Deficits, pensions, Hydro One rates, national security and government conspiracies – everything was on the table at last night’s federal all-candidates forum.
Held at Gravenhurst’s Terry Fox Auditorium and hosted by the Gravenhurst Chamber of Commerce, nearly 200 people attended the third of five all-candidates forums. Moderated by chamber president Bob Collins, each of the six party candidates were given three minutes to make their opening statements before taking questions from audience members.
The debate proper got underway with a question posed to Liberal candidate Trisha Cowie on why her party would choose to run deficits in such a fragile economic climate. Cowie defended her party’s position saying the time called for infrastructure spending.
“Our plan is different from the other parties, we’ve been straightforward about running a deficit – a modest deficit. The reason for that deficit is because we are at a time where we need to invest in infrastructure,” Cowie said saying that the countries existing infrastructure was “falling apart” with examples here in Parry Sound – Muskoka like Highway 141 or Highway 169.”
The issue of pensions also found there way into the debate after Conservative incumbent Tony Clement fielded a question over his handling of Nortel Networks Corporation during his tenure as Minister of Industry. Clement was asked by a former Nortel employee, who is currently fighting to receive his pension, why he chose to bail out General Motors rather than Nortel.
Clement was quick to defend his actions saying,
“General Motors had a viable plan to work out their issues and re-start. In Canada, they made commitments to Canadian manfacturing that saved GM jobs and hundreds of thousands in the auto parts sector that would have gone away. Nortel came to me and said ‘please bail us out, it will cost hundreds of millions…’ and I said ‘you created the problem; it’s not fair to the shareholders that lost their money and not fair that we’ll save a company that, frankly, was corrupt in it’s management.” Clement added that he supported pensioners as well as seniors saying that under the Conservative government they’ve introduced initiatives such as income splitting, home renovation tax credits and a $2,000 credit for single or widowed seniors.
While the question was specific to Clement, other candidates did weigh in on the broader topic of pensions and old-age security with Trisha Cowie saying that the issue has come up continuously in the riding and that under a Liberal government they would enhance the Canadian Pension Plan and reduce the eligibility age from 67 to 65.
New Democrat Matt McCarthy also lamented the issue saying that it was far from the first he’d heard about the Nortel pension situation and calling it a “dark spot in Canadian history.” McCarthy went on to say that under an NDP government, they would improve protection for private pensions so that employers could no longer unilaterally change a pension plan during bankruptcy.
The issue of exploding Hydro One rates also came up after a question over what difference there would be between a federal Liberal Government and the currently indebted provincial Liberal government.
Exploding hydro rates in Ontario were also on the table with audience members asking what the difference between a Wynne government provincially and a Trudeau government federally would be.
Trisha Cowie blamed a large portion of Ontario’s current problems on a lack of support and cooperation from the Federal government while McCarthy said there wasn’t a great deal of difference between the two and scolded the provincial Liberals for talking from both sides of their mouths.
“Last election season Kathleen Wynne said she would protect our public electricity system,” McCarthy said. “Now she’s trying to sell it to private interests.”
Both Conservative Clement and Green Party candidate Glen Hodgson voiced opinions on Ontario’s hydro rates with Clement saying that it is “unconscionable” that Ontarian’s are forced to choose between their hydro bills, mortgages and food bills. He called it bad public policy and alluded to similarities between the provincial and federal Liberals. Hodgson, for his part, said that parties need to stop mud-slinging and focus on cooperating with one another to work to address these issues,
“We’ve spent an awful lot of time slamming Premiers,” Hodgson said. “People are attacking each
other, but Oct. 19 is going to come and go but on Oct. 20 we all have to work with these people. What concerns me is the politics going on now are creating deep divisions that aren’t helpful. At the end of the day, the federal government should take the lead and work with provincial and municipal leaders to get things done and address things like the high cost of hydro.”
Hodgson also added that candidates are missing the point when talking about hydro but not offering and alternative to it, something he says the Green Party is prepared to offer.
Perhaps the most entertaining question of the evening involved government conspiracies.
Canadian Action Party candidate Gordie Merton was asked about his stance on “geoengineering” or chemtrails as they are often referred to.
For the uninitiated, geoengineering refers to the alleged practice of aircraft spraying of dangerous chemicals onto the public through the contrails left behind from airplanes with the alleged purpose of combating climate change and altering the weather. Although the belief is often discredited as a conspiracy theory, there is a growing number number of supporters.
Merton was asked his opinion on geoengineering and his position on it’s harmful impacts to those alleged to have been affected. Merton called the alleged practice a “risky operation” involving a lot of “dangerous chemicals” being released into the Canadian skies, waters and lands. Merton went on to add that he wanted to combat the alleged program with a “clean sky ordinance.”
“I know that this government is saying that no one is getting sick, but there have been thousands of people getting sick from this,” Merton said.
Other party candidates were more skeptical of the issue with Marxist-Leninist candidate saying the idea sounded absurd on it’s face, and to be modifying the weather with chemicals was “absurd.”
Most other candidates took the opportunity to talk about other environmentally focused issues, including the alleged muzzling of Canadian scientists by the Conservative government. Green candidate Hodgson weighed in on the topic saying,
“I’m not 100 per cent familiar with the issue you’re talking about but I think you probably know as a green candidate, these areas and issues are of concern to us. I can only really suggest that I don’t know enough about it, perhaps some scientists have been studying it, but as you know they’re not allowed to talk to us.”
Clement also waded into the fray, saying he did not believe in the alleged chemtrail theory, that the government was not organized enough to pull something like that off and defended the Conservative governments track record with regard to scientific study.
“Chemtrails involves a massive government conspiracy to be involved in this attack on our health. I’m not making light of it but I will tell you, respectfully, that I don’t believe it. My experience with government is that government doesn’t have the capacity to conspire successfully – we’re just not that organized,” Clement said. He added that Canada has been ranked number one within the G7 for support scientific research and said that Canadian federal health agencies produced over 4,000 scientific publications per year before calling the topic of muzzling scientists a “cheap talking point”.
The fourth all-candidates forum will be held this evening at Huntsville’s Algonquin Theatre at 7 p.m.