By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County residents filled the ballroom at the Pinestone on the evening of Oct. 9 to hear from the five people who’d like to become MP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock in the Oct. 21 election.
Vying to unseat Conservative incumbent Jamie Schmale are Liberal Judi Forbes Green Party candidate Elizabeth Fraser the NDP’s Barbara Doyle and Gene Balfour who is running under the banner of the People’s Party of Canada.
“I’m particularly happy to be here because we’re a relatively new party” Balfour said as he introduced himself to the crowd adding he was hoping to familiarize residents with the PPC and its policies. The PPC was created and is led by former Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier who narrowly lost the leadership of the Conservative party to Andrew Scheer.
“The No. 1 issue I’m coming across over and over again is affordability” Balfour said adding the PPC was different than the country’s mainstream political parties in that one of its core principles is to drastically reduce the amount of taxation Canadians pay. “They’re coming out with ideas about spending more and more of your tax dollars.”
While he acknowledged there are some ideological parallels between the PPC and the Conservative party – “there’s not a huge gap in our differences and objectives” – Balfour said the biggest difference between the parties was in the quality of their leaders.
“Maxime Bernier is by far and away the best candidate to be prime minister” said Balfour who is a retired professional recruiter.
Doyle stressed the NDP platform includes introducing universal dental care erasing interest on student debt universal childcare as well as re-introducing 30-year mortgages in the country to help more people be able to afford homes. “These have real tangible impacts on monthly budgets helping people build equity and get ahead” Doyle said. “And we can do this without raising taxes on everyday people.”
The NDP would also introduce a wealth tax on the country’s richest residents charging one per cent a year on households with assets of more than $20 million.
“That’s 87 families that have as much wealth as the 12 million bottom income earners in Canada” Doyle said. “That’s three provinces’ worth of people. We will tax them and they won’t even miss it but we will use that for health care education [and] infrastructure that will help everyone. This is all about choices this election. Choices for people over corporations and planet over profits.”
Fraser spoke about the challenges faced by many Canadians from job insecurity to day-to-day expenses to anxiety about the implications of climate change.
“I chose to get involved in politics at a young age because I know there are better solutions out there” said Fraser a third-year environmental studies student at Carleton University in Ottawa where she’s involved with campus politics works for the Canadian Revenue Agency and volunteers in the office of Green Party leader Elizabeth May.
Fraser told the room she believes the Green Party has the best strongest and most comprehensive platform to improve the quality of life of Canadians.
“For too long there’s been this misconception that in order to have a strong economy you have to sacrifice the environment” Fraser said adding she didn’t believe this to be true.
“Bold climate action makes good economic sense” she said. “By transitioning away from fossil fuels towards green industries we can employ upwards of four million Canadians many of those in communities like ours.”
“A guaranteed liveable income would make a better life for all” Fraser said. The Green Party has said it would introduce a guaranteed income program that would provide a guaranteed basic income plan based on region. Fraser also highlighted the Green platform includes a universal health care plan that would include dental and pharmaceutical coverage.
Forbes began her introduction by addressing Conservative party literature alleging the Liberals have a secret plan to tax up to 50 per cent of the profits on home sales.
“I want to clarify this here and now that is not true” said Forbes a retired bank manager. She said the three biggest issues she’s hearing about on doorsteps in the riding are affordability challenges that climate change is real and something must be done about it and that Doug Ford has not been good for Ontario.
She pointed out the Liberal government increased taxation on the top one per cent of Canadian earners.
“It is the Liberals who will provide a huge hand up to the middle class” said Forbes.
“You can double down on another Conservative government led by Andrew Scheer and expect more cuts to education health care and services no climate change plan or you can vote for me” she told the room.
Schmale too said the most common issue he was hearing about as he talked to constituents was the high cost of living.
“There’s little left at the end of the week there’s little left at the end of the month” Schmale said adding far from getting ahead many residents are just getting by.
He pointed to Conservative pledges to provide a 1.25 per cent income tax reduction to those earning less than $46700 per year remove GST from home heating bills and eliminating the carbon tax which he said would save people money on everything from food to gasoline.
“We all know that here in Haliburton County we have to drive” Schmale said.
Some questions had been prepared by event sponsors the Canadian Association of Retired Persons the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce and the Lakelands Association of Realtors.
One of those questions posed to candidates by moderator Jim Blake addressed a skills gap and labour shortage affecting some businesses in Haliburton County.
“Not only is there a lack of applicants for jobs that are available many of the applicants that do come forward lack the skills to be successful in the workforce” Blake said. “ . . . With the understanding that elementary and high school education is a provincial responsibility if you’re elected what will your government do to ensure that youth entering the workforce have the skills to thrive in our modern economy?”
Balfour referenced his career as a recruiter saying he’d interviewed thousands of people over the years.
“What I learned from that is just how specialized our world is today it’s incredibly specialized” he said. While public education offers some training “there are so many options available today” he said referencing a company that provides online skills programs.
“So for me meeting the demand for skills can be met in many different ways” Balfour said. “I don’t think it has to be a national strategy. Again most of the time we’re dealing with skill shortages in particular areas this riding for example and the strategy and the plan needs to specific and local to what the needs are.”
To a number of questions Balfour responded that he didn’t think a national strategy was required and that solutions were best found at the local level.
“The Liberals and Conservatives both love to say that they care about Canadian jobs but yet they refuse to intervene in markets that have created the job situation there is today” Doyle said “one with less benefits precarious or contract work and the removal of health and safety standards that protect our workers.”
Doyle said this has led to stagnant wages and slow growth.
“We need to create good domestic jobs right here improving working conditions so that our youth want to work in these industries in high-skilled trades and apprenticeship programs” she said. “Prioritizing Canadian procurement for infrastructure projects investing in green industries and tech sectors and creating 300000 new jobs in those industries means that we need high-skilled workers to fill those positions.”
Doyle said encouraging provinces to adapt high school curriculums might be one way of encouraging young people to get into skilled trades.
Forbes pointed out that in the modern economy most people would have at least a few different careers.
“With an over $40-million investment in Skills Canada the Liberal government is encouraging our young people to consider training and working in skills trade” Forbes said. “With the Canada Training Benefit working Canadians will get four weeks of training every four years with up to $1000 to pay for training income support to help with expenses during training and job security as they return to work.”
She pointed out the government has lowered interest on student loans making the first six months following an apprenticeship interest-free.
“We need to ensure that the education for these jobs is affordable and that once people leave the institution that they choose to attend that there are jobs available for them” Fraser said. “We can do this in a couple of ways. The Green Party would eliminate post-secondary tuition . . . as well as eliminate the debt that students currently hold. This will allow training and retraining in different industries [to be] more affordable.”
Fraser added the addition of a guaranteed liveable income would make it easier for those with families or other obligations to attain post-secondary education.
“Investments in green industries and the green economy will create millions of jobs and that will mean that once people leave those institutions there will be jobs for them” Fraser said “and these are jobs in new and exciting industries that people want to be a part of.”
Schmale said there are local options available for skilled trades training and that in part it was a matter of increased communication to students.
“A lot of the education file is under provincial jurisdiction but it’s really no secret where the demand is in this area” Schmale said. “I think if you open up any of our local papers take a look at the want ads it’s all pretty much in the skilled trades. So we need to be sure that people are recognizing this fact that you can get into the skilled trades and you can do it locally. You can go to Fleming [College] in Lindsay you can go to Fleming in Peterborough. They have skilled trades . . . you can do pretty much anything you want to do you can do it at a very low cost and the rates on return on your wages when you get out are quite high.”
He added the government needed to create an environment where jobs continue to be available.
“How do you do that?” Schmale said. “You create private sector growth to succeed low taxes take away the disincentives for the job creators to do what they do which is create jobs opportunity and wealth in our communities.”
One resident asked candidates how they would protect pensions from getting clawed back when companies go bankrupt.
“The Conservative party put forward legislation sponsored by [Durham MP] Erin O’Toole . . . that would address that issue” Schmale said. “The pensioners . . . should not be treated last. The top should not be getting payouts first when they start selling off inventory real estate etc. Pensioners do need to take a very important role in that and that pension needs to be protected.”
“When a company goes bankrupt there’s only so much resources left and of course it’s allocated according to a certain priority of groups and the pensioners shouldn’t be the last group to be getting paid off” he said.
“Right now companies don’t have to vest and protect the entire amount of their pensions” said Doyle. “They’re only supposed to protect part of it. The NDP would make sure that almost 100 per cent would have to be secured so they couldn’t take it out from under you to make sure people get their pensions. We’ll also improve CPP [Canada Pension Plan] OAS [Old Age Security] and GIS [Guaranteed Income Supplement] to ensure that all seniors live in dignity and don’t have to worry about poverty in their senior years.”
Forbes pointed to the strengthening of the CPP.
“Every Canadian deserves a secure and dignified retirement after a lifetime of work” Forbes said. “I believe that pensions should be taken care of … there should be a law wrapped around them. … We have also made a commitment to Canadians to strengthen the Canada Pension Plan and help them achieve their goal of a strong stable and secure retirement. Simply put there’s just going to be more money waiting for Canadians when they retire because of the programs the Liberal government is putting in place.”
“There are two pieces of legislation that the Green Party has committed to amending in order to protect private pensions and those are the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act” Fraser said. “And by amending these we ensure that pensions paid out to employees during times of insolvency are higher up on the hierarchy.”
This way Fraser said money would be going to workers “and not executives which are receiving you know millions of dollars in payout and we’ll also amend CPP to ensure that you’re receiving more money so the private pensions is not the only money you’re relying on.”
During closing remarks Schmale said it’s been an honour to serve as MP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock for the past four years that he’s tried his best to be available to residents and was again seeking their support.
Forbes indicated that she believed the Liberals would be re-elected and that it was best for the riding to have a representative who was part of the governing party.
Fraser and Doyle both appealed to residents to vote with their conscience rather than out of fear or strategy and Balfour recited the four key values of the PPC – personal responsibility individual freedom respect and fairness – and encouraged attendees to pick up a pamphlet to learn more about the party.