Advanced polls are now open for the 2019 federal elections.

But before that, North Island-Powell River candidates made themselves available to talk about their party’s platforms. 

The debate was hosted on Thursday night by the Campbell River Chamber of Commerce at the Tidemark Theatre.

The candidates present were NDP incumbent Rachel Blaney, Green Mark de Bruijn, Liberal Peter Schwarzhoff, Conservative Shelley Downey, the People’s Party of Canada’s Brian Rundle and independent Glen Staples. 

The night started off with opening statements from each candidate and why they’re a good choice for the riding. 

Here were the topics the candidates answered questions to:

 

Homelessness

Candidates were asked what they would do about the increase in homelessness in the province.

Liberal Peter Schwarzhoff answered first. He cited his party’s national housing strategy that will provide $40 billion over ten years. He says the plan is meant to reduce chronic homelessness by 50% and to help about 500, 000 people with their housing needs. 

Schwarzhoff mentioned the Liberals’ plan to build 100, 000 affordable housing units and help repair existing units. He also talked about the party’s poverty reduction strategies that will help people with affordability. 

NDP Rachel Blaney said housing affordability is a real issue in the riding, one she’s heard about a lot the past four years. She cited $10 million of funding that came into the riding for housing and $2 million for rental subsidies. 

Blaney says the NDP is looking to build more homes. 

“The reality is, there is simply nowhere to live,” she said. She added the party plans on building 500, 000 homes in the next ten years. 

Conservative Shelley Downey said the first order for the party is to re-asses the mortgage stress test, which she said will enable more people to qualify for mortgages, extending amortizations to 30 years, as well as tax cuts which will help free up money so people can afford mortgage or rental payments. 

“In addition, our Conservative platform will review surplus federal lands so that we can find out what land is available for housing,” Downey said. 

The PPC’s Brian Rundle said homelessness is more a provincial responsibility, which is why a PPC government would give provinces more power over dealing with the issue. But Rundle said building homes is just a “bandaid solution” to the problem.

“The problem is our economy doesn’t support a job that can pay for a home,” he said. 

Independent Glen Staples said he agreed with some of what Downey and Rundle said. But he said he’s different from all the other parties.

“I tend to think it’s not the government’s responsibility to look after everything for everybody,” he said.

He didn’t talk about what he would do about homelessness if he was elected.

Green Party’s Mark de Bruijn said the party wants to make housing as a legally protected right for every Canadian. He said the party will work towards making income more livable so Canadians can afford to pay for basic needs including housing. 

“That’ll do so much more than any social program that we have now,” de Bruijn said.

He added the party will appoint a Minister of Housing and will oversee 25, 000 new and 15, 000 rehabilitated housing in the next ten years. He also said they will remove barriers that prevent Indigenous communities from applying for housing funding. 

Another key question in the category is solving the housing issue for Indigenous communities. 

Downey said the Conservatives will review finances and re-allocate some money where possible towards Indigenous housing. 

Rundle said the problem is that there’s never enough subsidies and housing, but offered no solution on how to improve that problem. 

Staples said the question made him uncomfortable because it was “classifying” people and they should all be just “one kind of Canadian citizen”. He offered no plan.

de Bruijn said the answer to Indigenous housing is true reconciliation and ultimately, getting out of the Indian Act.

Schwarzhoff said building strong economies within Indigenous communities and giving them a basis for income will help solve the issue.

Blaney said every reserve is different and so is every community off-reserve, but did not mention the party’s plan regarding the issue. 

Within this category, the candidates also talked about foreign ownership and renting vs. owning a home. 

 

Immigration

Candidates were asked about Canada’s immigration system and what their party plans to do to attract immigrants to smaller, rural communities. 

de Bruijn said the Green Party will establish a roundtable where all four levels of government get together and work on agreements and plans together. 

Schwarzhoff said the first concern is having well-paying jobs for Canadians, and added that the current immigration system is effective. If re-elected, he said the Liberals will implement a program that will allow municipalities to sponsor immigrants they think will fill certain needs or gaps in their communities.

Blaney said it must be explained to immigrants that there are many opportunities in smaller, rural communities. She said the party’s plan is to work with business to identify needs they have and ensure new immigrants have the settlement services they need. 

Downey said one of the barriers for new immigrants is language. She said the Conservatives’ plan is to get funding to improve language training services to ensure immigrants have sufficient linguistic skills to manage businesses and feel safe. 

Rundle said the PPC’s plan is to reduce immigration levels to 150, 000 a year with an emphasis on economic immigrants, adding that economic immigrants are the people ready to make a contribution to Canada.

Staples said it’s a delicate issue and it’s something that must be discussed without fear of being seen as racist. He offered no plan regarding immigration. 

 

Racism

Candidates were then asked how they would alleviate racism in the country while still communicating the need for immigrants. 

Schwarzhoff said the Liberals have increased immigration levels because Canada has an ageing population. He said diversity is what keeps Canada strong.

Blaney said we need to hold people to account when we hear racist sentiments. She said research has shown that immigrants create safe neighbourhoods. She said what needs to happen is telling more of new immigrants’ stories and how they are helpful to Canada’s economy, how their energy is needed, and working to get away from the fear of change. 

Downey said the issue is not racism, but the government’s inability to properly control land borders. She offered no plan regarding racism. 

Rundle said the issue is a large number of people have been brought in and are largely unvetted. He added some immigrants don’t fit in because there are no programs for them. He was heckled multiple times and ran out of time before he could answer the question. 

Staples said bringing in too many people too fast can stimulate racism. He talked about his website and a video of a musician who befriended KKK members.

de Bruijn the issue is fear of what is different and that fear is based on insecurity.

 

Healthcare

Candidates were asked about what they would do to make healthcare affordable for Canadians, especially those who may not other kinds of coverage. They were also asked about how they would pay for it. 

Blaney said the NDP is looking into putting in place a pharmacare program, as well as a dental care program. She said the government needs to invest more in people’s health. Blaney blasted the Liberals for making poor choices, citing giving Loblaws money to buy refrigerators and buying a pipeline instead of pouring that money into healthcare. 

Downey said the Conservatives are promising increased funding for healthcare, but she said it’s a provincial matter. She said provincial healthcare operate in silos and as long as that’s the case, the country can’t maximize healthcare benefits. She added the Conservatives are not looking at a national pharmacare program. 

Rundle said a PPC government will give the control to provinces. He said money made in BC will stay in BC, which will help address healthcare. He said dental care and pharmacare are best managed provincially. As for paying for healthcare, he said the federal government will give provinces the money and leave them to deal with the healthcare.

Staples said he wants to be careful about increasing the government’s role in healthcare. He said he didn’t think Canada’s healthcare system is all that great 

de Bruijn said it’s a matter of where society, as represented by the government, will choose to spend money on. He said the money is available, it’s just a matter of re-allocating it for things like a pharmacare plan. He emphasized that the government does have the money, it’s just about managing where it goes. 

Schwarzhoff said the Liberals put aside $6 billion for healthcare in 2015, which went to improving mental health and home care. He said his party have a pharmacare plan but won’t impose it. He added the way the Liberals would pay for healthcare is by cracking down on “tax cheats”, for one. 

 

Taxes

Candidates were asked about what they would do about taxes.

Rundle said it’s unfair that only 87 families share a combined wealth of three provinces. But he said if you start going after the wealthy, they’ll start moving their money around. He said the PPC doesn’t plan on going after the wealthy, but they do want to make sure they pay their fair share of taxes.

Staples said it’s a shame that the real wealth of the country is man-made. 

De Bruijn said the Green Party intends to set up the Federal Tax Commission to analyze taxation based on fairness and thoroughly overhaul the entire tax system. 

Schwarzhoff said the first thing the Liberals did in 2015 is lower the taxes for the middle class and make the rich pay a bit more. He said part of this year’s plan now is to get people to earn more before they have to pay more, to make taxation fairer. He added the Liberals will implement a whistleblower program so people can help the government identify tax cheats. 

Blaney said it’s time to review the tax system. She said her party has made a number of tax proposals, including a 1% increase that would give more resources to the government. 

Downey said the system attacks small businesses with passive income, which makes those people suffer.