Contenders grilled at Expositor All Candidates’ Night

Zak Nicholls of Little Current asked the candidates about their party’s plan to fund rare disease medicine. photos by Alicia McCutcheon

M’CHIGEENG – The five candidates vying for the job of Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP in the 2019 federal election answered questions from the floor following their opening statements and rebuttals at The Expositor’s 2019 All Candidates’ Night held October 2 at Manitoulin Secondary School.

Moderator Warren Schlote, a staff writer at the newspaper, laid out the format for the audience and candidates, setting a time limit of one minute for the questioner and two minutes for each candidate to respond. The candidates took turns in responding to the questions in a more random order than that of the initial statements, the position of which had been drawn at random. While questioners could pose their query to a particular candidate, all were able to respond with their own answers.

Electoral reform

The first question came from Sarah Hutchinson of Sandfield, who asked each of the candidates their position on electoral reform and in particular, proportional representation.

People’s Party of Canada candidate Dave DeLisle was first up. “I understand how you feel,” he said, noting that he was not a supporter of the first past the post system. “There is nothing I can do about it until I get into office,” he said. “That is something we will look at getting rid of.”

Incumbent MP NDP candidate Carol Hughes said that she was in agreement with the questioner and that proportional representation is part of her party’s platform. “It makes no sense to me that governments get in with 30 percent,” she said, going on to note that the NDP had supported proportional representation, but that the Liberals had “decided to quash that” because “it would not benefit them.”

Liberal candidate Heather Wilson noted that the Liberal government had set up a committee that went across the country to get input from Canadians. She said that neither the Conservatives nor the NDP were willing to consider a ranked ballot proposal. Previous referendums across the country did not result in a conclusive preference, she noted. “The Liberal government decided that consensus was paramount,” she said. “The NDP and the Conservatives did not agree with the Liberal government and that is why it did not go forward.”

Green Party candidate Max Chapman assured the questioner that should the Green Party form the government, that 2019 would be the last election held under the first past the post system. Their plan includes a citizen’s assembly on electoral reform by 2020. “We believe Canadians want to see their beliefs brought forward in a meaningful way.”

Conservative candidate Dave Williamson said that on the issue of electoral reform “there have been promises made and promises broken.” It is an issue where people have to come together in consensus, he said, but went on to say that a Conservative government would attempt to find that consensus.

Rare disease medications

Zak Nicholls of Little Current spoke of concerns on proposed pharmacare plans being put forward by the various parties, certain rare disease medications that his son, who has cystic fibrosis relies on to maintain a quality of life, would be removed from the list of what is covered.

Mr. Williamson was the first to answer this time. “Our belief is that everybody should be able to get those lifesaving drugs,” he said, but went on to say his party does not support a national pharmacare program “because it fails on two fronts. Number one, it is not affordable, you can’t afford it and I can’t afford it; number two 98 percent of the people already have some kid of a drug program, either through work or a benefit program. It seems ludicrous to have the government take on the burden of all those costs from the private sector where the deals have been negotiated.” He went on to say that the remaining two percent do need to be taken care of, “that is why we will be increasing health care transfers to the provinces by three percent.”

Mr. Chapman countered that the Green Party does “believe that a national pharmacare program is affordable and necessary so that people have access to lifesaving drugs.” He put forward the creation of a Crown corporation to purchase drugs in bulk with economies of scale and that the federal government and the provinces must sit down to design a national pharmacare program that will work for everyone. “You shouldn’t receive a prescription from your doctor and not be able to fill it because you cannot afford it.”

Ms. Wilson said that the Liberal government has committed to the creation of a national pharmacare program “so that all Canadians have access to a drug program at an affordable price,” she said. “It costs more to have poor people not taking medication than to have a program in place.” Healthy people are productive people.

Ms. Hughes supplied a list of the many commissions under both Liberal and Conservative governments that have supported the concept of a national pharmacare program, but “they have failed to deliver.” Ms. Hughes noted that it is getting more and more expensive to purchase medications. She decried the number of times the current government has met with lobbyists from the pharmaceutical companies. “We need to keep our population healthy,” she said, adding that a healthy population creates a productive economy.

Mr. DeLisle said that he was the first to admit that his party has not considered this issue. “I know there are many things we can do,” he said, going on to note that the Liberal party has made cannabis legal. He went on to point out that the price of EpiPen® has escalated “exorbitantly,” which he attributed to price gouging. He said he wanted to bring a bill “to go after these companies. To me, they are responsible for people’s lives and they should be held accountable.”

Mike Wilton stressed the importance of protecting the Great Lakes during his question to the candidates.

Canada on the global stage

Paul Darlaston presented a question on Canadian foreign policy and whether the candidates would bring the nation back to the position of honest broker on the global stage.

Mr. DeLisle passed for a moment.

Ms. Hughes said that her party was disappointed to hear that Mr. Scheer’s foreign platform is saying he does not trust the non-governmental organizations working on the ground to keep the money out of the hands of tyrant’s pockets. She cited the World Health Organization, Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders as groups that do important work. “If we want to have an influential position in the world it’s important we maintain that foreign commitment,” she said. Her party will commit to expanding Canada’s foreign development assistance to 0.7 percent of gross national product and help protect women, Indigenous communities and other threatened groups internationally.

Ms. Wilson cited the memory of Lester B. Pearson and his legacy of foreign aid. “We would like to continue on with foreign aid,” she said, “Canada has a proud history of helping other countries with food programs and educational programs that help not only children but women to participate in all areas of life.” She pointed out that Canadians are generous people, but that there is a payback to foreign aid, because building up other countries to the point that they can afford to purchase Canadian goods “helps our own economy and businesses.”

Mr. Chapman suggested that Canada is no longer punching above its weight on the world stage. “Canada needs to become a peacekeeper and honest broker in the world again. We were the first peacekeepers,” he said, adding it is important that Canada be on the global stage to ensure a more stable global climate. He said the Green Party will cooperate with international agencies to eradicate atomic and autonomous weapons.

Mr. Williamson said there has to be an accountability process in foreign aid to ensure that the “those dollars are going where it is supposed to, to those in the greatest need. That’s the initiative brought forward by Mr. Scheer,” he said. “This is an accountability issue.” In terms of foreign relationships, we will take a harder line with China, there is a country that is holding a number of our industries hostage in terms of canola, wheat and soy. You want to work with countries that are going to work with you in a fair and reasonable relationship.

Mr. DeLisle said that his party wants to take that money back and invest it into our own health care, veterans. “For us, that is the main thing we want to do. If these countries don’t want to follow the rules, cut them off. We have no position to send them money and have them support terrorism. We have to stop that until the people of these countries rise up and put an end to it.”

Great Lakes protection

Mike Wilton wanted to know what the candidates’ parties would do to ensure that Canada, Ontario and Quebec get seats at the table of the Great Lakes Compact in order to protect the vital water source, citing recent water diversions and asserting the decisions should not simply be up to the US.

Mr. Chapman said that he absolutely agreed with Mr. Wilton. “The Great Lakes are some of our most treasured natural features, they are vital to our communities,” he said. “We absolutely must do more to protect those waters.” The Green Party would bring back the Navigable Waters Act. “We would also do better than the plan between the Ministry of the Environment and the provinces,” he said, pointing out that the plan falls short in the area of adequate funding. “The most important thing that a government can do is to ensure our water stays clean. We need to protect the water. It is an absolute necessity of human life.”

Mr. Williamson said that he had no problem agreeing with the fact “that we need to be part of the IJC (International Joint Commission)(Canada is currently part of the IJC, Mr. Williamson undoubtedly meant the Great Lakes Compact referenced by the questioner). “Max said it exactly right,” he said. “Common sense says that we protect the Great Lakes.” He noted that the issue of fresh water diversions has historically been a major issue. “It has been a problem historically, right now with the higher water levels it seems to have receded, but I absolutely agree that we need to be part of the IJC and we need to protect the Great Lakes.”

Ms. Wilson said that the Liberal plan to protect our environment has been strong and it will be stronger as we move forward with a solid plan. She cited the recent Liberal proposal to ban single use plastics as an example of positive moves. “When the Conservatives talk about common sense solution, I have to argue with them, there is no such thing as common sense,” she said. “We all live in our own environment so we need to work on a pan-Canadian solution. I will commit to working with the IJC to find solutions.”

Ms. Hughes noted that the water issue was one she has waded into in the past. She panned the record of the Liberals and Conservatives as “not great.” She noted that American states have been dealing with the reduction of funding by President Donald Trump. “We need to protect the Great Lakes from a number of threats, including bulk water diversions,” she said. “It is imperative that Canada petition the IJC to include Canada, Ontario and Quebec to be part of the Great Lakes Compact.” She pointed to the Northern Ontario platform and the implementation of a national freshwater strategy.

Mr. DeLisle noted that “I myself am a bit of an environmentalist,” he said. Pointing to his efforts to pull debris out of the local lakes where he lives. “Some people don’t care about the water,” he said. “They don’t understand that everything you put into there leaves a footprint. We have to stop letting other countries dictate to us what we do with our water.” He went on to note that it is important to keep the marshlands clean as well.

Climate change

Jan McQuay of Mindemoya pointed to climate change as “an existential risk” and wanted to know what the candidates were going to do to address climate change and reduce emissions.

Ms. Wilson noted that as of 2019 it is no longer free to pollute in Canada. “We don’t call it a carbon tax, we call it a price on pollution,” she said. She pointed out that the levy is returned to individual Canadians. “It is not if, but when we will move away from fossil fuels,” she said, but added the caveat that it will not happen overnight and will require investments in green technology. “We have invested in green initiatives in Canada, but there is always more that needs to be done.”

Ms. Hughes said that the Liberal plan isn’t strong enough, alleging that it would take 200 years for the plan to meet the 2030 commitment. “We know the Conservative’s plan isn’t serious enough,” she said. “I have to question the Green Party as well; they have doubled down on the tar sands.” She pointed out that the global market for cheap sweet crude makes the tar sand oil very expensive. “It will take over 2,000 years to clean up the tar sands.” She listed setting a target to power Canada with net-carbon-free electricity by 2030 and to non-emission electricity by 2015 and create a new Canadian carbon bank to invest in renewable energy and work with Indigenous communities.

Mr. DeLisle began his answer by identifying the issue as “a scam” that his party does not believe in. “Climate change is cyclical,” he said. “There were 500 scientists that came out and said that last week. We do not believe it is necessary.” He referred to the concerns about it as “climate hysteria.” He cited Al Gore as looking like an idiot. “Sit back and look at the real facts,” he said. “If you research things, you will find other things to be true. And yes ma’am, I am sorry but it is a tax.”

Mr. Chapman said the Green Party is the only party that has set its target to meet the intergovernmental panel’s goals to avoid irreversible runaway climate change. He said his party will end all fossil fuel subsidies and ban fracking, get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and end oil production between 2030 and 2035. “We need to make electric vehicles affordable,” he said, listing a series of policies that would protect marshlands and other carbon sinks. “If we face the science like adults, we have been putting this off for far too long,” he said. “Now is the time we have to act. We don’t want this to be a partisan issue, we want this to be about the survival of our species.”

Mr. Williamson disagreed with the poser of the questions, “it is a tax,” he said. “Having said that, we do have to do something about the carbon going into the atmosphere.” He said that other countries’ emissions far exceed those of Canada. “We need to take a global approach. But we also can do something closer to home. We will provide a 20 percent refundable tax credit for energy retrofits on your home. But if you don’t deal with the big polluters abroad, you will never be able to deal with it at home,” he said.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Susan Hare reiterated that climate change is the issue. But her question was “which of the recommendations of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry are you going prioritize and act upon if you are elected?”

Ms. Hughes said that the NDP has been working “quite a bit” with the Green Party. “Our goals are the same. I think we need to develop their position on the tar sands.” Elizabeth May indicated that the Greens do share some core values with the Conservatives, she alleged. “That should raise some concerns as well.” 

As to the inquiry, she said, “the NDP have been very vocal. We did push the Conservatives to take on the inquiry and we are pleased that the Liberals did finally go there. The NDP would support every recommendation to support Indigenous women.” Ms. Hughes also committed to fully implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the TRC 94 Calls to Action. “We will work with Indigenous peoples for a national plan for reconciliation.” She also noted that more needs to be done at the border to ensure that women are protected from being trafficked.

Ms. Wilson noted that she did her master’s thesis on Manitoulin and studied the issues of violence against women. “I believe in my heart that the issue of violence against Indigenous women is a racist issue that we have not addressed correctly.” She went on to say that many of the underlying causes, such as poverty in First Nations communities and violence must also be addressed, not only in Indigenous communities but in others as well. “The Liberal government did bring forward the MMIWG inquiry and is committed to advances, making sure that Indigenous women can participate fully in our country.”

Mr. Chapman said that the Green Party will implement all of the recommendations, including UNDRIP (the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and those of the TRC. “We want to phase out bitumen in Canada, we will ban fracking and we won’t support an LNG (liquid natural gas) pipeline through sovereign territory.”

“It is a long path to walk to undo 200 years of racist policies, we are ready to walk it with Indigenous communities,” he said. “We need to look at how we can better our relationship.” Among the route to that end the Green Party totally repudiates the racist “terra nullis and the doctrine of discovery.” 

Mr. Williamson acknowledged that the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is one of systemic discrimination and that his party would proceed in consultation with Indigenous communities and ensure that “proper investigations” took place in each case. “We are committing to a national task force,” he said. Such investigations would have to proceed in a culturally sensitive manner but also “you need to do the job.”

“This is a very sensitive issue for all Canadians,” said Mr. DeLisle, “they want to hide, it they want to push it away and say we will deal with it later. The reality is it is a serious issue that needs to be resolved.” He went on to acknowledge that his party’s position on the matter has not yet been released, but went on to say that, for him, it is a personal issue. He said that the cases need to be investigated thoroughly and measures taken to prevent it happening again to “ensure the safety and security of all First Nations people.”

Government funding for media

Robert Lamb, a retired police officer now living on Manitoulin Island asked about the ethics and integrity of Parliament and the $600 million given by the Liberal government to support the media and whether that sort of policy should be continued or expanded upon or limited, given the perceived impact it could have on unbiased reporting.

Mr. DeLisle said, “we at the PPC believe exactly that. By paying the CBC it appears that only the Liberal narrative is the only one that is running.” In fact, he said, the PPC does not get the air time of the NDP, the Liberals, the Greens or the Conservatives get. “We don’t believe in political correctness, it is just a way to shut you up,” he said. “You know what? We are adults, get over it. If you can’t answer the question, don’t say it is because it is racist.” He went on to say that “good, bad or indifferent” the truth must get out.

Ms. Hughes said that given that there are a lot of media outlets that have been shutting down due to social media—“it’s problematic, these are entities (social media companies) that are not paying taxes.” She added that quality has become an issue with so many people turning to the internet. “If you want good quality, you have to put some investment into it,” she said. “The number of newspapers has really dwindled since I was first elected.” She pointed out that the information being put forward on the internet is often not fact-based. “We need to invest to assist in bringing the media to the 21st Century and to ensure the information is correct.”

Ms. Wilson held up The Expositor as a quality newspaper that is revered, but pointed to the number of newspapers in the riding that have closed over the last few years. “In AMK we don’t have the variety of news available in more urban areas,” she said. “It is important to help keep local news outlets reporting on local issues. In order to ensure Canadian content and fact-based media it is necessary to publically fund media. I think it is very important.”

Mr. Chapman said that “having a vibrant and diverse media is a prerequisite to democracy.” He went on to say the larger issue is the loss of trust in government and institutions. That includes that the officers of government are in place and have the power to enforce the law. “The bigger question is ‘how do we restore that trust of citizens in government?’,” he said.

Mr. Williamson said that of course we should expect ethical and moral standards beyond reproach. “Clearly there have been issues,” he said. The idea a fund of $650 million right before an election certainly suggests a moral breach. “Yes you should hold your leaders to a higher level, and yes I see a problem with that $650 million being given out to media just before an election.”

Housing for people with disabilities

Jackie Batman questioned the challenges inherent in finding affordable and suitable housing for people with disabilities and the need for 24-hour care. 

Mr. Williamson said the issue in terms of the current housing crisis needs to be addressed with a process of partnership between the federal government, the provinces and municipalities to ensure the investment in infrastructure. From the Conservative perspective, they are currently reviewing the disability tax credit and looking to reinstate some of those that had been removed by the current government.

Mr. Chapman said that the Green Party recognizes the housing crisis and affordability crisis in this country and would refocus the mandate of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to develop affordable, non profit co-operative housing for seniors and vulnerable people. The Greens would appoint a minister of housing to strengthen a national housing strategy to make sure it is working to provide affordable housing to address the needs of people now. 

Ms. Wilson noted that she has experience in working with community housing developments in Espanola and that there is a shortfall of 176 units in Espanola alone—something that is reflected in communities across the riding. “The red tape has been phenomenal,” she said. Community groups are being frustrated by different levels of government. “The cost of not having housing is more expensive than the cost of ensuring that there is affordable housing,” she said. 

Ms. Hughes said that there is a shortfall of 2,000 in Timmins alone. “A lot of the housing is not accessible,” she added. Ms. Hughes maintained that the Liberal government had ended many of the affordable housing initiatives and that the Conservatives had brought in less. The current government, she maintained, is only doing 90 percent of what the Conservatives were doing.

“We need to strengthen our Accessibility Act and enforce its provisions,” she said. She pointed to the issues of employment and income security. The NDP has brought forward a plan for 500,000 affordable units, she said, adding that streamlining the application process is important.

Me. DeLilse said that “as a person with a disability, “I heartily agree.” He cited the need for programs to allow people to feel part of society. “My goal would be to have all of this in one contained unit and have the doctor come to that unit instead of the people having to go to them,” he said. “People with disabilities are some of the nicest people I know. They have a right to have a decent home where everything they need is there.”

No. 1 priority in the riding

Mr. Schlote then asked a snap question: what is the most important issue facing AMK.

Ms. Hughes said “access to health care.” She noted that people she meets at the door are having challenges to be able afford their medications. She noted different communities have different priorities.

Mr. DeLisle agreed, “It is definitely health care.” Since the mill closed where he lives he sees it all around him. He added that is coupled with affordability. “We will take care of the seniors; my personal goal is to double seniors’ pensions.”

Mr. Chapman said, “I will come out of left field and say the climate crisis.” He pointed out that the question is existential and impacts all the other aspects of people’s lives. “The only thing we risk doing is making our planet healthier,” he said. “We need to get our act together.”

Ms. Wilson noted that she has knocked on 3,000 doors since June and the number one issue she hears about is jobs. “I come from a business background,” she said. When we have good quality jobs the other things fall into place.” We need to be investing in apprenticeships and training programs that are already here, as well as investing in creating jobs.”

Mr. Williamson said that he had no doubt that the biggest issue is affordability “when 50 percent of families are $200 away from financial crisis.” He committed to ending the carbon tax, increasing the senior tax credit, and “we will focus on economic development and creating jobs.”