BELWOOD – An all-candidates meeting for the Wellington-Halton Hills riding was hosted by the Pine Meadows Retirement Community homeowners association on Oct. 4.
The debate, which was not widely publicized, offered residents the opportunity to address their concerns.
Candidates present were: Conservative incumbent Michael Chong, Liberal candidate Lesley Barron, NDP representative Andrew Bascombe, People’s Party of Canada (PPC) candidate Syl Carle and Green Party challenger Ralph Martin.
All questions were directed to a specific candidate and then redirected to a representative from a different party.
A prominent issue addressed was the British policy of freezing pensions of British citizens who immigrate to Canada.
Chong revealed he had been trying to get this problem resolved.
“I will continue to raise this issue with the prime minister,” he said. “So that when they do have bilaterals with the UK prime minister they continue to advocate for our British residents here in Canada who get these pensions. But at the end of the day it’s not within the jurisdiction of the government of Canada, it rests with those governments overseas.”
The question was then redirected to Barron with the request that the Canadian government make a provision in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe to ensure the freezing policy is corrected.
Barron said “CETA has been negotiated,” and suggested that “we cannot wait for the UK government to act, we need to make sure that all of our seniors have a minimum annual income, that means that they do not live in poverty.
“So the liberal government has raised the CPP (Canada Pension Plan) and has promised going forward for the old age security to be increased by 10 per cent when you hit 75 and the guaranteed income supplement will go up by $947 a year.”
Later in the meeting, a question was directed to Carle about how the government will assist seniors whose pensions are not in line with the cost of living stay in their homes.
Carle stated the PPC looks after Canadians first, and is looking to take back control of public finances without cutting pensions.
Carle also announced the PPC’s recent “policy platform dealing with our veterans. The former Conservative government made a mess of their pensions and we have already agreed to restore what they had prior to the change.”
When the same question was redirected to Martin, he brought attention to the Green Party’s goal to increase the Canadian Pension Plan.
“Right now it’s at 25% of what it was when you were working. We’re planning to gradually increase that to 50% so that would bring in more income for that,” he said. “We also have a policy of a guaranteed livable income. So that means that there is a floor, and if anyone gets to that floor regardless of age we would make sure that they have a livable income.”
Many residents present at the debate immigrated to Canada and were critical of recent changes to immigration and border policies.
Chong, while aware Canada’s high immigration rates are widely viewed as positive, said illegal border crossings undermine public confidence.
“First we need to close the loopholes in the (Canada-United States) Safe Third Country Agreement” he said. “We need to strengthen the points system and the criteria for admitting the economic class of immigrants. They were recently weakened in the last four years.”
During a redirect, Barron highlighted the importance of immigration.
“All of you are mostly at the age where you are requiring more social services, you are requiring more health care, more long-term care facilities to be built,” she said. “And to fund these services we need to admit immigrants to this country who pay taxes and fund these social services … It’s a very important part of the growth of our economy.”
Asked what the NDP would do to help ex-military members currently in poverty, Bascombe said it is important to honour veterans.
“The NDP would do everything in its power to reinstate the losses that the previous federal governments have taken away from them in regards to their pensions,” he said. “And make sure that from their training to their retirement as veterans, that they are taken care of.”
Alternately, Martin suggested spreading awareness about the risks of mental illness and injury.
“There has to be much better mental health services for those in the military,” he said.
“And in the Green Party we have plans for looking after these folks. The part of the military budget that we would really want to emphasize would be to look after veterans.”