EDITOR’S NOTE: This week concludes the two-part article on the All-Manitoulin Candidates’ Night hosted by this newspaper on October 1. Last week’s article, ‘Political hopefuls share platforms at candidates’ night,’ Page 12, focussed on the candidates’ platforms (all except the Conservative Party’s André Robichaud, as he was not present) and debate topics as posed by the public with the candidates’ responses. This week will conclude coverage of the All-Manitoulin Candidates’ Night event with the candidates’ responses to questions from the floor.
MANITOULIN—Manitoulin, as usual, posed thoughtful and timely questions to the candidates of Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing during The Manitoulin Expositor’s All-Manitoulin Candidates’ Night held October 1 at Manitoulin Secondary School.
Ingrid Belenson of Spring Bay was first to the microphone, asking the candidates their thoughts on a citizen’s right to choose what they put in their bodies, asking why genetically modified (GMO) foods are not labelled and their views on the government having a say on mandatory vaccinations for children.
Liberal candidate Heather Wilson was first to respond, saying that governments have an obligation for oversight as we cannot assume “that companies will do the right thing. Education is key—if it’s there, people can make educated choices.” She continued, saying middle class families should not have to make decisions between what’s affordable and what’s good. “We will do this by cutting taxes.”
The Green Party’s Calvin Orok said that science is required for food safety, but the Conservative government has given major cuts to science.
Mr. Orok said GMO labelling is a good idea, noting the Trans-Pacific Trade deal and the Chinese powdered milk scandal. “We need more care on how food is labelled and where it comes from.”
As for vaccinations, “this is a tricky issue. The public health system has done many things to eliminate diseases like Polio, and we don’t want that back,” he said, adding that diseases like measles and whooping cough are coming back now because of parents not vaccinating their children.
The topic of GMO labelling is one of many petitions NDP MP incumbent Carol Hughes has tabled in Parliament, she said, blaming the Liberals and Conservatives for giving massive tax giveaways to big farms while small farms crumble.
The NDP has promised to impose a moratorium on new GMO crops, Ms. Hughes added, as well as giving municipalities power to limit pesticide use. She also noted the NDP’s food strategy titled ‘Everybody Eats’ and its four pillars of: agriculture, rural development, health and income security.
Lake Manitou’s Perry Anglin next approached the mic with a statement directed to Mr. Robichaud’s empty chair, as did Barry Epstein of Kagawong who questioned the Conservative’s change in Old Age Security from the age of 65 to 67 and listing figures as to how much seniors will be shorted each year with this change (to read both Mr. Anglin’s and Mr. Epstein’s full questions, as well as Mr. Robichaud’s response, please see story below). The three candidates also responded to Mr. Epstein’s question, beginning with Ms. Wilson.
The Liberal candidate, Heather Wilson, noted that the maximum a senior can receive with this change is $1,065, but the more typical number is $618, saying the Liberals would restore the OAS back to age 65 immediately with a $13,000 increase for those who need it the most and adding that women experience poverty at a greater rate then men.
Mr. Orok of the Green Party called for the expansion of the Canada Pension Plan. “If the ghost of Mr. Robichaud could speak, he’d say it’s (the CPP) a tax. It’s not a tax, it’s a pension.”
Ms. Hughes said 5.8 million Canadians will face a drop in income when they retire and seven out of 10 people don’t have access to a pension plan. “Women will make up the biggest part of those being without income.” The Liberal government slashed the CPP which will cost Canadians $15 billion by the year 2030, she added. “It’s not just about pensions, but about affordability.”
Ms. Hughes said the NDP would invest in affordable housing, increase the minimum wage and address barriers to employment. She also spoke of the national pharmacare program, calling it “quite problematic.” She also took the opportunity to note Mr. Robichaud’s absence. “If he doesn’t want to represent the riding, then he shouldn’t be running.”
Linda Willson of Ice Lake asked the candidates what they plan to do about the urgent need for energy efficient, affordable housing.
Mr. Orok spoke of the Green Party’s Housing First program, which quickly moves people experiencing homelessness into housing while providing them with programs for other issues.
Ms. Wilson spoke of the Liberals’ Affordable Housing Strategy and its investments in affordable housing. “Affordable housing is a concern and something the government needs to play a role in,” including the support of new rental housing. She added that every Canadian has the right to safe, affordable housing, saying that if a person lives in poor housing, their health, education and everything else suffers.
“The Liberals cut and downloaded,” Ms. Hughes said. “We are the only OECD (Organisation for Economics and Development) country without a housing strategy.” Ms. Hughes noted that the NDP tried to table the Affordable Housing Act but was met with resistance. The NDP has pledged $2 billion for social housing, including cooperative housing, by 2020.
The NDP candidate also made note of the Wynne government and its sell-off of Hydro One. “Send them a message and don’t vote Liberal federally.”
Mike Wilton of Dominion Bay addressed the candidates next and spoke of climate change, abandoning the Environmental Lakes Area (ELA), the long-form census and the introduction of the Navigation Protection Act, all of which he called a “travesty. Please explain how you will commit to righting all the wrongs committed by the Harper government,” Mr. Wilton asked.
The NDP candidate spoke first, saying her party would repeal all of the environmental backsliding imposed by Harper. “We need to ensure that whatever projects go forward are all actually protecting the environment.”
Ms. Wilson of the Liberals spoke of enhanced tax measures to develop clean technology, reinstating funding to the ELA and working with scientists “that have been silenced,” should the Liberal Party be elected to form the next government.
Mr. Orok called the cancellation of the ELA “30 years of work down the drain.”
“Scientists deserve respect,” the Green candidate continued. “Basic science should be supported.”
“Government moves slowly, but it has to steer in the right direction,” Mr. Orok continued. “We’re sitting idle right now.”
Greg Young of Wikwemikong spoke of the importance of firearms to him as a hunter and farmer and asked the candidates what their respective party’s commitments are to ensuring the “wasteful gun registry” is not returned.
“Justin Trudeau said no, unlike Tom Mulcair,” Ms. Wilson started, ensuring Mr. Young that the Liberals would not bring back the registry.
Mr. Orok said to do so would be expensive and that the Green Party believes in supporting the wishes of its constituents, which in this case would be ‘no.’
Ms. Wilson then reminded the audience that Ms. Hughes did vote in favour of keeping the long gun registry.
“The community was divided and the police were divided,” Ms. Hughes quickly responded, “so I based my evidence on that.”
Doug Tracy of Little Current asked the candidates about electric cars.
“Canada can be a leader in making sure we have cars that are environmentally friendly,” Ms. Hughes said, adding that we need to address the climate change issue and our dependence on fossil fuels.
Mr. Orok said he did not know why we couldn’t focus our attentions on building batteries that can last for electric cars, not unlike the house battery created by Tesla. “Why not build it in Canada? We could be a world leader in electric cars.”
Ms. Wilson said the Liberal Party supports innovation and experimentation.
Mr. Tracy also asked whether the three parties’ represented that night whether they would support an initiative whereby Canadians bringing in refugee families could see a break on their income tax.
Mr. Orok said that not every house could support a refugee family while Ms. Wilson worried that this might set up a two-tiered process. “It shouldn’t just be the rich bringing people into this country,” she said.
“Ms. Hughes said the idea could work, but it would come down to staffing. She said she was “pleased and touched” by the number of questions regarding immigration that aren’t negative, “which is how the Conservative government wants Canadians to feel.”
The final question of the night came from Shan Keatley of Little Current who explained that she is in the midst of reading ‘The War on Drugs and Why It Has Failed’ by Island author Paula Mallea and wondered about the parties’ positions on dealing with marijuana as it relates to the cost of policing, health care and bureaucracy and where those positions stem from.
Ms. Hughes said the NDP would decriminalize marijuana and her party is supportive of medical marijuana, saying that in terms of policing, money would be better spent focussed on other crimes.
Mr. Orok said all Green Party policies come from the grassroots level. “We would regulate it and treat it like other controlled substances like cigarettes or alcohol,” he said, adding that it would be treated as a pilot project, as in Colorado.
“Justin Trudeau said he would legalize marijuana,” Ms. Wilson responded. “There are lots of places around the world that have been successful and the negative affects argued have not been realized. Decriminalization would make it legal to possess, but not legal for the sellers,” the Liberal candidate clarified.