By Tristan Marks
Niagara West residents gathered at the West Niagara Agricultural Centre in Grassie on Wednesday night, Oct. 2, to hear what federal election candidates have to say.
The all-candidates meeting – hosted jointly by Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln chambers of commerce- was moderated by David Siegal, professor emeritus of political science at Brock University and drew a crowd of about 180.
The six Niagara West candidates included: Dean Allison, Conservative Party incumbent; Ian Bingham, a Grimsby resident and defense lawyer, Liberal Party; Harold Jonker, West Lincoln’s councillor, Christian Heritage Party; Miles Morton, a life-long member of Grimsby’s community, People’s Party of Canada; Nameer Rahman, former vice-chair of the Grimsby Economic Development Advisory Committee, New Democratic Party, and; Terry Teather, former supervisor of social services for the City of Niagara Falls, Green Party.
The first question centred on how relations with China, the U.S. and other countries could be improved to open opportunities for Canadian business.
Bingham defended the Liberal’s record by citing the three
treaties it forged during its tenure, including the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) which replaced NAFTA. The most of the others attacked that particular example, among others. Teather was especially critical about how the USMCA allows foreign companies to oppose Canada’s national laws.
“Foreign Corporations now have extraordinary powers to negotiate where Canadian laws should take precedent,” he said.
Rahman and Jonkers also criticized the Trudeau government’s “problematic” associations with illiberal countries such as Saudi Arabia and China.
Candidates explained how their party planned to reduce costs of living for voters and to pay for these policies. The candidates offered diverse answers. Bingham supported the government’s current course, citing his party’s platform promises and existing policies such as the Canada Child Benefit.
“It’s not spending if it’s done wisely,” he said. “It’s an investment and we’re going to see a return on that investment.”
Rahman suggested further policies such as abolishing interest on student loans, and providing financial benefits to care-takers for seniors. Allison pitched his party’s proposed universal tax benefit, the removal of HST on heating bills, among other similar policies. Jonkers pointed out the need for the Government to “pay off its debts,” and proposed a plan where taxes were proportional to how much money one spent. Morton touted his party’s plan to simplify the federal tax system, and to increase revenue by cutting funding to organizations like the CRTC and CBC. Teather noted the need for the federal government to help workers transition in an era of automation towards a localist economy of “home-based businesses”.
The moderator then asked the candidates how their party planned to protect the environment, particularly with Niagara West’s agriculture. Teather said his party “certainly supports a carbon tax”. He reiterated his earlier point that, to protect the environment, Canada needs to shift towards a “more local and organic system”. He also said his party would look into financially supporting farmers harmed by climate change.
Rahman agreed that “climate change will affect agriculture rather deeply,” although he added that a carbon tax is not the only way to fight it. He listed “practical policies” such as energy refits, introduction of electric vehicles and so on.
Bingham advised staying the course with the Liberal’s existing carbon tax policy.
“This money goes back to your pockets,” he said, adding that, if elected, he would lobby his government to put money from the tax directly into the WLMH.
The other three candidates took a critical stance towards the carbon tax. Allison said that it puts Canada at a competitive disadvantage on the world market. He also said that it will affect certain behaviours that lead to emissions.
“We live in a northern climate,” he said. “We don’t have the option of not warming our house. The reality is that this only makes life more expensive for every one of you in the room.”
Morton said that the targets set for Canada by the Paris Climate Accords are unrealistic and ultimately meaningless on a global scale, pointing out that Canada’s carbon emissions only made up 1.8% of the world’s total, compared to that of countries such as China.
The debate then shifted towards supply management.
“This is one of the few times you’ll hear Dean and I agree on something,” Rahman said.
Allison said that policies like supply management are unavoidable on the global market.
“People subsidize agriculture around the world whether we like it or not,” he said.
Morton was the only candidate to take a counter-position, stating that his party wants to completely eliminate supply management.
“It currently costs the Canadian consumer between $400 to $600 a year on dairy, poultry and eggs,” he said. “This amounts to a 20-percent tax on the poorest Canadian.”
He elaborated on the PPC’s plan to phase out the program slowly and to buy back excess quota so that no farmer would be “left out to dry.’’
The topic of immigration came up, and candidates explained their party’s stance on the issue. Rahman said it was necessary as Canada’s birth rate of 1.5 does not meet the required replacement rate of 2.1. Bingham said there was an easily trackable economic benefit, as every 10% increase of immigration from a specific country translated to a 1% increase in trade with it. Teather said that his party agrees the position that immigration is necessary, but also pointed out that there will be certain logistical requirements such as the need to fund more ESL/FSL education.
Allison said an immigration policy has to target specific needs such as economy, skilled labour and so on. Morton agreed with this sentiment, but also pointed out that only 26-percent of Canada’s immigrants in the past year came from skilled labour and that his party would drastically cut down Canada’s immigration quota from 350,000 to 150,000 a year. Jonker pointed out the need to screen immigrants coming, but that his party’s stance on abortion is a better way to promote population growth.
The issue of abortion also came up. Bingham, Teather and Rahman said they and their party supported it.
Morton said that the PPC has no official position on the issue, but that another member had already drafted a private member’s bill that supports which restricts third trimester abortion.
Jonker laid out his party’s opposition to abortion and said that his party “also defends the rights of the unborn.”
“When a woman becomes pregnant, there are now two lives that we need to defend,” he said.
After that, the candidates were asked about their position on electoral reform. Once again, all but one candidate supported the notion. Bingham said his party had failed on this issue.
“Now let me tell you where you’ve been let down…and that’s electoral reform,” he said. “This is something that I support and will continue to support on behalf of you.”
Allison was the only candidate to support the existing first-past-the-post system. He said that there’s no “direct responsibility” in systems like proportional representation, where candidates get a seat based on how many votes their party receives overall rather than by region.
“Our system’s not perfect, but you have an opportunity every four years to look at the member you have running in your area and…vote that person out,” he said. “That would not happen under a proportional representation system, because you’d have a party list and very little direct representation.”
Gun control was the last issue of the night. Every candidates agreed one way or another that gun control was not be a cure all. They mostly agreed on the need to distinguish long guns, used primarily for hunting in rural regions such as West Niagara, from hand guns which, as Bingham said “are used for hunting humans.”
They also agreed that, to curb gun violence, there would need to be more funding for social programs and police.
Teather revealed a personal connection to the issue, explaining that his only son was murdered with an illegal weapon.
“I am not against legal gun owners,” he said. “But 80-percent of the guns in this country come from the United States illegally and we need to make sure that we strengthen that border security.”
He advocated prosecuting gun smugglers to the fullest extent of the law and “not as some customs violation”. He added that funding is needed for education that can turn youth away from joining gangs which perpetrate gun violence.
Morton posed the election as a choice between “the bold reforms of the People’s Party” or the “cronyism” of establishment parties.
Jonker argued that Canada’s Christian heritage is “what made this country strong and free” and warned against the “half-truths” in modern politics.
Teather said that this election was about the next generation and that any government that does not accomplish “anything vital” during its term “steals from their future.”
Bingham emphasized the importance of local representation and said that his goals if elected “are shaped by what [voters] have told me”.
Rahman observed in his conclusion that Canadians have “an appetite for change,” and that, while the NDP have long been voters’ second choice, 2019 is a chance to realize that change.
Allison pointed to concerns about the Liberal party’s spending, rising taxes and said that his party’s plan would “put that money back into your pockets.”
The Federal election is on Monday Oct. 21. Advance polling is available from Oct. 12-14. To check for assigned polling stations or to find out more information on a riding’s candidates and parties, visit Elections.ca.