Some Sparks, Not Many, at Social Justice Debate

Without Conservative candidate Gloria Kovach, the social justice debate hosted by Guelph / Wellington Coalition for Social Justice and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario didn’t have a lot of life, but in front of a packed house at the Italian Canadian Club, there were some contentious moments.

The big change between this all candidates meeting and the Fair Vote Guelph one held a few weeks ago was the inclusion of Communist candidate Tristan Dineen, and Marijuana candidate Kornelis Klevering. The format of the debate involved two minute opening and closing statements, and a series of questions almost entirely generated from the audience. Initial questions about healthcare, housing, and proportional representation didn’t reveal a lot of differences between strategies, but the fourth question about the federal government’s treatment of First Nations spurned some stunning rhetoric.

“There can be no social justice for anyone in this country unless we seriously address colonialism,” said Dineen, who added that Canada is “a prison house of nations […] that cannot be denied.”

“We will work on a nation-to-nation basis,” said NDP candidate Andrew Seagram. “Nobody in Canada should be living the way that some people are living in First Nation reserves.” Seagram also pointed out that the population of First Nations people has gone down from 60 million when the Europeans arrived to about two million now. “We have to come to gripes with the fact that we created a horror,” he added.

“We have to build some trust because trust has been shattered through many, many deals,” added Green Party candidate Gord Miller. “Beyond that, when are we going to give up this business about fighting Aboriginals in court,” he added before saying, “shame on the NDP,” for killing the Kelowna Accord by voting with the Conservatives to bring down the Paul Martin government.

Although it hasn’t gotten much play in this election, someone asked the candidates about the potential impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, on Guelph’s strong manufacturing base, particularly the automotive sector. Without the Conservative candidate there, the five candidates united in their disdain for the TPP noting the secretive nature of the negotiations, lack of consultation with the provinces, and the loss of sovereignty. The responses were best summed up by Klevering when he asked, “Is there anything good about it?”

The next point of contention was a question about concerns over Bill C-51 and the G20 protests. The candidates attacked the power of the PMO, and decried the passing of C-51 as a violation of civil liberties before turning on Liberal candidate Lloyd Longfield for his party’s support of the Bill.

“We got better legislation than we would have,” said Longfield, who pointed out that the Liberals helped to change the original bill with three amendments, but returned the favour with criticism of the other parties’ own scare tactics. “The language of fear used by NDP and Greens is the fear of police in the streets arresting people,” he said before inferring that Bill C-51 might have saved the life of Patrice Vincent, who has killed Saint Jean-sur-Richelieu last October.

Next was a question on pipelines, which Miller called “a low ball” for him to hit. “We’re the only party against a bankrupt scheme that will put us into bankruptcy,” he said in response. He added that real wealth “can be realized with a high-level of sophisticated manufacturing […] But Harper put all his chips on black, it came up red, and that ship has sailed, but its not full of Canadian oil.”

“The Conservatives haven’t been nimble to the market,” added Longfield. “[They] took away the data, shut down fresh water lake research station and Kathleen Wynne picked it up – I know that’s a dangerous name to throw out in this room – and it all had to do with pipelines. But now, no one wants our oil, green energy’s where the economy is going, that’s where Guelph’s economy is going, and Guelph’s future should be a lot brighter than Fort McMurray’s.

“Pipelines are good, depends on what you’re putting through them,” Klevering added to big laughs. He followed that up with a comment about whipped votes that was asked next. “I haven’t got whipped in a long time, at least not in Parliament,” he said.

The question specifically had to deal with how the candidates will balance representing their constituents and voting with their party. “I suspect 90 per cent, and I’m sure I’ll be grumbly for about 10 per cent of the votes,” said Seagram candidly, putting a number on it. “That’s the way it works and you can’t walk across the aisle to aisle to the NDP.”

Brother Kase wasn’t the only one to get laughs. While answering a question later in the debate, Longfield said “let me be clear,” before realizing that he was quoting a popular rhetorical devise used by Stephen Harper. “I hate that phrase,” he said.

On the subject of coalitions, all candidates seemed open about working across party lines so long as that party isn’t Conservative. They were also each in favour of an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, supportive of developing more green jobs, and either increasing the minimum wage or creating a guaranteed minimum income.

Things got spicier again when the candidates were asked about the debate on women’s issues that never happened when Tom Mulcair refused to participate after Stephen Harper refused to participate. Miller accused the NDP of playing politics in an effort to keep his leader May out of national debates. “It’s absurd to say that Harper and Mulcair teamed up,” Seagram said defending his leader.

“The point is that Harper wants to stay out of debates like Gloria [Kovach] wants to stay out,” Miller argued. “It’s a ploy so that we fight each other, but if Harper comes we’ll pummel him.”

The debate wrapped with a question about mental health, of which all the candidates agreed that more needs to be done. “It is a disgrace that we haven’t dealt with it,” said Seagram. “We need a comprehensive program for anxiety and depression, and have a negotiation with provinces to direct transfer payments.”

“It’s a disaster that we don’t have a mental health strategy, and that we’re one of the only developed countries without one,” agreed Longfield. “I’m proud of what Guelph is doing with innovations with mental health services, talking about who’s at risk in our community and coming up with community based solutions,” he said adding that the program has “no funding in place, [and] we’re scrambling to put it together.”

In the end, the debate went almost half an hour overtime, but many in the audience wanted the questions to continue. Moderator Tim Mau had to pull the plug though as the ICC was only able to host the forum until 9:30 at the latest. The debate didn’t allow any one candidate to leap out ahead of the pack in either style or substance, aside from a fairly excitable Gord Miller and an occasionally confusing Kornelis Klevering who at one point spoke in favour of private healthcare and a short time later spoke out in favour of mandatory unionization.

The next debate, hosted by the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, will be Tuesday September 29 at Cutten Fields.

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