Perth-Wellington candidates discuss race, gender, vaccine mandates in Alma

ALMA – Questions from the audience opened the door to discussions that included misinformation and references to discredited theories at a provincial all-candidates meeting here on May 31.

Written questions submitted from an audience of about 35 people touched on issues like vaccine science, gender identity and even critical race theory.

The meeting, which was attended by all seven Perth-Wellington candidates, was held at the Alma Community Centre and hosted by the local Optimist Club.

Moderator Jim DeBock asked for additional information after reading a question asking candidates to share their thoughts on critical race theory (CRT) in the classroom.

Two divergent definitions were provided for CRT, basically a way of understanding the impact of racism on public policy, from members of the audience.

Progressive Conservative candidate Matthew Rae talked about “the work with we’ve been doing with our curriculum,” noting, “we modernized the science and technology curriculum. First time we did that since 2007.”

Rae added the updated curriculum has a “focus on the skilled trades and focus on educating our students for the jobs of the future.”

New Blue candidate Bob Hosken said CRT is behind such moves as the de-streaming of math curriculum for Grade 9 students.

“They say that systemic racism was causing us to make decisions for people of colour to be put into the applied level as opposed to the academic,” said Hosken.

“So it’s the people making the decisions who are calling themselves racist. It’s not the students; it’s not the teachers who are racists.”

He added, “If they want to say their own system is racist, let them deal with their own racism.”

Freedom Party candidate Robbie Smink said CRT, “as far as I understand it, is an anti-white philosophy that basically preaches that the white race is responsible for all the past sins of the world and what’s wrong in the world and that white people should be discriminated against in favour of minorities.”

He added, “The way you stop racing, racism is you just stop talking about it. It doesn’t exist in Canada. Canada is the most non-racist country on the planet.”

(*Many people confuse any discussion of race with the academic concept of CRT, which examines race as a social construct. The theory proposes that racism is not simply the product of individual bias/prejudice, but is also something embedded in the systems/policies of a state or nation.)

“As a white person, I have more privilege just because I’ve grown up in this area. I speak the language, I speak English,” said Green Party candidate Laura Bisutti.

She noted her father, an Italian immigrant, “worked on his English just like any other immigrant would, and they just blend in eventually.”

Bisutti added she feels more diverse hiring practices in the education system would be beneficial because students “see themselves in teachers.”

“Privilege is for us to speak on things that we are not aware of that minorities face every day,” said Liberal candidate Ashley Fox.

“I support modernizing our education and our curriculum.”

NDP candidate Jo-Dee Burbach said, “I think there is the concept of privilege and we all have it, in class or, … economic privilege, privilege of what we look like.

“I don’t see us fighting against privilege, but extending the privilege to other people.”

“I don’t think that we don’t have racism,” said Ontario Party candidate Sandy MacGregor.

He noted efforts to reverse systematic racism are “actually making the black race seem like they’re not as good.

“You’re saying you’re not able to reach that level, you’re not able to get to that level, because you’re a black person,” MacGregor added.

“No – you are just as good and you need to realize that you are, no matter what race you are.”

Another questioner, suggesting the provincial government has followed the federal government’s lead on issues such as masking and vaccine mandates through the COVID-19 pandemic, asked, “How would you ensure that decisions regarding the physical and mental wellbeing of our children will be determined with known evidence-based health and policy choices, rather than unproven science as has been evident?”

Smink stated provincial vaccine mandates are “illegal or unconstitutional and against any bill of rights, the Ontario Bill of Rights, the Nuremberg Code, a whole list of international agreements that we’ve signed.”

(*The Ontario Human Rights Commission has stated “a person who chooses not to be vaccinated based on personal preference does not have the right to accommodation under the [Human Rights Code].” COVID-19 vaccines and associated mandates do not violate the Nuremberg Code. Ontario dropped the requirement for mandatory vaccination and testing policies in schools, long-term care homes and hospitals on March 14, ending the last of existing provincial vaccination requirements.)

“The thing about the COVID vaccine is that the government only allows one point of view,” Smink added.

“Anybody with an opposing point of view, doctors that don’t agree with it, they’re being censored. They lose their jobs, if they don’t comply. The [face covering] mandates are also against our constitutional rights.”

(*Most legal experts agree mask mandates do not constitute a rights violation, particularly since exemptions were provided.)

Bisutti said the correct science was applied against COVID-19.

“In this case, it was an mNRA vaccine that they came up with because it’s an mRNA virus,” she said.

“The virus doesn’t have a cellular structure. So it’s protein, folded protein that uses your cells to reproduce.

“So we use that technology to sort of replicate it by using a portion of it to (target) just the sticky part of the virus … and they found that it made your immune system more robust against the actual virus.”

Fox asked for clarification on the question, but the moderator was unable  to provide any.

“Then I think I’m going to pass based on interpretation,” said Fox.

“In terms of how we protect our children, our vulnerable and our seniors, we follow the science,” said Burbach.

“You’re asking for evidence of science. We actually call it evidence-based science.

“But it’s what we do, not just with the WHO (World Health Organization) but also from various counterparts across the province. And unfortunately, it became politicized.

Fox added, “Obviously with an Ontario Liberal government, we would not be looking at that (politics), we would invite all of our health care workers to have a voice. And we have seen that that has saved many lives.”

Burbach pointed out masks have been used for over 100 years.

“And they’re used in hospital settings regularly. We have decades and decades of proof that they do prevent germs from spreading very effectively. So we know that it works,” she stated.

“As for as children’s mental health … we knew before the pandemic that kids in schools were needing help with mental health.

“So the NDP has a plan to make mental health universally covered. So with your OHIP card, your kids can go and visit the doctor and see the mental health professionals that they need.

Burbach added, “Right now that there’s a waiting list of up to a year and a half. So we’re looking to cut that down so that people can get the help they need immediately, especially our kids.”

“All doctors, all people that are skilled in this should be allowed to have a voice at the table,” said MacGregor.

“In the past. I’ve seen doctors who have a different opinion, treated thousands of patients with Ivermectin and various things have been very successful. Treating somebody by sticking them with a needle all the time, that doesn’t work. Just listen to all sides of the story.”

(*Numerous studies have concluded Ivermectin is not helpful in treating COVID-19.)

MacGregor also expressed concern with the current government’s proposal to implement a digital ID system.

“Doug Ford is going to have this digital ID … which is going to mean that if you want to refuse vaccines next time, you don’t want to go where he wants you to go, he’s going to just press a button and say, ‘Sir, we’re going to shut you off.’ This digital ID. It’s very scary,” said MacGregor.

Addressing the question, Rae said “If elected on June 2, I’ll raise your concerns to the appropriate minister.”

In response to MacGregor, Rae stated, “If you carry a phone, everyone knows where you are.

“Digital ID will be optional. It will never be permanent.”

Hosken told the audience he is a statistician “by government degree from the University of Guelph” and has collected data of daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths attributed to COVID over 400 consecutive days, comparing figures from before and after vaccines were introduced.

“The numbers are anybody aged 70 and younger have skyrocketed in terms of deaths – very scary numbers,” he said.

“These vaccines are completely useless or worse.”

(*COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Serious side effects are extremely rare and unvaccinated individuals are more likely to die from COVID-19 than the vaccinated. Most medical experts agree COVID-19 vaccines saved countless lives and prevented many hospitalizations.)

Candidates were asked how they would “define a woman.”

“A woman is female and female is 2x chromosomes,” said Bisutti.

Fox asked for clarification on the question but the moderator was unable to provide any.

“Then I think I’ll pass based on interpretation,” said Fox.

“Well, I would define myself as a woman and I think people are allowed to define themselves as they would like and that’s how I choose to define myself,” said Burbach.

“Biologically, there is no way to change your chromosomes. You’re either male or female,” said MacGregor.

“Biologically, a woman has 2x chromosomes, I agree,” said Rae.

“I would also define a woman as a woman with 2x chromosomes, someone that is capable of giving birth. That might not define all women … but she has the structure built within them to allow it to happen,” said Hosken.

“My definition of a woman is somebody that knows it all,” said Smink, evoking scattered laughter from the audience.

He added, “I would define a woman as a human being, with a vagina who can get pregnant, and who can have children and knows how to nurture them, just sort of automatically.”

Candidates also answered questions on housing, farmland preservation and shortage of health care professionals during the meeting, which ran about 90 minutes.

*This article has been updated to indicate that Fox actually passed on the question regarding the definition of a woman and to correctly attribute Burbach’s answer.

Reporter