By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
One of the great moment of Tuesday’s All Candidates Meeting hosted by Chambers Northumberland was the final question.
Conservative incumbent Northumberland-Peterborough South MP Philip Lawrence, Liberal candidate Alison Lester, Green Party candidate Christina Wilson and NDP candidate Kim McArthur-Jackson were asked by moderator Rob Washburn to list their top three priorities if they win next Monday’s election (PPC candidate Nate Lang had a conflict and had to send his regrets).
Lawrence would prioritize good-paying jobs (especially the kind that used to be so plentiful when the riding was a manufacturing hub), supporting the agricultural community and protecting the environment.
For Wilson, key concerns would be the guaranteed universal income, good-paying jobs (especially green ones) and the child care that will enable more Canadians to work, earn and better support the economy.
McArthur-Jackson would focus on health care, green jobs and accessible child care.
Lester listed job attraction and retention (especially those green jobs), accessible housing and a commitment to listen to constituents to learn their priorities.
But that was at the end. The Zoom session began with introductory remarks.
Lawrence spoke of the “very difficult and dark days” that began not long after he was elected in October 2019 and his time spent helping business owners and individuals sort out supports like the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.
Cobourg resident and elementary school teacher Wilson stressed the need to think about sustainability and climate action.
McArthur-Jackson believes Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 puts it in a unique position to make some needed changes.
Lester, a practicing Cobourg lawyer who already has long-standing relationships with many members of the host chambers (Northumberland Central, Port Hope and District, Brighton-Cramahe and Trent Hills), touted her party’s COVID-alleviation measures, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
The interim time allotted for the Zoom session allowed for expanded scope of issues and platforms in a number of areas of interest to chamber members.
In spite of such existing initiatives as the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive, Lawrence cited a local occupancy rate of 99% and urged a focus on monetary policy.
Wilson would improve the supply of rental housing and incentives for densification. The party platform proposes a retroactive Residential Arrears Assistance Program, “as recommended by the National Right to Housing Network,” as well as raising the empty-home tax for foreign and corporate residential property owners.
McArthur-Jackson would like a tax credit to help first-time buyers get a little more of their closing costs back and to develop more options through the CMHC.
The NDP has a plan to build 500,000 units of affordable housing she said, “but also make sure restrictions are in place so we can better control what the housing market looks like.” Restrictions, for example, might apply to house flipping, foreign investment and the practice of purchasing houses to rent at exorbitant rates.
The Liberal government was the first to develop a national housing strategy, Lester pointed out. The proposal is now to appoint a Federal housing advocate to enhance its effectiveness in preventing homelessness.
She hopes to increase ownership by building 1.4-million homes to increase the supply and introducing the tax-free First Home Savings Account and such initiatives as tax credits in support of multi-generational housing
Lawrence termed this issue “one of the top files in my year and a half,” not least because of the need of virtual Parliament sessions due to the pandemic. Wilson cited her struggles with broadband as a teacher. McArthur-Jackson said the pandemic had proven its necessity for everything from working at home to obtaining health care.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has committed to high-speed internet nationwide by 2025, Lawrence said – and it must be affordable. To this end, he wants to see more competition
“I wanted to be clear that he is talking about foreign ownership for telecommunications providers in Canada,” Lester retorted.
The Liberal party has invested more than $8-billion to accelerate the delivery of high-speed internet since 2015, she added, tens of millions of that in this riding.
The Green Party would invest an additional $150-million over four years and break up telecom monopolies for a more equitable treatment of rural communities, Wilson said.
McArthur-Jackson called for a telecom bill of rights, with the internet declared an essential service. As such, the provision of internet services governed by a Crown Corporation.
“That gives us a lot more control to make sure prices and affordable access is there, and basically we are competitive with other areas of the world,” she said.
All agreed small businesses had been deeply and devastatingly affected by the pandemic. Meanwhile, there were not always closures for big-box stores to the same degree as for small businesses.
McArthur-Jackson wants current wage subsidies to remain in place, and called for support for employers in their CCP and EI payments.
Lester would extend hiring benefits to small businesses and double the Union Training and Innovation Program. She reiterated the Liberal pledge to create one million jobs, which they are well on the way to realizing.
The problem, Lawrence noted, is that they pledged to reach the one-million mark by the end of June.
The MP listed programs that, for qualifying companies, would see six months where they pay 50% of the salary of new hires, offer a 5% investment-tax credit on capital investment and rebuild the Main Street Tax Credit to 25% up to $100,000 and establish a Main Street Business Loan that provides loans of up to $200,000 (of which 25% is forgiven). CHILD CARE
“One thing we learned over the course of the pandemic is that it was women predominantly who were forced to leave the workplace as a result of having to care for children at home,” Lester stated.
That is why they are working to implement $10-a-day daycare – that and the fact that every $1 spent on child care results in $3 put back into the economy.
Two-thirds of unemployment is among women, Lawrence said, agreeing that child care is a significant factor. A Conservative government will provide child-care providers “with as much as $6,000 a year to pay for child care in a flexible way.”
Wilson recounted her own difficulties finding day-care spaces and being put on waiting lists. McArthur-Jackson would like to move toward that $10-a-day plan.
“A tax credit isn’t something that will be very helpful for people who don’t have the funds to afford child care to begin with.”
The benefits will be undeniable, she said.
“Once they are able to access child care, they can go to work. They are putting money into the economy through their taxes. They are putting money into the economy through their pay. It’s an overall benefit to our economy. It just makes financial sense.”
Lawrence acknowledged the Conservative platform for 2015 and 2019 didn’t have enough in this regard. Now they have priced carbon, with that money coming back to the community instead of staying in Ottawa.
At the same time, he said, Canada produces only 2% of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, and Canadian farms and businesses should not be unduly disadvantaged.
The Green Party has a long list of plans, including becoming a net-zero country by 2020 and transitioning to a green economy while phasing out fossil fuels – not only benefiting the planet, Wilson said, but creating new jobs.
McArthur-Jackson also touted green technology.
Lester urged retraining to ensure the green economy leaves no one behind
She also noted that Lawrence had voted against the bill that would have Canada achieve net-zero status by 2050.
“I am not sure Erin O’Toole’s plan has any credibility when he can’t even get the members of his party to agree that climate change is a real thing,” Lawrence said.
Supports for smaller agricultural operations and Indigenous entrepreneurship (in a riding that includes Hiawatha and Alderville First Nations) were discussed, followed by more fireworks over the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Wilson directed the conversation around to implementing measures recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. But LGBTQ rights were more controversial, following remarks by the incumbent.
“I have said since Day One I was there to hear all voices, and I celebrate a great diversity across this riding,” Lawrence said.
“I am there to make sure everyone feels comfortable and lobed. Everyone deserves to be respected and to be loved.”
“I find it kind of rich you would stand there and say everyone should feel respected and loved,” Lester responded.
She was referring to an incident last year when a Cobourg pastor posted a petition in support of conversion therapy that garnered the MP’s backing.
McArthur-Jackson voiced her support for the ban on conversion therapy, a controversial course of treatment aimed at eliminating homosexual or bisexual tendencies – on the theory that this condition is a choice rather than an intrinsic preference.
“That should not happen in 2021. It’s ridiculous it’s even a concept anymore,” she stated.