Huge crowd for debate
By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County residents peppered their federal candidates with questions on everything from environmental policy to F-35s to proportional representation to access to information at a candidates’ meeting Monday night.
Hundreds packed the ballroom at the Pinestone Resort and Conference Centre to overflowing, with some taking in the proceedings from the adjacent hallway.
Organized by CARP and moderated by Jim Blake, the event was attended by Green candidate Bill MacCallum, Liberal candidate David Marquis, the NDP’s Mike Perry and Conservative contender Jamie Schmale.
The first question of the night asked candidates what needed to be done to turn Canada back into a kinder, gentler, outreaching country.
MacCallum, a math and science teacher, explained the Green Party planned to introduce a guaranteed livable income for all Canadians, so that everyone could live above the subsistence level.
“Currently, we have a hodge-podge of programs,” he said. “We would ensure that no one would slip through the cracks.”
He added the Green Party would take in more Syrian refugees than being accepted by the Harper government.
“What we need in this country is a Prime Minister that actually talks to the premiers and territorial leaders and has a better relationship on the world stage,” said Marquis, a farmer and small business owner, to a throng of applause.
Marquis also referenced the seven per cent tax cut the Liberals are touting for what they define as the “middle class.”
“People are becoming poorer or richer in this country, and we have to refocus that,” he said.
Perry, a lawyer, social worker and executive director of the Kawartha Lakes family health team, said he wanted to see civility restored to the House of Commons.
“So we can have reasonable minds that differ and still talk to each other,” he said. “So we can have a question period where questions are asked, respectfully, and even answered. I think it starts at the top, civility and treating each other well again.”
Schmale, a former radio journalist and executive assistant to MP Barry Devolin, explained why he thought Canada was one of the greatest countries on earth.
“Just this past July, a survey was published by a very reputable source saying that Canada has the No. 1 ranking position for the fourth time in six years and the strongest reputation in the world,” Schmale said, before being interrupted by a heckler who yelled, “For what?”
Blake reprimanded the heckler.
“In terms of taxes for seniors, we introduced income-splitting, we’re keeping taxes low for Canadians,” Schmale continued.
Schmale said the Conservatives had been doing all this while balancing the budget and making investments in communities, including more than $200 million in the riding since 2008.
While the Conservative government’s most recent budget was balanced, it was preceded by six years of deficits.
Another question asked candidates if they supported expanding the Canadian Pension Plan.
“CPP is one of those things where the Prime Minister needs to talk to provinces,” Marquis said, adding that several provinces, including Ontario, have either created or are proposing to create their own pension plans to subsidize federal payments.
Marquis said the Liberals support moving the age at which one starts receiving old age security back to 65, “where it should be,” as opposed to the age of 67, to which is has been moved for anyone born after 1958.
“A strong Canada Pension Plan is a Canadian value,” said Perry, adding NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has pledged to meet with the premiers to discuss the CPP within six months of the election if he wins.
Perry also added that when companies go under, it should be pension creditors who are first in line.
“The Conservatives will not impose a mandatory CPP increase,” Schmale said, adding that business owners he’s spoken to say they don’t want it, as it would cause additional strain.
Schmale pointed out that when the CPP was brought in, Canadians’ life expectancies were shorter than they are now.
MacCallum said the CPP was originally designed to replace 50 per cent of an average income and had dropped to 25. He said the Green Party would raise it to the 40 per cent mark and would also lower the age at which Canadians could receive old age security back to 65.
Another question was regarding euthanasia, the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in February that Canadians have a right to doctor-assisted suicide and giving Parliament a year to come up with some kind of legislation, legislation that has not yet been tabled.
“They have a year to consult and bring legislation forward,” Schmale said. “This a very difficult issue for a number of people, myself as well.”
Schmale added that his own mother had MS.
“The Green Party agrees completely with the court’s decision,” MacCallum said. “It’s a difficult issue, but it’s a personal decision.”
MacCallum said there should be action on legislation as soon as the election is over.
Marquis also said that Parliament must create this legislation as did Perry, saying the NDP respects the court’s decision and stressing that the decision was very specific, applying only to adults who are in a sound mindset to give consent and who are in excruciating circumstances.
Candidates were asked if a motion came up that was being supported by their party but opposed the interests of their constituents, whether they would break rank.
“I believe we need to make politics about people again,” Perry said. “I know that if I’m getting it wrong, I’m certainly going to hear about it.”
Schmale pointed to his record dealing with constituents as Devolin’s right hand man.
“For those of you who have dealt with me in the past, you now I’ve always returned a phone call,” he said.
Schmale also said, “a lot of things go on behind the scenes,” and that “we [parties] work as a team.”
MacCallum stressed Green Party leader Elizabeth May has emphasized her MPs are allowed to vote how they wish every time.
“All three of the other parties put the party first and whip their MPs almost all the time,” he said.
“One thing Justin Trudeau has said, is that there will be more free votes in Parliament,” said Marquis. “You can’t vote in Parliament if the leader is putting the thumb on you.”
Schmale referenced a Globe and Mail article from February of 2013 showing that during the current term, Conservatives had broken rank the most, voting unanimously 76 per cent of the time, compared to 90 per cent for the Liberals and 100 per cent for the NDP, since the introduction of Mulcair as leader.
“Conservatives were No.1, by the way,” Schmale said.
“You rebels, Jamie,” Perry responded.
There was another exchange between Perry and Schmale on a question regarding proportional representation.
Marquis said he supported asking Canadians whether they would like to switch to a proportional representation system, MacCallum and Perry both said they supported the system, while Schmale was opposed.
“This system [single-member plurality] has worked well in Canada for the past 148 years and I do not support that [proportional rep],” Schmale said.
“Women couldn’t vote 150 years ago, so I’m not sure how well that system has been serving us since confederation,” said Perry.
Candidates were also asked if they supported the reinstatement of the mandatory long-form census. Marquis, MacCallum and Perry said yes, Schmale no.
One resident asked if the gagging of scientists by the federal government would continue.
“No, the NDP believes in science,” Perry said, and referencing protests that have taken place in Ottawa, “You know it’s a bad day when you have 100 PhDs out picketing.”
“To suggest the Conservative Party does not believe in science is not true,” Schmale shot back.
Schmale said the civil service is supposed to be neutral and that all employees of the federal government sign a policy of conduct.
“The gap between science and politics has never been greater,” said MacCallum.
Marquis said decisions should be evidence-based and that Stephen Harper doesn’t listen to evidence.
The Retired Teachers of Ontario sponsored the event.
The election is Oct. 19.