A Beaches-East York candidates’ debate drew unexpected agreements and provided a refreshing focus on ideas over politicking three weeks ahead of the Oct. 19 federal election.
Before the evening was through, Liberal candidate Nathaniel Erskine-Smith had announced he agreed on a point with Conservative Bill Burrows, New Democrat Matthew Kellway found himself pushing a priority similar to one promoted by Erskine-Smith, and Green candidate Randall Sach even found himself on the same side of a tax issue as the US Republican party.
Moderated by Beach Metro News board president Rob Granatstein, the debate started off light, with every candidate offered the chance to announce their priorities for the riding.
All four candidates brought up the recurring issue of infrastructure, though with different approaches.
Erskine-Smith said a federal representative’s job is to look at the bigger picture while keeping their own riding in mind.
“The federal government shouldn’t be looking at Beaches-East York specifically, they should be looking at being a strong, stable partner for the City of Toronto,” he said.
Burrows shot back by pledging to fight specifically for residents in the riding.
“We’ve had 34 years of representatives who haven’t done that, and we need somebody down here that’s going to do that,” he said.
He also pointed out the Conservative government’s past investments in infrastructure and future pledges for Toronto-specific projects such as SmartTrack.
Sach said a Green government would fund infrastructure in part by redirecting oil and gas industry subsidies, allowing for infrastructure improvements while balancing the budget.
Kellway said infrastructure investment is part of a wider plan to focus on urban issues and to fight the disappearance of the middle class.
“The hallmark of global and globalizing cities is income inequality,” he said.
Next was seniors’ care.
Kellway said the NDP are promising $300 million to build 200 new healthcare clinics and hiring up to 7,000 healthcare professionals.
Both Kellway and Erskine-Smith said a national strategy on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease was necessary.
Erskine-Smith also touted pharmacare and said new approaches to seniors’ care should both improve quality of care and save money.
Burrows said the Conservative priority is helping seniors stay in their homes as long as possible by saving seniors money.
Sach differed from the other candidates by proposing a guaranteed livable income plan for Canadians of all ages.
On employment, Sach said the Greens would spend $1 billion training youth to retrofit buildings for energy efficiency.
“The jobs of the future are in the green economy,” he said. “We want to be number one in the world in that field.”
Erskine-Smith said the government can’t be a panacea for unemployment.
“We can’t just snap our fingers and create jobs,” he said.
However, a Liberal government would spend money on creating youth jobs, offering retraining for adults out of work, and in renewable energy subsidies in order to create opportunity.
Kellway pointed to the working groups he facilitated with local service agencies after the closure of Target. A Lowe’s is now planned for the location.
The Conservative government has introduced many incentives and credits to help small business, said Burrows.
“I’ve owned my own business for a number of years. I’m the only candidate standing here in front of you tonight that understands the hardships of owning a business,” he said.
“The Conservative approach and the Harper approach is to lower taxes and incentivize business,” he added later in the evening.
On tax loopholes, Burrows said the Harper government had already closed loopholes.
Sach said a Green government would close tax haven loopholes.
He pointed out even Republicans in the US are talking about repatriating corporate cash – a rare incidence of the Green Party’s politics aligning with the American right.
The discussion moved on to the environment, starting with the contentious topic of transporting bitumen and oil by rail through Toronto.
Sach said the Greens are the only party against all pipelines. In the short term, he said, oil products should be refined here in Canada, making them safer to transport, while trains need proper staffing.
Kellway took issue with the effectiveness of recent regulatory changes implemented by the Harper government.
“Since the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic where 47 people died in that explosion, the department of transportation in Canada has added one rail inspector to its roster. Just one,” he said.
The topic of carbon pricing to reduce greenhouse gases brought passionate responses from all four candidates.
Erskine-Smith, Sach, and Burrows all agreed that a cap-and-trade system is a bad idea.
“That’s precisely our position on carbon taxes and cap and trade. It’s not going to cut down emissions, it’s simply a revenue generating tool, it’s another tax,” said Burrows.
Sach said the Green party would rather put a fee on carbon as it’s produced and return that fee to all Canadian adults.
“Cap and trade turns pollution into a commodity that can be bought and sold on the market like stocks. So some people will get very rich trading carbon credits,” he said.
Erskine-Smith said the Liberals would introduce a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Provinces could opt out if their own emission reduction targets were equal to or better than a federal plan.
Kellway stood behind the NDP’s cap-and-trade plan, however, using a rebuttal card to defend the program.
“The important part of the cap and trade is the cap,” he said. “One cannot throw darts at the board and hope that your tax is high enough to reduce emissions.”
During closing statements, each candidate had a chance in the spotlight.
Sach used two analogies to focus on the need for Canadians to get off the “drug” of fossil fuels.
“The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. The horse and buggy age didn’t end because we ran out of horses, or buggies,” he said, before urging everyone to consider the need to end pollution regardless of their beliefs about global warming.
Erskine-Smith talked policies for a minute, then chose to highlight his optimism.
“Less than a quarter of Canadians have faith in our democracy. I want to change that. I believe politics is a noble thing to do, and I wish Canadians felt the same way when they saw their representatives in action,” he said.
Kellway asked the audience to imagine a new NDP government in three weeks, with priorities such as dealing with global warming, acknowledging that Canada is an urban nation, creating fairer cities, the beginnings of a pharmacare plan, and a long-promised solution for parents of young children.
“I want you to imagine now that you are only three weeks away from a national childcare plan that has been promised to you since 1971.”
Burrows closed the night emphasizing the country’s need to stay the course during precarious economic times. Despite Harper’s charisma – or lack of it, joked Burrows – the Conservatives remain the right choice to lead the country.
“The fact of the matter is we have a strong leader who has done a good job with our economy,” he said.
For a video of the debate, see beachmetro.com.
Beach Metro News would like to encourage all eligible voters to cast a ballot on Monday, Oct. 19, or in advance polls on Oct. 9 to 12.
To find out where your local polling station will be, visit elections.ca and type in your postal code.