Correction: The original article published in The Local Oct. 10 stated Andrea Kaiser pointed to the success of Alberta’s price on pollution. She referenced British Columbia, not Alberta. The Local apologizes for the error.
When the federal election is over on Oct. 21, one thing is certain in the Niagara Falls riding — a new representative will be taking a seat in the House of Commons to represent Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Falls and Fort Erie. The resignation of current Conservative MP Rob Nicholson back in April guarantees that outcome.
Five of the hopefuls to fill Nicholson’s seat fielded questions about environmental issues, immigration and poverty last Wednesday at a debate held at the YourTV (formerly Cogeco) studios in Niagara Falls.
Taking a cue from the Leaders’ Debates Commission struck by Democratic Institutions Canada in October of 2018, only the five candidates representing the parties with seats in the House of Commons were invited to the television debate.
That decision left one of the most high-profile candidates, current Niagara Falls city councillor Mike Strange, running independently of any party, out of the proceedings. Both he and Tricia O’Connor from the Christian Heritage Party were instead offered pre-recorded three-minute segments that were played during a break in the live proceedings.
The first question dealt with the carbon tax implemented by the current Liberal government. Green Party candidate Sandra O’Connor referred to the carbon tax as a “deflection,” promising her party would simply tax the big polluters directly. The NDP’s Brian Barker said the carbon tax would be just one of the tools they would use. He added that the NDP’s “New Deal” would also include the creation of 300,000 good green jobs, investing in clean energy projects through a climate bank, and getting more zero-emission vehicles on the roads.
Later, Barker went on to criticize the Stephen Harper Conservative government for pulling out of the Kyoto Accord in 2010, then said of the Liberals, “we can’t be climate champions, and declare an emergency on one day, then turn around and buy a pipeline the next.”
Liberal candidate Andrea Kaiser defended her party’s policy. She called the carbon tax a price on pollution, describing it as a critical step toward reaching the targets for Canada as set out by the country’s participation in the Paris Agreement, which took effect in 2016. She pointed to the success of British Columbia’s provincial Climate Change Act as proof that a tax can work toward a cleaner country, while also helping to boost the economy.
Conservative Party candidate Tony Baldinelli, however, refuted Kaiser’s claims for the need for a carbon tax, which he said his party would immediately repeal. “Unlike under the Liberal scheme, there will be no sweetheart deals for anyone,” said Baldinelli. “Large industrial emitters will be forced to pay into green technology funds to clean up their emissions.”
A question about supporting immigrants and their families revealed how the People’s Party of Canada differs largely from the other four parties. Niagara Falls candidate Alex Taylor promised his party would reduce immigration to somewhere between 100,000 to 150,000 per year. “We believe that this (immigration) is pushing forward house prices, making it so expensive that our people can’t afford real estate.” He added that face-to-face interviews with potential immigrants is very important, and said the People’s Party would also end “birth tourism.”
In contrast, the other four candidates in attendance all acknowledged immigration as a key part of their own family backgrounds, and spoke out in favour of immigration as an economic driver of a strong future economy. As well, each of these candidates spoke of the importance of making it possible to reunite immigrants with their families once they have arrived in Canada. Taylor’s response did not touch on this part of the immigration question.
Diane Corkum, Executive Director of Project Share in Niagara Falls, asked candidates to address the unavailability of affordable housing in that city.
The Conservative candidate promised to allow for a 30-year amortization of mortgages, as well as an easing of the mortgage stress test for first time home buyers. Barker said his party would also increase the allowable amortization period, and added that an NDP government would implement both a universal child care program and national school nutrition program to help tackle poverty.
O’Connor recognized the need to support renters, with a rent supplement proposed by the Greens. Her party is also promising a guaranteed liveable income for all Canadians.
Taylor boiled down the housing crisis as a question of supply versus demand. The People’s Party platform pushes a reduction in immigration as a method of curbing that demand.
Kaiser said the Liberals’ Canada Child Benefit has lifted more than 300,000 children out of poverty across Canada. The Liberal candidate thinks the 30-year mortgage strategy is too risky. She pointed to the current government’s $40 billion housing strategy and its first-time home buyers incentive as being better options.
In the end, none of the five candidates directly brought forth a strategy that would guarantee better availability of affordable housing in Niagara Falls.
The Local’s Penny Coles wanted to know what the potential MPs would do to help local agriculture and wine industries. Taylor’s response focused on bringing the cannery industry back to Niagara. O’Connor said the Green Party would better protect the Green Belt locally, and help farmers continue to earn their livelihood via their land. She also promised to look at the high taxes charged on Niagara wines, and to guarantee local wines get better shelf space at the LCBO.
Brian Barker lamented the lack of local foods in our grocery stores, and echoed O’Connor’s call for better shelf space in LCBO stores. Barker also wants to see Niagara’s wines sold across the country. Kaiser said the Liberals have removed the barrier to trade between provinces, and said it is actually the provinces themselves that haven’t all come on board.
Baldinelli promised a Conservative government would look at investments in rural infrastructure and address the labour shortage in agriculture and tourism industries.
The candidates also answered questions about gun control, the labour and skills shortages being experienced across the country, and the abilities and qualities of each of their party leaders.
The debate continues to be rebroadcast on YourTV and can be watched via their website at yourtv.tv.
Mike Balsom is a high school teacher who also works part-time for Cogeco’s YourTV and writes for The Local. He moderated the all-candidates debate for YourTV.
Federal candidates debated their platforms at an all-candidates meeting in St. Davids Tuesday evening, but after The Local had gone to press. That meeting will be reported in next week’s edition of The Local.