Beaches-East York all candidates’ debate

On Wednesday, I attended an all-candidates’ debate for the federal candidates for the riding of Beaches-East York, my home riding in eastern Toronto. The debate was held from 7-9pm at the Beaches United Church on Wineva Ave, but I missed almost half of it because I only found out about it on the streetcar home, after the debate had already started. But I attended the debate anyway, and learning lessons from the last debate that I attended during the Toronto municipal election, I took notes on paper instead of trying to live-tweet the event.

Since I missed the start, I only learned about the format and rules as the debate went on, but I gathered that questions were submitted in advance for all candidates, and some questions were directed to specific candidates which only they could answer. Also, each candidate was given one “wild card” to use at any time, for an additional response to a question.

The candidates in Beaches-East York are (in alphabetical order) Bill Burrows (Conservative Party), Aaron Cameron (Green Party), Roger Carter (Marxist-Leninist Party), Matthew Kellway (New Democratic Party) and Maria Minna (Liberal Party, incumbent). Carter did not attend, and I don’t know whether or not he was invited. Burrows arrived about 45 minutes after the debate started, following a pattern of Conservative candidates showing up late for debates across the country, or not at all. He arrived before me by about 10 minutes, but I’m not the one running.

As I came in, a question was asked to all candidates about ranked ballots and electoral reform, and their thoughts on our appointed Senate. Up first was Minna, who answered that she didn’t know anything about ranked ballots, but thought that an elected Senate would represent better geographic representation. Cameron supported electing the Senate, while Kellway echoed his party’s platform of abolishing the Senate. Burrows mentioned support for proportional representation without going into specifics.

The next question for all of the candidates was on what they thought about the role of Members of Parliament in local matters, and on the effect of party voting. Cameron spoke to the Green Party’s support of independence of local representatives, and making votes in the House of Commons more open, so that votes are based less on the party that a member represents. Kellway didn’t really speak to the question, using the time to talk about regional tax disparity instead, mentioning the infrastructure deficit, and building cities at the federal level. Burrows and Minna both talked about their own involvement in the community, Minna adding in a mention of the previous Liberal government’s transfer of part of the gas tax to cities, in response to Kellway’s ramble.

Next, Conservative candidate Burrows was asked a question on Harper’s vow of job creation, and how that is justified with $15 million for gazebos in Tony Clement’s riding while the many businesses affected by the G20 chaos in downtown Toronto received no compensation whatsoever. The question received many cheers from the crowd in the pews. Burrows defended what he called infrastructure spending, and accused the other parties of hypocrisy (my word) for accusing the Conservative government of growing the municipal infrastructure deficit. At least, that’s what I made out through the chorus of boos that his answer was accompanied by.

After the crowd settled down, the NDP’s Kellway was asked a confusing question on why his party did not vote against “the unjust war of oppression in Libya” – I was careful to write down that quote exactly because I didn’t understand the question, and neither did Kellway (he said so). He talked about support for democracy in Libya and protection from oppression everywhere.

For all candidates, the next question was about the heroin crops in Afghanistan: are the troops destroying it? An amusing question on a serious topic. Kellway answered that he doesn’t know about the heroin, but our troops should be out of Afghanistan “as fast as possible.” Burrows added that he finds it disrespectful to speak poorly about the mission in Afghanistan, and repeated his party’s line of supporting the troops, to which a man in the audience shouted that his party should do more to support veterans. Minna suggested converting the heroin crops to something more productive. She doesn’t like the action in Afghanistan, but gave an impassioned speech about the plight of women in the country. Cameron agreed with Minna about crop conversion, but pointed out that there are few substitute crops that will grow in the Afghanistan climate, but there can be solutions. Cameron added that Canada should get back to our role as international Peacekeepers.

Kellway chose to use his wildcard at this point, to respond to Minna’s comment. He pointed out that women are oppressed in countries all over the world, including in Canada. There are peaceful solutions that don’t require warfare & conflict.

After Kellway’s comments, the moderator pointed out that all of the candidates except for Burrows had used their wildcards (Cameron and Minna must have used theirs before I arrived), so he tore Burrows’ wildcard (a blank sheet of white paper) in two, and returned the other candidates’ wildcards, so everyone had an additional wildcard for the second half of the debate.

The next question was a two-part question, on the candidates’ views of the behaviour of mining companies abroad (in Africa specifically), and on the government’s role in providing retroviral AIDS treatments in Africa. It was regarding two private members’ bills in the House, but I didn’t really hear that part. Minna said we must monitor Canadian companies operating abroad, and uphold standards of corporate responsibility. Cameron admitted that he didn’t know much about these topics, and gave a vague response on pragmatic problem solving. Kellway would support both bills, and said that there is too much control over prescriptions in Canada, and that we need a national pharmacare program. He added that we need to address corporate responsibility in Canada as well, and stop exploitation of migrant workers in our own country. Burrows said the government is providing $5 billion in foreign aid, and now ranks 14th of 23 in foreign aid (I didn’t hear his source), and said that Canadian corporations are highly respected abroad. Burrows was treated to another boo from the crowd on this one.

Next was a juicy question on the parties’ urban transit strategies. I didn’t get the wording, I just wrote down “urban transit strategy”. Cameron would increase funding for urban transit to get people out of cars and onto transit, and mentioned a municipal RSP program that sounds to me like tax-increment financing, but also sounds like something I’ll look into more. Kellway would transfer another cent of the gas tax to cities and implement a national transit strategy with committed federal funding. He pointed out the Liberals gave $2 billion to cities while the infrastructure deficit in Toronto alone is $4 billion. Burrows talked about fiscally responsible government, saying that $700 million is allocated to cities in the federal budget, with no tax increase. Minna echoed Kellway’s comment about $2 billion to cities from a previous Liberal government, and talked about high-speed trains between economic centres.

Kellway used his second wild card here to decry the Conservative government’s $200 billion in corporate tax cuts, and said that while the Liberals’ $11 billion is better than the Conservatives’ $700 million, it’s still well short of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities’ estimate of $223 billion in national infrastructure deficit. Minna used her wild card to point out that the Liberals inherited a big deficit in 1993 from the Progressive Conservatives, but balanced the budget and gave more money to cities until the NDP helped defeat their government in 2006.

This sparked off a series of exchanges where the other candidates gave their wildcards to Minna and Kellway, the frontrunners in this riding, so that they could continue their two-way debate. Kellway started by pointing out that the Liberals gave away another $100 billion in corporate tax cuts from 2000-06. Minna countered that the Liberals also cut taxes for families, and would have enacted national child care if the NDP hadn’t voted to defeat them in 2006. Kellway argued that the Liberals had $63 billion in surpluses that they didn’t spend on things that are important to Canadians, and cut transfer payments to provinces, who passed those cuts on to cities. Minna then began to rhyme off budgets and numbers faster than this accountant could scribble, but I got $40B for health care.

The candidates were then given time for closing statements, in the reverse order of their opening statements that I had missed earlier in the night.

Burrows talked about the Conservatives last 5 years making an effort to work together with the other parties to create a feasible economic plan with lower taxes, and a Conservative majority will continue that work. Other countries have gone bankrupt and won’t raise taxes, and the Conservatives will not raise taxes. I really wish I was making that up, but that’s what I heard my Conservative candidate say in a public forum.

Kellway would do something different in government. Guaranteed access to health care, a plan to lift seniors out of poverty, affordable education for everyone.

Cameron used his closing statement to admit his own lack of experience, but talked about the Green Party not being a one-issue party. His party’s budget plan was rated B+, the highest rating from (I missed what group). The other parties are selfish, negative and hyper-partisan, and “we’re not gonna take it.”

Minna said that we lost a lot in the last 5 years. Government can improve health care, pensions in the next few years, but the Conservatives won’t, and don’t respect democracy. Canada has many resources and could build a great future, if we get back on the road.

My impressions of the candidates were as I expected, mostly. Aaron Cameron of the Green Party was admittedly inexperienced, but answered questions that he knew intelligently. Liberal Maria Minna and Conservative Bill Burrows came across as typical candidates from their parties, talking about their previous governments’ records and mostly repeating the same talking points as their federal leaders. Burrows echoed his party’s respect for democratic process by showing up 45 minutes late, while Minna and New Democrat Matthew Kellway both impressed me with their one-on-one debate on urban transit, and generally with their views on national issues. Communist/Marxist-Leninist candidate Roger Carter didn’t impress me at all by not showing up.

If you’d like to see the candidates for yourself, the next debate is coming up this Monday at St. John’s Norway Church, and I’m told you can see debates on Rogers TV but I don’t subscribe to cable. And remember to get out on Monday, May 2 and cast your vote!

READ MORE:Simon McNeil attended and live-blogged the second Beaches-East York debate at St. John’s Norway Church on Monday, April 25. Read more here!

About Greg Burrell

Greg is an accountant, cyclist and political observer living in Toronto, Canada with too many cats.
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