ABERFOYLE – Heading into the final stretch of Canada’s federal election campaign, Wellington-Halton Hills candidates attended a meeting here on Oct. 9.
Hosted by the Optimist Club of Puslinch, questions came directly from those in the audience.
Freedom of speech
Candidates were questioned about the potential misuse of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s proposal that would force website providers to remove anything considered hate speech within 24 hours or face stiff penalties.
Conservative candidate Michael Chong said, “I believe free speech and free expression are fundamental rights in a free and democratic society. It is why freedom of expression is enshrined within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.”
“My view is that if a social media company wants to voluntarily take it upon themselves to regulate speech on their own platforms, that is their prerogative and choice. I do not believe it is the role of the government of Canada to regulate free speech in that manner.”
Chong added, “I will be the first one to denounce hate, racism and prejudice when it comes to real issues…”
He added, “I believe the right way to counter hate is through free speech in the open light.”
Liberal candidate Lesley Barron said her party believes that “social media platforms used to support harmful views … must be held accountable and that hate speech must be taken down within 24 hours.”
Barron supported free speech, but there should be limits when it comes to hate speech.
People’s Party candidate Syl Carle said freedom of expression and freedom of the press are issues close to his heart.
“What some people find politically incorrect, offensive or even hateful cannot serve as the legal basis for discrimination and censorship,” he said.
Carle added his party would restrict the definition of hate speech within the Criminal Code to “expression which explicitly advocates the use of force against identifiable groups or persons based on specific criteria such as religion, race, ethnicity, sex or sexual orientation.”
He added his party would repeal any existing legislation curtailing free speech on the internet.
“We in Canada have been spoiled with this right of freedom of expression and it would be a damn shame to lose it,” Carle concluded.
Green Party candidate Ralph Martin supported free speech but said one must be careful in the definition of hate speech.
However, he said he is uncertain how to proceed in dealing with social media.
“I think there is a confounding factor involved. If we are all in a room talking to each other eyeball-to-eye ball, I think we can sometimes resolve issues faster than what happens sometimes on social media.”
Martin said “we need to recognize the tension between free speech and hate speech.”
NDP candidate Andrew Bascombe said his response had nothing to do with his party’s platform.
Bascombe said, “when I was raised by my parents we were told children should be seen and not heard. The other was if one had nothing nice to say, say nothing. Then I grew up and learned those things do not necessarily hold up in the real world.”
“I believe everyone in Canada, for the most part, knows and understands hate speech for what it is.”
He was confident citizens understood how to deal with hate when it was in their face.
“Freedom of expression is not what you believe it to be. In person, people are cautious in their expression, which is a good thing because that shows we have concern for those we are communicating with.”
Missing persons registry
One resident stated she had yet to hear any of the candidates or parties speak on the issue of missing persons.
She said “The devastation unleashed on Canadian families when someone goes missing is a non-partisan social issue that needs support and action by all parties.”
She said “Basically, Canada does not have a national missing persons strategy. It is time for Canada to step up to the plate.”
Bascombe stated this issue “was an eye-opener.” He offered to personally bring the information to his party for consideration.
Bascombe said the NDP is working on action plans regarding Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Barron said as a physician she is aware of individuals who are socially isolated from their families for various reasons.
While agencies within the circle of care can share certain information, Barron said there are also instances involving privacy breaches and other agencies are not allowed to share such information.
Dealing with minors, mental health and addictions, Barron said there are hurdles which would need to be overcome.
Chong said his colleague, MP Jamie Schmale of Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, has been working on the issue with him and other members of parliament.
“If I am elected, I will continue to work on this with other members of parliament to raise awareness,” said Chong.
He added he was informed that according to recent RCMP estimates, it is speculated that between 60,000 to 70,000 people per year could be missing from their loved ones.
Martin agreed, “I think we have to have a national strategy. It makes a lot of sense … It may be a bit difficult, but that is not a reason to not go ahead.
“If it was my family, I would want a such a strategy to be in place.”
Carle said this is definitely something the federal government should look at, noting, “There is no question the RCMP would have jurisdiction on this.”
He explained there are two levels of jurisdiction of policing in Canada – federal and provincial – and, “The RCMP have the tools to act as a coordinator in reporting at the national level.”
Carle said he believes additional study is required to develop an effective plan.
Vince Klimkosz told candidates there is a skilled trades crisis across Canada, noting, “More and more young business owners like me can’t find anybody to work.”
Carle stated “I have that very same issue.”
“We need better guidance counsellors at the beginning. We need a way to determine a student’s aptitudes. Next we need to look serious at our immigration policies and who we welcome into our country and how they will benefit our country.”
While Canada is a very generous country, Carle said “When we allow a situation when the border is wide open, we have no say in who comes in or what skills they bring.”
Bascombe agreed the first step to address this is in the school system.
He said a number of years ago trade schools were treated as the place where one sent students who were not achieving. Over time, school boards eliminated those trade courses.
He said the NDP would work to ensure students interested in trade professions are screened and at the same time ensure that when students graduate, they are not burdened with debt.
Barron said “we have a very complex workforce right now.
“We need to allow for a merit-based immigration system.”
She explained “Canada needs immigrants. We have an aging population who will be requiring a lot of services in the coming years.”
Barron added, “Canada allows immigration – not because we are altruistic, but because we need them to fill labour force shortages and also to pay taxes to cover the services all of us need.”
She said the Liberals have invested $46-million over five years to develop pre-apprenticeship training in skilled trades.
Martin quipped that within his family, he is considered to be a bit of an airhead because he is a professor.
“I appreciate we need a lot more emphasis on skilled trades,” he said.
He noted the Green Party has a plan that includes free tuition for post-secondary education, whether it be colleges, skilled trades or universities.
Martin said his party wants to balance this with infrastructure funding for municipalities, which in turn will require trades.
“We have a platform to streamline the process for those coming from other countries to make sure we can use that training here as long as they test out properly for that.”
Chong stated both Liberal and Conservative governments over the past decade have tried at the federal level to provide incentives for young people going into the trades.
He agreed with Bascombe that much still is dependant on the kindergarten to Grade 12 education system.
Trades were taken out of the secondary education system a number of years back, and Chong believes this was something that should be revisited.
“Culturally in Germany, skilled trades are seen as being on par with a university education and children as young as 14 or 15 are streamed into those skilled programs,” he said.
While that model cannot exactly be emulated in North America, Chong said it is worth looking at.
Candidates were questioned on what can be done to create an environmentally sustainable and the least costly way to ease traffic congestion in the township.
Barron said “the solution does not lie in building more roads in the GTA.”
She contended the region suffers from poorly planned urban sprawl.
“I think we have the ability in this riding to do things a little bit smarter and possibly build in a higher density near the GO station,” she said. “Train service should be better, faster and cheaper than cars if we are going to reduce our carbon footprint. The solution is not building more lanes on the 401.”
Bascombe said “there used to be a time when one could take a train from the furthest ends of Brampton all the way to Milton. You can see some of the dead tracks now there. What we are suffering from is our own bad planning.”
While there needs to be a way to transition from carbon-based vehicles to electric, he was unsure how to deal with roadways and road capacity issues.
Carle suggested rail lines for the exclusive use of GO trains. However, Carle also stated he is on record as supporting the expansion of the 400 series highways.
“I will continue to support that expansion until such time as I am satisfied we can do something better.”
Martin said his party has a platform to improve trains and buses across Canada.
He then relayed the story of his great-aunt Betsy who recalled the train tracks being installed behind the family farm in Wallenstein.
When she was 99, her daughter took her to see how the track was removed and was now a walking trail.
His great-aunt Betsy just shook her head and could not believe it.
Martin said if some of these rights-of-way could be recovered it could help in this area.
“We need to take advantage of opportunities to improve rail traffic as quickly as possible.”
He said residents should not forget about the use of buses as an option, especially with the use of dedicated lanes.
Martin did not favour the building of 400-series highways anymore.
“If you build them, they just fill up with cars. We have to do something better.”
Chong said a number of improvements have been made to rail traffic in recent years.
He said the Kitchener, Guelph, Georgetown, Brampton, Bloor, Dundas, Union Station line is one of the oldest in Canada.
Called the North Main Line, Chong said it is owned by Canadian National and was primarily built for freight and as such has freight rights.
Chong said in the past 10 years, he worked with minister Jim Flaherty to allocate federal dollars to replace the bridge over the Credit River that allowed a tripling up of the tracks.
“In the future, I think we need to electrify the line which would allow more rapid incoming and outgoing trains,” he said.
And in cities like Guelph, Chong said, “we need to work with municipal authorities to ensure there is sufficient parking to allow people to make use of the trains.”
Filling the gaps in Wellington-Halton Hills
Candidates were asked what gaps can be filled for this riding and the local community.
Barron said she lives and works in the riding and as such understands local needs..
“We still have issues with poverty and still have food banks that are well used both in Georgetown and in Centre Wellington.”
Barron said “it really bothers me that we have a $14/h minimum wage meaning that two parents working might still need to use the food bank.”
She contended that is mainly due to housing costs.
Barron stated “the average house price in Halton Hills is now $775,000 yet we continue to build single family homes over farmland.”
She said the Liberals have promised additional funds for housing and the creation of a national housing strategy.
On the campaign trail, “I’ve heard a lot about climate change, but I’ve also heard a lot about affordable housing.”
Martin said he would like to implement a liveable income though he agreed what is considered a liveable income might be different depending on location.
“It is a very simple program to administer and studies from the Fraser Institute have show that the cost would be one third of the cost of implementing a whole lot of other programs.”
Martin said he also wanted to see a program which would allow farmers to help sequester carbon.
“Agriculture can be part of the solution here to bring carbon out of the air and put it into the soil as as benefit to us all.”
He added “I really think we need to step up our game to address climate change. There a a number of things we plan to do including retrofitting buildings which would create a lot of jobs, reduce heating costs and greenhouse gasses.”
Chong said “in the coming years one of the biggest challenges I am hearing about in Puslinch is dealing with the rapid growth of our region.”
That growth results in increased vehicle traffic significantly on Brock Road county roads and through communities such as Morriston.
“I am committed to working with my counterpart MPP Ted Arnott as well as county county and Puslinch Township council to not only preserve the rural and small town characteristics of the area, but that we improve the transportation infrastructure to unblock some of that traffic.”
He added he’s continued work with all parties to finally see the construction of the Morriston bypass.
“At the end of the day the quality of life depends on good transportation infrastructure while trying to preserve the small town feel of the area.”
Bascombe said considered affordability a major issue – afforability for students who should not be going into debt to get an education, affordability for seniors who have worked long, hard and given to their community.
He said all the parties have various platforms regarding seniors.
“My biggest thing with that is that they are all drawn out over a number of years.”
He said the age of retirement was dropped back down to 65, but individuals must be 75 before being able to qualify for the additional money they need.
“It seems they are almost wanting them to die off before they can claim (benefits.”
He said affordable homes, transportation and “at the end of the money we need to spend the money where it is needed.”
Carle noted when rents get out of control, it feels like you are throwing your money away.
He said there is a disconnect between levels of governement.
While there is a provincial mandate for growth in Ontario, the town of Halton Hills does not want that growth and has dezoned a number of properties with rental properties now cannot be replaced with rentals.
Even though the naming of local roads is not a federal issue, Puslinch resident Randy Guzar asked candidates for their moral resolve for the name’s removal.
Though the moderater stated this was not a fedederal matter, Guzar insisted on raising his question.
“The fact that some of your constituents live on a street called Swastika Trail should be a matter of moral concern to anyone seeking public office.”
Having lost the legal battle to change the name, Guzar asked candidates to lend their support to have the name changed.
Chong stated members of parliament need to understand their constitutional roles.
He noted “the issue was taken to court, the court has ruled, and I respect that decision.”
Chong said the ruling is that this is in the jurisdiction of the Township of Puslinch.
He added the township has made a decision on this matter.
“At the end of the day, we need to respect the constitutional boundaries and the rule of law.”
Martin agreed that jurisdictional boundaries need to be respected.
Without getting into that aspect, Martin said the name did not seem to be appropriate, but the decisions made by the appropriate jurisdiction need to be followed.
Barron had done some research on this issue after campaigning in that part of the township.
As she understood, the legal avenues have been exhausted.
“I think we have to acknowledge that recently we have seen the rise of hate crimes and anti-semitism and that the name is offensive to some people.”
Barron said the Liberal Party values diversity, inclusivity and respecting those values.
She added her Hindu friends explained to here that prior to the Second World War the swastika symbol represented peace and happiness.
“Unfortunately that has changed since the name was adopted.”
While her preference would not be to have the name, she agreed the legal avenues have been exhausted.
Carle suggested Guzar had taken the right action, to try for political action since the legal options were done.
“I will gladly lend my voice alongside yours if it is any help. But we have to recognize the jurisdictions at play here.”
Carle added “you may or may not be successful, but the political approach is probably your last resort.”
Bascombe said “jurisdiction aside … hatred has no place in this country. If I am wrong educate me otherwise. I will stand by you, not as a member of parliament, not as anything other than a human being who sees it as wrong.”
Guzar stated his question was not regarding jurisdiction on the court ruling, “but merely one of moral leadership and integrity.”
Candidates were asked whether they were happy with Justin Trudeau’s performance over the past four years.
Barron responded “I am. I can tell you before this year I had never been a member of a political party.
She stated “Since 2015 when the Liberal government took power, they have had an impressive raft of accomplishments and kept 92 per cent of their election promises – from action on climate change to immediately changing the child care benefit so that it was needs tested.This simple change resulted in 900,000 people being lifted out of poverty.”
Barron said a cabinet position was created just to deal with climate change.
Another promise involved decriminalizing marijuana, she said.
Barron said “in this area 30% to 40% of youth were already using marijuana. It did not make sense to criminalize a behaviour so many young people were taking part in.”
“We needed to decriminalize it, regulate it and educate people about its harms.”
“I’ve been quite impressed with his efforts on gender equity, unmuzzling scientists and using science and expertise to drive legislation.”
Carle said “as a retired member of the RCMP, I have been greatly embarassed by this prime minister.”
“It is shameful that one of the two leading parties failed to vet the son of Pierre Trudeau properly.”
“Let’s face it, that is the reason why we are embarassed on the world stage.”
Carle contended the achievements cited by Barron “could have all been done without Justin Trudeau … He is not a miracle worker and obviously had a team.”
“For the very fact they are continuiong to support him, they do not deserve re-election.”
Chong stated “I don’t think this government deserves another mandate.”
He added, “the Liberals did agree to the decriminalization of marijuana … but other than that I can’t think of any other major accomplishment this government committed to and delivered on.”
He said “electoral reform was promised in the previous election, and they broke that promise.”
“They promised to run only three years of modest deficits and return the budget to balance this year. We now have budget deficits as far as the eye can see.”
“Most importantly, at the end of the day, nothing is more important than our democratic institutions. It is the only thing we pass on to the next generation. Tax policy comes and goes, environment policy comes and goes, but our institions endure.”
Chong said “this prime minister not only violated the tenants of our justice system and the office of the Attorney General, he kicked Jody Wilson-Raebel and Jane Philpot out of caucus for standing up to principles and truth to power. That is most grave offense he has committed.
Martin appreciated Trudeau’s gender balanced cabinet.
“And under some considerable duress from the United States, he did pull out a trade deal – which is good accomplishment given all the difficulties there were.”
“I am very disappointed regarding electoral reform. (Trudeau) said numerous times during the 2015 election that it would be the last first past the post election – of course it is not.”
Martin was also disappointed the government is still running deficits.
Bascombe stated “at the end of the day you have to elect the person who best meets your needs and your goals in Parliament.”
He said residents do not directly elect a prime minister “you can vote for one of us to represent you.”
As to his disappointment in Trudeau, “there are not the words I can use to describe the ways in which I feel the prime minister has failed us.”
“As Michael said … (Trudeau) broke the law.”