Candidates cover wide spectrum of issues at Harriston debate

Infrastructure, health care and economic development were the focus of a federal candidates meeting here on Sept. 30.

“These are areas we think our little community works very hard on,” said Town of Minto deputy mayor Ron Faulkner during introductory marks at the meeting, held at the Harriston-Minto Community Centre.

About 100 people in attendance had a chance to question Liberal candidate Stephen McCotter, Conservative John Nater, independent Roger Fuhr and Irma Devries of the Christian Heritage Party (CHP) on a wide range of issues.

NDP candidate Ethan Rabidoux did not attend due to illness. Green Party candidate Nicole Ramsdale works full time and was unable to attend the afternoon session due to work commitments.

Faulkner said local forums like this one, hosted by the Minto Retirees Activity Group, are important to the electoral process, as “the focus seems to be all on our leaders as opposed to the policies and our individual candidates.”

Nater recognized the meeting organizers in his opening remarks, stating “seniors built this county and certainly each generation has been built on the accomplishments of the past.

“Without a strong economy we cannot invest in the priorities that we need to address. That’s why we need to maintain a balanced budget and a strong economy,” said Nater, adding the governing Conservatives are committed to the “longest and largest investment in infrastructure in Canadian history”

He added, “Our government, the Conservative party, always believes that moms and dads are the right persons to make decision for their families, not the government.”

McCotter offered the audience some insight into who he is and why he is running.

“I’ve sat back and watched the country over the past 10 years and realized it was going in the wrong direction and I wanted to play a role in getting it back on track,” said McCotter. “I think this riding has been taken for granted and neglected over the last decade.”

McCotter stressed to the large contingent of seniors at the gathering, “if you’ve heard a Liberal government will cancel income splitting for seniors, that’s absolutely false.”

McCotter said the Liberals would end income splitting for other age groups, ensuring high income earners won’t be able to lower their individual tax rates by virtue of having a low-income spouse.

The Liberal candidate questioned the basis of finance for Tory campaign pledges.

“A lot of the promises you’re hearing right now are contingent on the price of oil going to $67 a barrel next year and $76 a barrel the year after that,” he noted.

He also reminded the audience his party pledged to reverse the Conservatives government’s increase in the age of eligibility to receive Canada Pension Plan benefits.

Fuhr said he elected to run as an independent because, “I had no idea which party to support anymore as they had all disappointed me on many occasions.

 “The political parties have brought us scandals, corruptions and criminal investigations,” he stated. “As your MP I promise to use complete due diligence with every matter before the House of Commons and vote for only what is in the best interest of the voters of Perth-Wellington.”

DeVries said her party “stands up for the voiceless ones; the unborn, the elderly and the infirm.”

While noting not all seniors are “voiceless,” DeVries pointed out more and more are struggling with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

She said a CHP proposal for a $1,000 a month family care allowance to assist families with one partner working at home caring for their aging parents would help alleviate the situation.

“Government must provide compassionate care for the elderly,” she said. “I believe in killing pain rather than patients.”

Devries called senior support care, quality home care and palliative care, “our responsibility.”

She also criticized the current government’s handling of veteran’s affairs, stating, “Our veterans deserve better; this government broke the faith with those who died.”

Neglected riding

Candidates were asked what they would do to ensure more attention is paid to the local riding by the federal government.

Nater said his priority is investigating the needs of citizens and finding out what’s important to them.

“I’ve already met with local mayors to find out what their infrastructure priorities are,” Nater said, noting he is pleased to see local investments such as recent work on Harriston’s water system and at the Harriston-Minto Community Centre being made by the federal government.

“Too often other parties like to have flashy shows, we just like to get the job done,” said Nater.

McCotter asked the audience, “Do you want Stephen Harper’s voice here in your riding or do you want your MP’s voice in Ottawa?”

Noting the Conservative leader has been in the riding only once “and that was to go to a Stratford Festival show,” McCotter pledged, if elected, “I’ll show the prime minister, whoever that is, a map and I’ll show him where Perth-Wellington is.”

He added, “I will speak up and I won’t be simply a messenger from Ottawa to Perth Wellington.”

Noting the government needs money to fund infrastructure, DeVries suggested revamping federal debt financing practices.

“Currently our government borrows money from chartered banks in order to do any kind of infrastructure spending,” she argued. “The Christian Heritage Party would change that so we’re borrowing money from the Bank of Canada at zero interest.”

Under a CHP government, once the money was paid back,  “that money would be retired from circulation, therefore it would be non-inflationary.

“Our national debt is phenomenal,” she continued. “Each individual in this room owes about $17,000. This is unethical. We’re borrowing from our children and grandchildren.”

Fuhr told the audience he feels Perth-Wellington has been neglected in terms of federal funding.

“I’m going to be making some noise in Ottawa in this regard. There’s no way that we’re getting our fair share.”

As an independent, Fuhr said he would be better positioned to fight to get the riding its share of infrastructure dollars.

“A lot of this is developed in caucus meetings, where one of our members gets told there isn’t going to be any new money for Perth-Wellington,” he said

Fuhr noted the governments’ commitment of $2.6 billion for “subways in the Greater Toronto Area” means there will be less money for rural ridings.

Supply management

Candidates were asked for their views on Canada’s agricultural supply management system.

“It’s vital to us here in Perth-Wellington with the heavy emphasis on dairy farming and certainly poultry as well. So I’ll be advocating for it the best I can in Ottawa,” said Fuhr.

However, he added, “I’m a little bit fearful there is going to be some change.”

DeVries said supply management, “lifted the dairy and poultry industries out of hardship in the 1960s and ‘70s and provides the public with a reliable source of those products.

“I would hate to see supply management thrown under the bus,” she said, adding her party believes the problem with the current system lies in “the commodification of quota.”

DeVries said the CHP believes quotas should be rented from a marketing board then returned to the board for redistribution when a farmer leaves agriculture.

McCotter said Liberal leader Justin Trudeau “gave me 100 per cent commitment that we’re behind supply management.

“Trade is important. Trade creates good jobs,” said McCotter. However, he added,  “trade is not as important to me as food sovereignty.”

McCotter said he hopes he is wrong in his understanding that 10% of the Canadian dairy market may be opened to imports under the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which was approved a few days after the meeting.

“I may be cynical, but I think Mr. Harper thinks he has this riding no matter what he does,” McCotter said.

Nater responded that although the CBC has reported on the prospect of a 10% concession on dairy, “That is false. There has been no such concession.”

Nater stated, “The Conservative Party’s been very clear, we are committed to supply management.”

He pointed out other agricultural sectors such as beef farmers will benefit from the TPP and “it’s important that Canada is at the table.”

Nater said the agreement represents access to a multi-billion market for some commodities and “if it’s a good deal that’s on the table, Canada will sign it.”

Refugee crisis

Candidates were asked for their for opinions on how Canada should help Syrian refugees.

“We need to proceed with caution,” said Fuhr.  He added Canada was largely built by immigrants “at a less dangerous time, when there wasn’t the threat of terrorism around the world.

“We need to take the time to qualify those immigrants to make sure they aren’t bringing terror to this country.”

Fuhr said he “would like to see more private individuals step up with their wallets and sponsor these immigrants.”

“My heart breaks when I hear the stories and see the images online and on television,” said DeVries.

However, she said, “rather than picking a magic number of people to bring to Canada, our first priority should be to bring Canada to the suffering people in refugee camps.”

DeVries said Canadians should go to refugee camps overseas “with food and water, blankets, medicine, love, whatever they need.

“And when we’re in those camps,” she continued. “We can identify families to welcome to Canada and especially identify those who share our Judeo-Christian heritage …”

Moderator Ross Wilkie cut off DeVries at this point, stating, “we have to make these answers more concise.”

Noting all refugee claimants are subject to security screening and health checks, McCotter said a Liberal government would approve immediate acceptance of 25,000 refugees and provide the financial support “to ensure they have the chance to support themselves.”

“Ask yourself why are there refugees? And the answer is because of ISIS,” said Nater, pointing out “as the government, we are the only party that’s committed to continuing the mission against ISIS.

Carbon tax

Candidates were asked for their views on carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems.

“Our party is strongly  opposed to a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system. They end up being a tax on absolutely everything,” said Nater.

“It’s not a system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Its just a system to raise money.”

Nater said Conservatives favour “a sector-by-sector regulatory approach,” and would set key targets for each industry. “It’s possible to reduce greenhouse gases while still growing the economy, because our government did.”

McCotter pointed out “Eighty-five percent of the population prices carbon.”

Noting several provinces have implemented carbon taxes or cap systems, he said “we’re going to let the provinces find their own solutions. We’re mostly there now.”

Calling Canada’s record on environmental issues “a disgrace” McCotter suggested “there’s an economic impact to our failures at an environmental level.” One example, he noted, was failure to gain American support for the Keystone pipeline proposal because of a perception of Canada as an environmental laggard.

Stating they would “cripple industry across Canada,” DeVries said the CHP would say no to carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems.

“Everything that you want will have a higher price. Robbing Canadians of their disposable income to deal with a problem that does not exist is foolish,” she said, adding “carbon is not a pollution. Let’s not fight the bogeyman of carbon because it’s not, we all breathe out carbon.”

Fuhr also opposed the concept. “Just because someone jumps in the lake doesn’t mean you have to. This is just nothing but a tax and I would be opposed to it,” Fuhr stated. “They’re gonna take all this money, suck it out of your wallets and probably still not even pay the debt.”

In closing

In his closing remarks, Fuhr stressed, “The party system is not currently working. You may remember those politicians in the past that honored their commitments and that stood for something, but that is not the case now.”

“If you entrust your vote to me,” said DeVries, “I promise one thing – my office and staff in Perth-Wellington will be here for you. I will work tirelessly to represent you and your common-sense rural values.”

McCotter said the Liberals would “return democracy to Ottawa. We’re going to make decisions based on science, not ideology.”

Nater pledged to make his position on all matters clear to constituents.

“No one in Perth-Wellington will ever have to wonder where I stand on an issue,” he stated.