Although there were some lofty promises, there were no real big surprises and no audience to cheer and jeer at a rather subdued federal candidates meeting held at the Algonquin Theatre on September 13.
Neither was it surprising that the Liberal candidate for Parry Sound-Muskoka, Jovanie Nicoyishakiye, did not make an appearance. In fact, she’s been missing in action throughout the campaign, disregarding most media invitations.
Conservative candidate Scott Aitchison, NDP candidate Heather Hay, and Green Party candidate Marc Mantha participated in the event. PPC candidate Jim Tole, James Fawcett of the National Citizens Alliance of Canada, and independent Daniel Predie Jr. were invited to submit video statements.
The event was moderated by James Bowler of YourTV Muskoka, which sponsored the event along with area chambers of commerce. Media were invited to attend and, with the exception of a few people who had accompanied the candidates, the theatre was otherwise closed to members of the public due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Housing, climate change, vaccine passports, the rights of Indigenous peoples, and post-COVID economic recovery were among the topics candidates were asked to weigh in on. Each had a few minutes to comment on each question, followed by a two-minute open forum for clarification or debate.
Here’s some of what the candidates had to say:
Housing shortages and the exorbitant cost to both purchase and rent a place to live have impacted many Canadians, particularly in Parry Sound and Muskoka.
Incumbent Conservative MP Scott Aitchison was up first and said the need for adequate housing is the reason he decided to run for federal politics.
He said as the former mayor of Huntsville and District councillor housing was a top priority for him and despite several local initiatives to try to create more housing supply what was missing was a federal partner.
“The federal Liberal Government has promised for six years to invest billions of dollars to solve the housing crisis, yet we see announcements in places like Toronto and Vancouver and Montreal and there’s many projects here that we have worked hard to try to convince the federal government to fund, to backstop the loans, the mortgages – there’s community involvement – and we’ve gotten nowhere.”
He said he’s proud of his party’s platform on housing which he said promises to deal with the question of supply. He said a Conservative government would build a million new units over the next three years in partnership with local municipalities, the private sector, and community organizations. “The government of Canada owns 37,000 buildings. We’ve committed to making 15 per cent of those available for affordable rental units.”
He said stress tests would be re-examined to enable first-time homebuyers to get into the housing market. A Conservative government would also place at least a two-year moratorium on the foreign purchase of homes.
“This is a crisis that the Liberal Government has all but ignored in rural Canada and I’m going to guarantee you that a Conservative government will get the problem solved,” promised Aitchison.
Green Party candidate Marc Mantha said even before the pandemic millions of Canadians lived in unsuitable, inadequate, or unaffordable housing. He said affordable housing also needs to be redefined using an updated formula that accounts for regional variations across the country and particularly in Parry Sound-Muskoka. He also said the core mandate of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation needs to be refocused to support the development of affordable, non-market cooperative housing.
“We can put the brakes on the climate crisis finally and have safe housing for everyone because if you resolve the housing, you improve mental health with better food security and reduce pressure on health care at the same time.”
Hay said housing is a priority. She said none of the other social issues can be resolved if a person doesn’t have adequate and safe housing. “In Muskoka, we have a situation where a cottage is being built for $80 million dollars and a woman who is fleeing violence is told here is money for a tent and you can find a place to put it.” She said her party would work towards creating 500,000 affordable homes. An NDP government would also make co-housing an option and support alternative forms of homeownership in the community and tax foreign housing investors 20 per cent.
Aitchison said a 20 per cent tax on purchases by foreigners has been tried and didn’t work. He said Canada’s housing market is seen as a good place to invest by foreign investors and they’d view a 20 per cent tax as simply the cost of doing business.
On the other hand, Aitchison noted that a rise in housing values is good for homeowners because it has increased their net worth “but we cannot neglect those at the very low end of the housing spectrum and those trying to get into the market.”
Hay blamed Conservatives for creating the housing affordability mess.
“I think that’s disingenuous to suggest that one party created the problem,” Aitchison shot back. He said the problem has been growing for some time and it’s only become worse under a Liberal government.
Mantha spoke first on this issue and said there are areas in desperate need of economic diversification in order to be less reliant on fossil fuels. He said workers in intensive greenhouse industries, Indigenous peoples, and marginalized communities must lead their own preparation for the transition. He said the Greens would implement safeguards so if the government changes, workers remain protected.
“The ecosystem restoration is vital to Parry Sound-Muskoka in supporting sustainable tourism. There are great pressures on the urbanization of our lakes and some areas have been heavily damaged,“ he said, adding that First Nations and Métis have shown leadership collaborating in the restoration. Mantha who is part of the Métis community, said were he to represent the area, “Parry Sound-Muskoka will have the advantage of a business development consultant with a green conscience and I’m not a career politician.”
He said the Greens would shift resources from programs that cause climate crisis to “programs that save us from it to stimulate sustainable prosperity in our tourism and recreation, farming and food security, construction and housing, mental health and health care all for well paying stable jobs and inclusive, healthy and prosperous community throughout Parry Sound and Muskoka.”
Hay said to tackle climate emergency one of the first things that must be done is reduce emissions by more than half and “meet the 1.5 degree target that scientists say is necessary to prevent catastrophe.”
She said her government would stop bailing out the fossil fuel industry and take that money and start investing in green technologies “creating green jobs, doing energy retrofits of homes, investing in electric transit, zero-emissions vehicles, and investing in the education for new careers in the new economy.”
Aitchison said he’s pleased with what he said is an excellent environment and climate change plan his party has put together which has been independently reviewed and “identified as a credible plan to get us to our Paris [Accord] targets, which is what the current government has agreed to.”
He said the plan would invest in renewable energy, electric cars and inspiring the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit of Canadian companies to come up with new technologies ranging from carbon capture to fuel cell technology.
He reiterated that climate change is not just a national issue but a global issue. He said Canada has an opportunity to innovate and share new technology with the world “so that we can reduce our footprint.”
More importantly, said Aitchison, locally at the municipal level while he was mayor the Town managed to reduce its electricity consumption by things like changing lights to LEDs and decreasing consumption. He said both provincial and federal governments need to partner with municipalities to make sure they have the resources to makes changes.
“A federal partner at all levels is what we need and the Conservative government would actually be that partner.”
During the open forum that followed this question, Hay pointed out that many Conservatives can’t agree that climate change exists. Aitchison said his party has already acknowledged that climate change does exist and is an issue “so it’s a bit of red herring that they keep throwing around trying to paint us all as some kind of neanderthals that don’t get it but it doesn’t really work. We do understand that it does exist, is real. We have a legitimate plan and it’s a plan that is balanced, that won’t bankrupt the country at the same time as solving a problem, a global issue that Canada can’t solve on its own.”
Aitchison summed up the thoughts of all of the candidates when he launched with “There is no doubt that there is so much more work for us all to do.”
He acknowledged the Liberal government’s progress so far. “They’ve ended an awful lot of the boil water advisories for example in First Nations communities. We will commit to getting that completed and get it done. We intend to make historic investments in First Nations and Indigenous mental health and addiction treatment programs, an investment of $1 billion over five years. We will implement a national action plan on the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women’s report, and we’ll guarantee some stable funding for urban Indigenous organizations.”
He added that “especially in light of the unmarked graves that have been found, and we know there are more to come, we’ve committed to immediately implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action 71 to 76 and provide Indigenous communities with the resources they need to investigate sites at former residential schools and to properly honour any individuals found according to the wishes of their next of kin. We have so much work to do but it requires engagement, listening and working together, and that’s what we commit to do.”
Mantha applauded Aitchison’s role “in the collaboration and respect to acknowledge the mass graves of residential school children with memorials and ceremonies throughout the region and so many of you came together to speak, share, create, and move the memorial for others to experience and reflect.”
He also noted that Muskoka District Council recently approved a multi-year strategy to help combat racism, “and part of that is to ensure all Indigenous residents of Muskoka have the opportunity to engage and consult on programs, services offered by the municipal governments in Muskoka and with a number of other goals and objectives.”
He also highlighted Bruce Power’s consultation with the Métis Nation of Ontario and other Indigenous communities, regarding how the Pickering nuclear plant and how the facility’s spent rods will be managed.
He closed by noting that few of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action have been implemented and quoted Justice Murray Sinclair: “Canada must move from apology to action.”
Hay said that “it’s time that we all showed up for the missing and murdered, for the children who are getting underfunded in the child welfare system, the lack of safe drinkable water in so many of the communities, respectful and safe access to health care, and safe housing – there’s mould issues on so many reserves and inadequate housing in the community, and those are priorities for the NDP government.”
In the open forum portion of the question, Aitchison said that many people “don’t know what reconciliation means, they don’t know what they are expected to do. It starts really with just understanding. Be open, and hear the stories, know what’s been done and hold your government to account.”
Vaccine passports, vaccinations, and personal rights
Hay said she received her vaccine as soon as it became available because she has seniors in the community she is responsible for. “I believe in the science and protecting the most vulnerable members of our community.”
She said while health in general and the vaccine passports are a provincial issue at the moment, the federal government can show leadership by “encouraging anyone who is receiving federal monies or working in federal contracts, [by]making sure that they are vaccinated or that testing is being done on a regular basis to ensure the safety of our community.”
Aitchison said he’s frustrated with the question and the situation. He said Canadians have gone through a very difficult 18 months due to a global pandemic and thousands have died. “There are people out there who think COVID isn’t real… it is real. Those people who think it isn’t real, you’re wrong. I’m not a fan of vaccine passports. Our party said straight up we’re not going to mandate [that]people get the vaccine. Those people who say that their liberty is being challenged or taken away from them because they’ve got to wear a mask or because of a vaccine passport that provinces have put in place, I think what they’re forgetting is that we are a society. Your freedoms are important but they’re not more important than the freedoms of your neighbours. We need to come together, get through this, and if I have to wear a mask for another few months so that we can make sure that we get past this together I’m prepared to make that sacrifice and so should you.”
Aitchison blamed Justin Trudeau and PPC leader Maxime Bernier for weaponizing a global pandemic to get votes. “What we need today is a Canadian prime minister who brings this country together.”
Mantha agreed that it is frustrating that this election has politicized the issue “when we really should be doing other things.” In terms of vaccine passports, there are many nuances that are not known. “So when is it going to be used? Is it going to be implemented or used more when the fourth wave comes, when COVID infections increase?”
He said the Green Party of Canada does recognize that frustration. “So yes, if you can get the vaccine it saves lives and it saved a lot of lives but on the other hand, there are reasons why people cannot be vaccinated. There are more reasons than maybe the government hasn’t considered,” he said, inviting people to view the statement on the issue in the party’s campaign platform.
Hay said one of the systems they used this year for World Pride in Copenhagen in order to allow people to attend from all over the world was having rapid testing sites throughout the community. “You get your rapid test and it would give you a result very quickly by email and that was your passport to engage in public life for the next three days. There are innovative ways that we can meet the needs of people who are not able to vaccinate but I think it’s a priority to make sure that everyone is vaccinated.”
Mantha said he undergoes rapid testing and has to get a negative test before he goes out “so I’m probably taking more precautions than are required by current requirements.”
Aitchison agreed that rapid tests are a good tool. “There are tools that we can use that respect every Canadian’s health choice and I think that Heather’s described a perfect example of it and I would encourage everyone to just calm down and respect each other. Be kind and we’ll get through this together.”
On the issue of racism and intolerance
Mantha said the answer is tied in to his responses regarding Indigenous issues. He said District Council is really raising awareness about the issue and engaging with the Indigenous community on decision-making. “And I’m probably pretty willing to bet that Parry Sound is doing the same thing and that’s something for me to follow-up and learn more about.”
Hay said diversity is a big issue for her as part of the LGTBQ community. “Racism has risen since COVID began and not just within the Indigenous community but any persons of colour.” She said the NDP will work on a national effort to tackle the rise in hate crimes. “We’ll confront online hate and white supremacy. We’ll put an end to the systemic racism in the RCMP and we’ll gather race-based data to track the problem because without research it’s hard to come up with solutions. Racialized communities were hugely impacted by COVID but were often the last to get vaccines, and racist hate crimes have tripled since the pandemic began. The NDP is the party that has the best tools to provide the diversity to solve these problems.”
Aitchison said there is indeed systemic racism in this country. He said he does not understand racism but he knows it is “rooted in fear and lack of understanding. I’ve just always been a big believer that engagement and conversation is always better than judgement.” He said leaders at all levels have a role to play in being engaged, getting involved and embracing people of all different faiths and backgrounds. “It doesn’t matter who you love or what god you worship, you’re a Canadian. You’re a human being and you deserve [the]respect and love of any other human being.” Aitchison promised to lead by example and make sure that policing in this country is more appropriate and fair in dealing with all people.
Hay reminded those present that electoral reform was one of the first campaign promises broken by Trudeau’s Liberal government. She said it disappointed many people who were looking forward to changing Canada’s first-past-the-post system “so that we could have more representation from more of the voices that are being heard in our community. We know that it requires some work. We’ve seen how it’s being done in other countries and it can happen here and it will allow for more voices to be heard and be represented in Ottawa. Right now we’ve got a system where the same number of votes within the Green Party generates very few seats but the same number of votes in Quebec for the Bloc Québécois creates many seats in Parliament and that creates a disparity in our system that can be corrected by doing some electoral reform.”
Aitchison said he hasn’t given the issue a lot of thought. He said he’s not surprised the Liberal government made promises on the issue and then abandoned it when they thought they might lose seats. He said perhaps in the last election the Conservatives who won the popular vote might have more seats and may have formed government. “There are plenty of examples around the world where there have been electoral reforms, and they have different systems, and I think that Canada and Canadians deserve a government that does review it and I think there should be a referendum on such a thing.”
Mantha reminded Aitchison that there was a referendum on the issue. “It was so convoluted and hard to understand that it seemed like it was actually set up to fail and here we are going into an election with an electoral system this government said would be reformed,” he added. “So there was a majority government that was formed with 39 per cent of the vote and 100 per cent of the power, [it]happened to be a Conservative government at the time. And in an election, millions of votes don’t count. How do we justify that to the veterans who gave their lives in service?”
Mantha blamed the first-past-the-post system for enabling governments to get to power with less than half of the total votes. “Leadership makes things right and follows through,” he added.
Post-pandemic economic recovery
Mantha said his party would increase supports for post-pandemic reopening and digital offerings. They would also support cultural organizations which offer indoor and outdoor programming for community wellbeing. He said businesses and enterprises can no longer navigate the inconsistent policies. The pandemic is unpredictable, he said, but businesses need supports and assurances that are consistent.
Hay said people often hold multiple jobs and are working harder than they have before and yet they’re still falling behind. She said over 100,000 women have left the job market since COVID began and without adequate childcare, they won’t be able to return to the workforce. She said her party would provide supports for small businesses by covering the employer’s share of CPP and EI benefits. She also spoke of expanding benefits such as Pharmacare and dental, visual, and mental health care to all Canadians for a safer and healthier population which will support businesses as well.
Aitchison said in many ways economic recovery is the crux of the question for this election on how to get past COVID-19. His party has a laundry list of incentives to help Canadians and small businesses get back on their feet including incentives for job creation and supports for new hires after CERB ends. His party would double the apprenticeship tax credit for the next three years. It would invest $250 million over two years to create the Canada job training fund and provide supports for tourism and hospitality workers who have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Low-interest loans of $10,000 would be available for people who want to upgrade their skills and tax credits for those who invest in small businesses, among other initiatives including providing incentives for the research and creation of new technology and jobs in Canada not places like China. Aitchison also said a Conservative government would dedicate a portion of infrastructure funding to rural Canada and highlight rural tourism. “We will connect all of Canada, high-speed internet, by 2025. Not just promise, get it done,” he added
Why should residents vote for you?
Hay said she grew up here and ran away as far and fast as she could, and then she moved back and made this area her home. She works with and is committed to the not-for-profit sector and those experiencing poverty. She works with the most vulnerable members of the community and knows the system is broken which is the reason she became politically involved. On a national level, she worked as the president of Fierté Canada Pride, coordinating a $10 million LGBTQ capacity-building fund for the country and creating summits in the arts and culture. “And if you can manage to coordinate 400 queer activists in a room, doing parliament should be pretty easy,” she added.
Aitchison said he has a track record and is an engaged and collaborative individual. He said learning the way of Ottawa is not an easy task and he’s almost there. “I don’t believe in rabid partisanship if it gets in the way of solving a problem… you need someone that can hit the ground running and solve these problems. Housing is not just a talking point for me, people in this area are struggling every day. We cannot afford to wait until somebody new figures out where the bathrooms are in Ottawa. We need to solve these problems and I can do it.”
Mantha said with his background in business he’s always been able to figure out where the bathrooms are and it’s not because of experience, it’s because of skill and being able to observe with fresh eyes “and see things that maybe sometimes career politicians don’t see…” He said he’s been very involved with local municipal District affairs and he’s been a community volunteer with a number of volunteer organizations and a member of two not-for-profit boards. “I network closely in the community and know the day-to-day of what we need to focus on for our general wellbeing and leadership is not about being a great leader. It’s about lifting everyone around you up. It’s about understanding that a community reaches its full potential when all parts of it are working really well. Putting issues into silos does not recognize the interconnectedness. That’s what we have always been missing,” he said. “Most of all, leadership doesn’t have much to do with what a person says, let your actions speak. Your community knows who the leaders are and they don’t necessarily lead the conversation, they listen. They show up and not just at election time.”
You can watch what the candidates had to say in full on the YourTV YouTube channel here.
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