Candidates outline their party policies at debate

Four of the five local federal candidates wrangled over issues of importance to Rainy River District during a debate here last Wednesday afternoon. And though no one emerged as a clear winner, all four outlined their party’s policies and how it would benefit the district.
The debate, organized by the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, followed a similar format to the one held prior to the June, 2004 election, with candidates being asked questions by members of the local media on pre-determined topics.
Candidates each were given three minutes for opening and closing statements, as well as two minutes to respond to each question and one minute for rebuttal.
Questions were posed by Louis Bruyere of The Wolf 92.3 FM, Marlene Deschamps of the Westend Weekly, Mike Freeman of B•93 FM, Melanie Béchard of the Fort Frances Times, and Brian Kahler of Fort Frances Today.
Green candidate Russ Aegard opened the debate by introducing people to his party, which rose considerably in popularity in the last election.
“Whereas other parties plan for their re-election, we plan for our children’s future and generations to come,” Aegard said. “We’re neither a party of the left nor a party of the right.
“We’re no longer a party of pot-smoking hippies,” he added, noting the Greens come from a variety of political and cultural backgrounds.
While the party does focus on protecting the environment, it also is a sound financial manager, he said.
NDP candidate John Rafferty opened with harsh words for the two other main parties.
“The Liberals break so many promises, they don’t know what to believe in,” he charged. “This election, the Liberals are offering more promises and a legacy of corruption.
“They’ll say anything to buy your vote, and they’ll say anything to stay in power.
Rafferty also pointed to a recent event where former Ontario Premier David Peterson backed Frank McKenna, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, as the next leader of the Liberal party.
“Mr. Martin is a lame duck PM,” Rafferty argued. “People are already, in the Liberal party, angling to get rid of [him].”
He also had the Conservative party in his sights.
“They think the way to solve a problem is to give a tax break,” he remarked. “But cutting the GST—while politically expedient—doesn’t train one doctor, doesn’t hire one nurse, and doesn’t create on child care space.
“The NDP offers a record of results and the choice to get more done,” Rafferty said.
In the 2004 federal election, the NDP came either first or second in every Northern Ontario riding. This time around, Rafferty urged voters to “turn Northern Ontario orange” and create a block of NDP ridings to fight for the region.
Liberal candidate Ken Boshcoff focused on his accomplishments over the past 18 months and his efforts to ensure the west end of the riding is represented.
“There was some concern this new part of the riding would be neglected,” he said, noting he and his staff have met with elected officials and citizens of all 16 municipalities and 11 First Nations in the riding.
Boshcoff said he works by the principles of the three A’s: approachability, accountability, and accessibility.
“I hear your issues and concerns. Even though it’s been a few short months since the last election, you know that I act, and act effectively,” he asserted.
For his part, Conservative candidate David Leskowski criticized the Liberals’ failure to act on the softwood lumber dispute, as well as Martin’s unexpected announcement during a televised debate that his party would limit the use of the notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“We can’t stand that seat-of-the-pants type of politicking,” he said.
Leskowski said the Conservative party has set out five clear priorities: to clean up government with the Federal Accountability Act, to provide tax relief by cutting the GST, to crack down on crime, to give families options in day care, and to improve health care and shorten wait times.
< *c>Audience questions
Following opening remarks, the four candidates answered questions from local media, which was followed by questions from the audience.
The first to come forward was former local Reform candidate Ken Hyatt.
“The politicians are a bunch of liars. . . . Why should people bother to go to the polls and vote for people that never keep their word?” he wondered. “What makes you a leader and why should we trust any one of yous?”
“I have to say I question why I’m running myself,” Leskowski replied. “I don’t intend to remain a politician. I’m only here because I feel the same way as you on most days.
“I want to make a change, I want to have my children have a better future, and then I want to leave and get back to my life.”
Your sentiment is not an uncommon one,” Rafferty noted, saying he has heard the same from many people when he goes campaigning door-to-door.
“Your question really comes down to accountability and ethics,” he added, noting the NDP has a package prepared by its former federal leader, Ed Broadbent, that will “put an end to corruption” in government.
“One of my other major reasons for running was to restore people’s faith in democracy,” Boshcoff said, citing steadily decreasing voter turnout across the country.
He referred to his own leadership abilities, having been elected into public office 11 times, and acting as president of three major municipal organizations.
Boshcoff also spoke of the need to encourage young people to vote.
Aegard said the best way to encourage people of all ages to vote would be to have proportional representation rather than the current first-past-the-post system.
“If we had proportional representation, the Green party would have about 15 seats,” he noted. “Then people would feel empowered to vote for who they want to vote for.
“You can have 21 percent of the vote and win every riding in this system. That is not right,” he stressed.
The Liberal party is the only one opposed to proportional representation.
Al Bedard, a local mill worker and representative of CEP Local 92, repeated an earlier question, asking what the candidates proposed for a solution to the forestry crisis.
He also asked if they would approve of an aid package to create and save forestry jobs, and if they would agree to a summit including unions, industry, and government to develop a national renewal strategy.
Aegard said mills should be owned by their employees, not by major corporations. “It is such a crazy idea to give employees ownership over their own future?” he asked.
Rafferty said he would agree to both the national summit and a package to save jobs. The federal government’s approach, so far, has been to offer loan guarantees to forestry companies.
“That doesn’t mean anything for jobs,” he said.
Rafferty also stressed the importance of lowering wood costs in Northwestern Ontario, which currently is at $55/cubic metre. China’s delivered wood cost is about $22/cubic metre.
“It’s pretty hard to compete with that,” he remarked.
Boshcoff noted the forest industry faces different challenges in the various regions across the country.
“A national summit is the way to bring everyone together. I think this is a wonderful idea and I’ll certainly take it to Parliament,” he pledged.
Leskowski also said yes to both the jobs package and the summit, but noted the Liberal government should have done something to prevent the current softwood lumber dispute in the first place.
The final question came from Les Wing, a volunteer for the Leskowski campaign, about the Liberal party’s proposal on handguns.
“How can you justify the amount of money it’s going to take to pick up these people’s guns, with no benefit?” he asked.
Rafferty said he always had been opposed to the gun registry because it was both a “tax grab” and “it makes criminals out of ordinary people.”
Boshcoff noted the Liberal proposal also addresses gang violence, youth at risk, stiffer sentences for gun crimes, and stopping the illegal importation of handguns, adding there is “no municipal obligation.”
Leskowski said if the gun registry cost $2 billion, it likely would cost much more to actually collect them.
Aegard said it was important to address the cause of crime—not just the crime itself.
“The underlying issues behind crime are poverty, racism, and oppression,” he argued. “You want to get rid of guns, you want to get rid of crime? This is evidence based—you need to reduce poverty. You need to invest in social programs.”
< *c>Closing remarks
In their closing remarks, the candidates summed up their positions and reminded voters to go to the polls on Jan. 23.
“I am a champion of small towns,” Boshcoff asserted. “We can turn any of these struggles into opportunities.”
“The best party for this region would be the Conservative Party,” Leskowski said. He then pledged to seek legislation to limit the length of bus rides for school children so they don’t have to ride “longer than their age and their disability can handle.”
He also said he would fight to re-open community schools, and to encourage green energy production.
“It’s time for a more honest government. We’re going to run tight, we’re going to run lean, we’re going to focus on priorities, and we’re going to pay down the debt,” Leskowski vowed.
Aegard noted that prior to 1993, corporations contributed 48 percent of taxes. Now, they contribute only 11 percent.
“The rest comes from us,” he said.
“We can have a Canada that protects our air, soil, and water while developing strong, sustainable communities and economies,” he added.
“We’re taken for granted in Northwestern Ontario,” Rafferty charged. He suggested Canada should impose duties on its oil and gas exports to the United States in order to encourage them to return our softwood lumber duties.
The NDP would introduce legislation to improve freedom of information and whistleblower protection laws. And it would change the law so that when an MP wants to leave one party to join another—like Belinda Stronach did last May—there would have to be a by-election.
The NDP also would support proportional representation and an elected Senate, Rafferty added.