In the absence of a serious political platform, the Rhinoceros party candidate Jordan Turner offered few real solutions for the nation’s ills, but displayed the levity that might be needed in order to tackle some of them.
Turner joined other federal candidates in the Cariboo-Prince George riding – Jon Ronan (IND), Dick Harris (CON), Jon Van Barneveld (NDP), Henry Thiessen (CHP), Sangeeta Lalli (LIB), and Heidi Redl (GRN) – for the first of two all-candidates meetings Wednesday evening at the Cariboo Arts Centre.
The meeting was organized by the Williams Lake chapter of the Council of Canadians and gave the public an opportunity to submit questions that would be answered by each candidate.
The first question: how would candidates address the growing gap between the rich and the poor? Thiessen said society must consider the reasons for the gap. He suggested the problem is a result of taxation. Ronan offered more details including raising personal income tax for the highest earners, lowering tax rates for the middle class and suggested setting corporate tax rates at 18 per cent. Van Barneveld proposed a reinvestment in Canada’s social safety net in order to “lift” people up. “We need to take a look at what kind of society we want to live in,” he said.
Harris acknowledged the growing gap and suggested a combination of education and a low-tax regime for both citizens and business is the answer.
“I don’t think trying to address the poverty gap by becoming a welfare state is the answer,” Harris said. Redl proposed to raise taxes on carbon-based polluters while lowering the personal and corporate tax.
Would the candidates oppose the party if it embarked on a policy it has not publicly introduced during the election?
Thiessen said the litmus test would be whether a policy benefitted all Canadians. “I would only support it if it met that criteria.” Van Barneveld suggested an “open dialogue” with MPs could prevent that from happening.
“The job of the MP is to represent your voice in Ottawa,” he told the audience. Harris said the government takes direction from the voters through the election process. In supporting a government citizens send a message on the direction they would like government to proceed. “Government is elected by a majority of the vote and is expected to continue down the path it presents as part of its platform,” Harris said.
Lalli expressed doubt that this scenario would transpire given leader Michael Ignatieff’s cross-country tour last year where he heard the concerns of Canadians.
Candidates were then asked how they would address seniors’ issues given that the baby boomer generation is now hitting 65.
Van Barneveld outlined his party’s interest in bringing home care under the Health Act, improving the Guaranteed Income Supplement to seniors as well as “bolstering” the pension system. Harris said no party had an exclusive interest in seeing seniors prosper only different approaches as to how it can be achieved. He said the Conservatives have reduced income taxes so that thousands of seniors are off income-tax roles.
Ronan suggested creating a benchmark for a “living retirement” similar to a living wage. Lalli pointed to her party’s Family Care Initiative that proposes extended employment insurance and tax benefits to people who care for family members, in addition to increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement for low-income seniors.
When the question of engaging youth was asked, Lalli took the opportunity to remind the public of the national Conservative campaign that had removed two young women from a Conservative rally because they had a picture on Facebook of them with the Liberal leader.
She further suggested that the Liberal’s education platform that gives students financial grants over their post-secondary careers was one that could help to engage youth. Harris, Van Barneveld and Redl pointed to the success their parties have had creating youth wings at the University of Northern British Columbia; Van Barneveld added that he felt youth would be more engaged if polititicians addressed issues that pertain to them and Redl and Van Barneveld said their parties were taking advantage of social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Thiessen suggested electoral reform such as proportional representation might reignite interest.
When asked about what should be the future of Canada’s nuclear energy program given the recent events in Japan, Redl and Van Barneveld suggested it should be phased out; Lalli acknowledged that until alternative forms of energy can be found nuclear power is still necessary in places like Ontario. Thiessen suggested nuclear power generation is “fairly clean” and that government should find ways to make the process “less risky.” Harris noted that there are nuclear power plants in Canada that operate “safety under strict regulations” and that to his knowledge that was been, “no serious problems.”
Would the candidates support electoral reform? Lalli said she would be open to reform and that the public should be engaged in the process to determine a new system. Thiessen expressed his interest in proportional representation, eliminating subsidies to political parties and electing senators. Van Barneveld spoke for proportional representation and abolishing the senate. Harris agreed with Lalli but spoke in defence of the current system saying “It’s worked well for Canada since 1867. It’s provided us with strong, stable governments.” Redl countered Harris’s assessment pointing out that the current system doesn’t work and that “nobody envies our first-past-the-post system.”
The privatization of health-care was also queried. Lalli defended public care as a “necessity.” Thiessen suggested there was a place for private care in the system but that it should be “managed and paid for by the government,” and remain accessible. Van Barneveld said the public system should be protected and can be paid for by rolling back corporate tax cuts. Harris suggested that the Conservative party supports public health care and that the party has “not intention” to privatize it. Redl promoted the idea of universal pharmacare, no health-care privatization and more beds across the system. The federal election is May 2.