Wellington-Halton Hills candidates meet in heated first debate

The Wellington-Halton Hills election campaign kicked off with the riding’s first debate at Centre 2000 here on Sept 14.

Liberal candidate Don Trant, Conservative candidate Michael Chong, Green Party candidate Brent Bouteiller and NDP candidate Anne Gajerski-Cauley participated in the debate.

They discussed hard topics such as senate reform, refugees, the economy, health care and more. A total of 13 questions rounded out the night.

Senate reform

The first question of the night addressed Senate reform, with Gajerski-Cauley starting the discussion by stating she wants to see the Senate abolished.

“Our democracy is in a very sorry state. When Canadians look at their government they see scandals, election fraud, parliament prorogued, and debates shut down … Merit has never figured into Senate appointments,” she said.

“It is an undemocratic institution that is unfitting in a modern democracy.”

Bouteiller however, said he would like to see the Senate as an elected body.

“We know that this would involve opening the constitution and will involve a long process of negotiations. Now, we are willing to do that … but I will say that it is not high on our priority list,” he said.

Bouteiller instead wants to clarify expense rules and reform without opening the constitution.

Trant said the Liberals will reform the senate by creating a new, non-partisan and merit-based process and they would implement the recommendations of the auditor general.

Chong agreed reform is needed, but he is not in favour of abolition because it would be unconstitutional. He proposed short-term and long-term reforms. In the short term, he said the speaker should be elected by peers in the Senate.

“In the longer term, I think we should seek the consent of the provinces to achieve two of the constitution’s reforms. First the direct election of senators by the people … secondly, imposing term limits of two parliaments on those senators,” he said.

Chong added, “Accountability starts with a strengthened House of Commons.”


Candidates were asked their opinion on the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP) and Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) enhancements.

Bouteiller said the ORPP won’t be needed with the Green Party’s plan for CPP enhancements.

“The year’s maximum pensionable earnings are too low, so we want to raise that to about $90,000,” he said. “The Greens recognize this issue and we recognize that we need to increase that payout to 50 per cent.”

Trant argued, “Canadians are worried that they do not have enough money for retirement … The Liberal government will work with employees, employers and provincial governments including the Ontario government to increase CPP contributions.”

He added that Liberals will restore the eligibility age to 65 from the current 67.

Chong opened by saying, “There was a report that just came out last week that ranked Canada fifth amongst 192 counties in the world for the quality of its income retirement security system for seniors.”

Chong is opposed to the ORPP because he said it will lead to job loss, it will have a significant burden on employers and it will mean a huge drop in take home pay.

Gajerski-Cauley said 70 per cent of Canadians do not have  work place pensions. She said an NDP government would enhance the current CPP and restore pension eligibility back to 65.

“We are committed to enhancing the CPP….so that provinces are not forced to cover the shortcomings of the federal government,” she said.  


“A healthy economy is a diversified one,” said Gajerski-Cauley, adding diversity in Canada has been put at risk by the creation an oil-based economy.

She added that an NDP government will do several things to invigorate the Canadian economy, including cut taxes to small- and medium-sized business and stimulate innovation in manufacturing.

Bouteiller said the development of innovation centres will help stimulate the economy and develop new products, services and technologies.

“Governments across this country have not been spending the money to renew infrastructure when they should have been. Greens would create a set of funds over the next six years to help the municipalities renew their infrastructure,” he added.

Trant argued Canada’s debt has grown substantially in the last 10 years and that growth is slow to non-existent.

“We need to do something to get the economy moving again,” he said. “Liberals will redistribute some of the wealth from the top one per cent to the middle class … The Liberals will make the largest infrastructure investment in Canadian history at $10 billion a year.”

Last to answer, Chong was on the defensive, saying the budget is balanced and that there is a $1.9 billion surplus.

“The only real measure of debt that matters is the debt-to-GDP ratio. On that, Canada stands at around 31 per cent. It’s one of the lowest debt-to-GDP ratios we’ve had in generations,” he said, adding  federal taxes are low.

“A typical family of four in Wellington County are paying $4,300 less in taxes today than what they did 10 years ago,” he said.


Audience members also had the opportunity to ask questions. The first had candidates discussing refugees and their impact on Canadian health care and taxes.

Bouteiller argued taxes will not go up because the Green party will increase corporate taxes to 19 per cent, which would bring in extra revenue.  

“Canada has always been a country of immigrants,” said Trant.

“The history with immigrants is that once they come to Canada they are often rapidly assimilated, get jobs, find jobs, often work extremely hard and they will be paying into our income tax system like all the rest of us … it is unlikely that taxes will go up,” he added.

Chong however, said there is a cost associated with immigrants and refugees that come to Canada, but it is age dependent.

“The Canadian Institutes for Health Research has done quite a bit of research on costs of health care for different age groups … for refugees and immigrants who are above the age of 65 to 70, the health care costs are significant. They can reach upwards of $10,000 a year per person admitted,” he said.

Chong added, “Canada has one of the most generous refugee immigrations systems in the world … I think we should keep the numbers up.”

Gajerski-Cauley said, “We can well afford to absorb the Syrian and Iraqi refugees because our bombing missions overseas have actually helped to create the refugee crisis our world is facing, so we have a moral, ethical responsibility to help these people … and to put a number on that is just despicable in my opinion.”

She added an NDP government would spend $300 million to build 2,000 clinics, and bring in more health care professionals – and they are not going to raise personal taxes, but raise corporate taxes to do this.


While each candidate received a hearty clap after each question answered, only Chong was booed over his stance on the CBC.

The question was how would the candidate use a federal surplus to restore funding to organizations like the CBC, veteran services and Aboriginals.

Chong expressed his desire to see the CBC go through an overhaul before it is provided any more money.

“The government currently gives the CBC $1.1 billion dollars a year of public money and that’s more than adequate. I’m not in favour of giving them any more money at this point because I think the organization is dysfunctional and in bad need of a complete overhaul,” he said. His comment was met with boos form the audience.

Both Bouteiller and Trant disagreed with Chong.

“I don’t agree with Michael’s premise that the CBC is dysfunctional. I love the CBC,” said Bouteiller. He added the Green party would use the surplus to aid in funding aging infrastructure.

“I also take exception to Michael’s comment about the CBC,” said Trant. “This is one of Canada’s institutions … we need to reinvest and strengthen it … if we are going to look at an organization … I’d sooner bring [the prime minister’s office] to an end before I close the CBC.”

Garjerski-Cauley did not comment on the CBC but added the NDP will use a surplus to support equity groups such as veterans, and within 100 days they would launch an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginals.


The one thing all four candidates agreed on is that not enough was being done to combat climate change, though they disagreed on how to go about it.

Trant said he wants to put a price on carbon, while Garjerski-Cauley said she wants to set and reach a target with cap and trade with the government and not let it fall on the private sector to reach, and Bouteiller said he wants to see a carbon fee.

Chong said he stands apart from the Conservative Party line on the issue.

“On the issue of climate change, I don’t believe the government has done enough to reduce emissions in Canada,” said Chong. He wants to see the government reduce emissions by rolling out regulations his party has developed.

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Overall, the debate threw some hard questions at the candidates who are gearing up for another four weeks of campaigning.

The next debate for the riding in Wellington County is on Sept. 23 from 7 to 9pm at the Puslinch Community Centre in Aberfoyle.