The candidates who are vying to represent the North Island-Powell River riding in Ottawa as Members of Parliament were at the Gate House Theatre in Port McNeill Oct. 6 for a public forum.
In true North Island fashion, candidates were, with the odd exception, warmly welcomed to the meeting that was for the most part cordial, and sometimes humourous.
Candidates Peter Schwarzhoff (Liberal), Laura Smith (Conservative), and Rachel Blaney (NDP) were present to answer questions from their potential constituents. Green Party candidate Brenda Sayers was called away to represent leader Elizabeth May at a National First Nations conference.
“I sincerely regret that I cannot be with you in person tonight. I have enjoyed my visits to Port McNeill and area, talking with residents and learning about the local issues and challenges,” wrote Sayer in an email.
“Sometimes things happen in campaigns and candidates have to make adjustments, and this is one of those regrettable instances,” said Sayers.
One of the questions the candidates were asked was their stand on federal deficits.
Schwarzhoff said the Liberal Party is planning to run a deficit for three years, because there is a lot of work to be done to the country’s infrastructure and because the cost of borrowing right now is so low.
However, Schwarzhoff said the Liberal party is confident they will be able to have a balanced budget in four years.
Smith said Canada currently has balanced budget legislation and that in order to run a deficit, that legislation would have to be repealed. Smith said deficit budgets are balanced by raising taxes or making cuts to programs.
“Money doesn’t actually fall from the sky,” Smith said, adding running a deficit is “irresponsible” and “does not lead any place good.”
The NDP also plans to balance the budget, said Blaney, adding that for her party, it is all about priorities. The NDP plans to ask corporations to “give a little more” and make sure that CEOs are also taxed appropriately.
The candidates were asked about child care.
Smith said the Conservative Party believes that families are a good investment. Since they assumed power, Smith said, the Conservative government has put an additional $6,600 into peoples’ jeans through tax cuts which is a benefit to families.
Blaney said she has talked to many people who have quit work because they pay more for child care than they earn and others who pay more for child care than their mortgage payment. She said 70,000 people have gone back to work in Quebec because they are able to pay the same rate for full-time child care: $7 a day. Those people are now paying taxes so “this model did pay itself back,” Blaney said.
“We know that families need support and they need it now,” she said.
“It hurts to see that we have so much poverty (in this country),” said Schwarzhoff, adding the Liberal Party has plans for a middle class tax cut and that their new Canada Child Benefit will lift 100,000 children out of poverty.
Another question from the floor was how the candidates would ensure that people on the North Island have access to the health care they need.
Schwarzhoff said the Liberal Party plans to transform how health care is delivered by promoting healthy living and keeping elderly people in their homes longer, not relying on a big centralized hospital. Schwarzhoff said he believes money should be available for those who need to go down island to access medical services. Schwarzhoff added that health care is a provincial, not federal issue, and “it’s up to the provinces to ultimately decide” how to spend their dollars and deliver health care.
“The policy around this is provincial jurisdiction” agreed Smith.
“Our role as a federal government is as a funder,” Smith said, adding the Conservative Party would like to create a stable, predictable funding model for health care.
Blaney responded that provinces and territories shoulder 80 per cent of the costs of health care.
The cost of medication is another issues that people, particularly seniors, are facing, and the NDP is working on a pharmacare model that would, in part, involve buying medicine in bulk so that savings can be passed on to consumers.
Blaney also noted that Canada’s health care was introduced in Saskatchewan by NDP Leader Tommy Douglas and that over the years “it’s been less and less universal.”
Post-secondary education was another issue addressed by the candidates.
Smith said the Conservatives have done some work on loans and grants for students and that the biggest cost of education is not tuition and books, but living. The Conservatives have also invested in developing spaces for those looking to get their red seal trades and apprenticeships.
The NDP plans to increase the number of grants that are available and have them be interest free. Education is important and “we know that we need to build that group of people up,” Blaney said.
The Liberal Party is planning to wait until students are earning $25,000 a year before they are required to start paying back their student loans and doubling the amount that is available for bursaries.
As for pensions for seniors, contrary to Conservative Party advertising, the Liberal Party is not looking to do away with income splitting for seniors, said Schwarzhoff.
Smith said the Conservatives are committed to income splitting for seniors “because we brought it in. The introduction of tax free saving accounts has also helped seniors hang on to more of their money, she said.
According to Blaney, 5.8 million seniors will be facing a lower standard of living upon retirement.
Blaney said the NDP would like to see a national Alzheimer and Dementia strategy and make sure that medications are much more affordable so that people aren’t forced to chose between food, rent and medication.
In terms of Canada’s military, Schwarzhoff said he is a stanch defender of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), but would like to see Canada as peacekeepers working for the United Nations.
“That’s the right role for Canada,” Schwarzhoff said.
“I also don’t support getting out of NATO,” said Smith.
“I do support them (Canadian soldiers) taking action in ISIS-held territories. It’s our responsibility to contribute to what’s happening.
“We need to do our part. We can’t just rely on others to do our work for us,” Smith said.
Blaney feels Canada is losing respect around the world because “we’re not helping. We need to get back to our roots of peacekeeping.”
In terms of the Senate, Smith said the Conservatives did try to reform it, but any changes they proposed required a constitutional amendment – which would require agreement by two thirds or more of the provincial legislative assemblies, representing at least 50 per cent of the national population. Abolishing the Senate would require unanimous consent.
Blaney said is appalled by the Senate scandals and that a lot of people are very frustrated. The NDP wants to abolish the Senate.
Schwarzhoff said there is a sense of partisanship and entitlement in the Senate, however the Liberal Party believes it actually has a purpose “it has just gone off the rails.
“There was a time when you (Senators) were chosen on your merits.” The Liberals would like to see Senators chosen and appointed by an independent body.
In terms of a ‘living wage’ Blaney said the NDP is committed to have a federal minimum wage of $15 per hour.
“Our goal is to set a high standard,” said Blaney.
Schwarzhoff said a $15 wage is going to apply to very few people.
Smith agreed adding that “it does help some people, but it hurts others.”
Smith said the higher the minimum wage, the more likely businesses will be to hire someone with more experience, which negatively impacts youth employment.