By Chet Greason
The six candidates vying to represent the riding of Perth-Wellington in this month’s federal election had an opportunity to bring their platforms to the voting public at the first of two debates organized by the Stratford and St. Marys Area District Chamber of Commerce at the Pyramid Recreation Centre on Monday, September 30.
A total of twelve questions were compiled, ranging in subject matter from climate change to public transit to the Canadian taxation system. The nature of the debate was cordial, and candidates for the most part focused on their own platforms and their respective party’s policies, rather than attacking the qualifications of rival party leadership as has often been the case in national media.
The matter of climate change weighed heavily over the evening, as issues like transportation and the federal carbon tax inevitably came back to the matter of carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
Incumbent John Nater of the Conservatives reiterated his party’s promise to scrap the Liberal’s federal carbon tax, saying it targets everyday people and farmers rather than major emitters. He noted his party’s plan would force companies that emit over 40 kilotonnes of emissions a year to invest in green tech.
Pirie Mitchell, representing the ruling Liberals, defended his party’s carbon tax, saying those who choose to put carbon in the atmosphere should have to pay for it. He cited choosing between an F150 truck and a Mazda as an example of the kind of choice between cost and carbon.
Nater quipped that he’d like to see how Mitchell would haul hay in a Mazda.
Geoff Krauter of the NDP said that on day one of taking government, his party would cancel the billions of tax dollars paid as subsidies to the oil and gas industries, as well as the Trans-Mountain Pipeline. He accused the Liberals of granting massive exemptions to the biggest polluters and promised a national climate bank that will fund green projects.
Collan Simmons, an anesthesiologist employed at Stratford General Hospital who’s running for the Green Party, says that climate change was why he got into politics in the first place. He said his party has the most aggressive plan to combat climate change and would not only ban oil and gas subsidies and the Trans-Mountain pipeline but fracking as well. He blamed the Liberals of tricking voters into thinking they care about the environment; convincing them that plastic straws and driving to the store is the problem while giving a break to the biggest polluters.
Roger Fuhr of the People’s Party said his party would also abolish the carbon tax and finish the Trans-Mountain Pipeline. He claimed there is no scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, that the concept was hijacked by big government, that those that doubt the concept are ridiculed and harassed, and that school children are being manipulated into believing it.
Irma DeVries of the Christian Heritage Party argued that CO2 is a naturally occurring and beneficial gas that helps crops grow. She said that any initiative Canadians undertake to combat emissions won’t matter unless China and India’s emissions are also reigned in; adding that she believes the Liberal’s carbon tax is illegal based upon the British North America Act.
An overhaul to the taxation system?
At one point, a submitted question asked the candidates whether they would support a review of the current tax system, which was called an overly complex job-killer.
DeVries answered that her party rejects the concept of income tax completely, as the harder you work, the more tax you pay. Instead, she would like to see it replaced with a national sales tax, which would only tax people on what they spend, not what they earn.
Fuhr said his party is proposing a simplified federal tax system of only two brackets, eliminating income tax for anyone making under $15,000 while those making over $100,000 pay only 25 per cent. He also said he believes the farm tax should be reduced to 10 per cent.
Simmons said the Conservative and Liberal parties don’t want to change the tax system. He noted they would have already if they wanted to, as they’ve been the only two parties ever in power. Simmons said the people pay enough tax, and that the rich and corporations need to pay more, especially those hiding their money in offshore accounts. Lastly, he said his party will tax international companies that do business in Canada like Netflix and Google and close the capital gains and stock option loopholes.
Krauter also dismissed promises made by the Liberals and Conservatives, saying that only the NDP is talking about making the wealthy pay more. He said that taxing one per cent of the one per cent of the one percent, or anyone with an income of over $20 million. That revenue would help pay for social programs like national pharmacare.
Mitchell said that we live in a complex world, and therefore our tax system is complex. He told Krauter that he can’t just wave a magic wand and make rich people pay more and have it work out fine. Instead, he touted how his party raised 900 children out of poverty using changes to the tax code that gave money back to parents.
Nater agreed that the current tax code is a massive regulatory burden, and a challenge for small businesses. He said small business owners are too often left dealing with the Canadian Revenue Agency instead of running their businesses. His party, he said, will reduce red tape, review what is working with the system and what is not, and innovate in order to spur the economy across Canada.
Trade with China and the USA: With Friends Like These…
On the topic of international trade, the candidates were asked specifically what their thoughts were regarding two of Canada’s biggest trading partners: America and China.
Due to trade with the US imploding over the last few years thanks to new protectionist policies. and relations with China cooling over the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, Simmons suggested Canada, and especially its agricultural markets, focus on local economies.
Mitchell argued his party has already started fixing trade. When China first blocked canola and then pork exports, (speculated to be over the Wanzhou issue,) those products found markets elsewhere due to swift action by the government. However, he also noted that you can’t just trade locally when you live in an international world.
Nater said the canola and pork producers would be surprised by Mitchell’s comments. He said the Conservatives would take a hard stance on China in reprisal for the two Canadians arrested in retaliation for Wanzhou. He added that Canada needed to diversify its markets, noting India would’ve been an ideal option had the file not been mismanaged by the Liberals.
Krauter said it was interesting to hear the Conservatives want to take a hard line on China, seeing as they signed a foreign investment deal with the country without holding a debate, (the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, or FIPA- in effect since 2014.) He added the NDP supports international trade, but only when it’s based upon the principle of reciprocity.
DeVries mentioned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a now defunct international trade agreement negotiated by the Canadian government under Stephen Harper which was set to be passed by the Trudeau Liberals until America, under Donald Trump, pulled out of the deal. (A new agreement has since been ratified by 11 of the original 12 participating countries.) DeVries says the agreement would have given foreign countries power over our own, while the US can drown us in milk, eggs, and poultry. She stressed the need to protect our sovereignty regarding trade.
Fuhr said his party wants to ease inter-provincial trade, which is not always possible for some products like produce and alcohol. Fuhr said Canada’s founding fathers valued free trade throughout the country and barriers to inter-provincial trade went against the constitution.
There were several other subjects discussed that evening, including VIA Rail, affordable housing, student debt, and a national action plan addressing violence against women. The debate will next be aired on RogersTV on Sunday, Oct. 13, Friday, Oct. 18, and Saturday, Oct. 19.