, thanks to the hard work and determination of that country’s Green Party.

Ms. Hughes next responded, stating, “we all know we have to look at alternative energies and that is the direction to go. We can’t stop people from having it, but we can grow from the process.” She explained to the audience that there is a funding bonus for communities who have put themselves on the list as a potential waste storage site, even if they are not chosen in the end. Ms. Hughes noted the recent Sudbury earthquake “which brings about great concern.”

“We’re being told that it won’t move forward unless every community along the line is in favour and we know that First Nations are opposed, as are many other communities. We should be concerned, but we have to have alternatives as to how our energy needs will be met.”

Ms. Wilson spoke of the benefits of nuclear power and the need for nuclear medicine. “It behooves us to find solutions,” she said.

“Ignoring the problem for generations is not the way to do it,” the Liberal candidate continued. “And also to understand that the solution today may not be the solution in 150 years. We need to come up with other alternative energies too, but ignoring this is not the  solution to the problem.”

Mr. Orok suggested bringing in the best experts in the world to help with the solution, noting that there is an expensive reactor that can re-use the waste.

“We’ve seen what the Conservative government has done, muzzling scientists, no transparency,” Ms. Hughes added. “Our scientists are going abroad now. We need an investment in science. We’ve seen what happened with funds cut that had supported the experimental farm, the Experimental Lakes Area.” She cited the prime minister’s theory on the environment as ‘If we don’t know about it, we don’t have to do anything about it.’ “It’s too bad we can’t ask the Conservative candidate about it,” Ms. Hughes said, nodding to the empty chair to her left.

“Where the site goes is up to the citizens of that community,” Ms. Wilson concluded.

Debate topic No. 2: Canada’s response to climate change

The second debate topic came from Barry Epstein and Vincent Belenson who asked about climate change and Canada’s “abysmal response to it,” with reference to the upcoming Paris conference on climate change.

Ms. Wilson began this leg of the debate, noting the international Convention on Biological Diversity which had each participating country pledge to protect a percentage of its oceanic coastal areas. To date, Canada has protected only 1.3 percent.

The Liberal candidate said much of the government’s resources have been spent supporting fossil fuels but her party, should it form the next government, would stimulate the economy through funding for retrofits, green projects and green infrastructure. “Green projects need to be supported to replace fossil fuel.”

The Green Party candidate noted that his party always goes to such conferences on climate change and the environment, even when the government does not. Mr. Orok explained that his party would set a goal of a 40 percent reduction in fossil fuel use (below 2005 levels) by 2025 and an 80 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050.

The Green Party would also put a price on carbon right at the source, he added.

His party would also give all Canadians over the age of 18 cheques from the polluters, with these funds secured from the price charged on carbon ‘at source.’

“This country provides more handouts to the fossil fuel industry than any other G20 nation,” Mr. Orok concluded.

“We can’t grow this economy without protecting the environment,” Ms. Hughes began. “Protection of land, air and water were all dismantled in omnibus bills.”

The NDP candidate noted that the Liberals supported those bills, and also signed the Kyoto Protocol, but had no intention of reaching the targets set in the agreement and, in fact, have seen Canada’s emissions go up since the signing.

The NDP, she continued, did table the Climate Change Accountability Act, but this bill was killed in the Senate without any debate “because Conservatives are not interested in dealing with climate change.”

“We need to be a global leader, not continue to have ‘Fossil of the Year’ awards,” Ms. Hughes added, noting that under Thomas Mulcair’s ministerial role in Quebec, he lowered emission year after year. “There’s your proof—we will get the job done!”

Mr. VanCamp said he thought that all three candidates “missed the mark” when it came to answering the question of how will their respective parties get individual Canadians to change their minds that climate change is indeed an issue.

“There are things that we’re doing to improve, but we need a government to give people options,” Ms. Hughes responded. “We need leadership to move that along. We have to have a government that believes in climate change.”

Debate topic No. 3: immigration issues

Debate topic three came from Jim McMullan of Little Current, who asked about immigration and how Canada should handle this issue.

Ms. Wilson noted Canada’s proud history of helping people and mentioned the Syrian child whose lifeless body on a Turkish beach sparked an outcry around the world. She spoke of Mr. Trudeau’s plea to open Canada’s doors to 10,000 Syrian refugees right away. She noted that not all refuges are economic refugees. “Many have money and a skill set. We have a responsibility to the refugees, but they also fill a need. In White River, there could potentially be 90 jobs as there are no Canadians that can currently fill them.”

Ms. Hughes was next to respond, saying Mr. Robichaud should be asked, had he been present. “We come from a country that is built on immigrants,” she said, yet there is more and more discrimination and the out of hand dismissal by the Harper government of a massive backlog of 280,000 applications that were waiting to be processed.

“There is a massive misconception that people want to come here to be terrorists. Not true,” The NDP candidate continued. “They want a better life for their family, just like us.”

She explained that during the Vietnamese boat people crisis, for every one refugee, five jobs were created.

“With any refugee crisis there is an outpouring of emotion,” Mr. Orok said, adding that many of Canada’s top generals, from Hillier to Delaire, came forward saying that Canada should open its doors. “Those people are not terrorists, they’re living in camps.”

He spoke of the poor response on behalf of the government, adding that “immigration is necessary in this country.”

Ms. Hughes added that there is an increased fee to apply for citizenship, and most often, those applications are denied. “So it has become a cash grab now. This needs to be reviewed as well—there is much work to do to clean up the legacy that has been left.”

Debate topic No. 4: Canada’s responsibilities to aboriginal people

The final debate topic came from William Wilson of Gore Bay regarding Canada’s treatment of aboriginal people, specifically on Northern reserves and referencing the unsafe drinking water, cost of food, poor housing and suicide rate.

“When it comes to First Nations, our position is quite problematic,” Ms. Hughes began. She noted the Harper government and the Residential School Apology, but the fact remains that there has been nothing beyond that. Ms. Hughes cited examples of her trips to Northern communities where a dozen eggs costs $13 and a 10 kg bag of flour comes in at $43. No government can move forward without first addressing infrastructure, she said, giving startling statistics about the number of First Nations schools in need of repair, of people living with mould or those living in poverty. Ms. Hughes also said that the two percent funding cap also needs to be removed. “There shouldn’t be one price for one and not for the other.”

Ms. Wilson said, “we live here and understand the importance of this use,” adding that there are 22 First Nations in this riding.

The poor treatment of Canada’s aboriginals continues to happen because of the “uncomfortable truths of colonialism, racism, sexism and misogyny,” she said.

“Economic opportunity is a game changer,” the Liberal candidate continued. “We need to take some ownership and commit to change.” She noted a meeting that afternoon with chiefs who said that it troubled them greatly that their own youth could not walk with their heads held high because of the constant gaps and inequalities they face. “We have to look into our own hearts and move forward as the compassionate people we are.”

Mr. Orok read aloud from his Expositor response to that week’s question of the week three posed to the candidates on his top five Truth and Reconciliation Commission priorities, using the term “cultural genocide,” and listing education, housing, health care, poverty and a drug strategy as among the problems First Nations face that the Green Party would first address.

He noted the Serpent River First Nation’s new water treatment plant—a piece of infrastructure 30 years in the making for that community.

Ms. Hughes added that there is no ministerial leadership on this file and said she had to shame the minister into signing some files on his desk that had sat there for months in order to get them to go through.

“It’s not that First Nations don’t have plans or want to move forward, it’s the government that’s holding them back,” she added.

“All three candidates here tonight are solidly agreeing with the chiefs that there has to be an enquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women—everyone, except the current government, believes there should be an enquiry,” Mr. Orok responded.

EDITOR’S NOTE: See next week’s edition of The Expositor to read the questions from the floor from the All-Manitoulin Candidates’ and the candidates’ responses.