Candidates' debate brings federal platform home
By Lois Ann Dort
ANTIGONISH – Four candidates and approximately 500 engaged voters gathered at the Keating Centre on the STFX campus on Tuesday, September 22 for a political debate that may point to not only the fate of the federal riding of Central Nova but perhaps the country as a whole. Central Nova has been a Conservative stronghold in the East under the hand of long-time MP Peter MacKay, who unexpectedly announced last spring that he would not seek re-election. In his stead, for the Conservatives, is Fred DeLorey, a party man with deep roots in the area who is, although a rookie candidate, running for election on the record of the Harper Government. That being the case, the Central Nova riding is being seen as a bell weather for the country as a whole.
The slate of candidates in Central Nova include the aforementioned Fred DeLorey for the Conservative Party; Ross Landry, a former NDP MLA in the provincial government of Darrell Dexter, for the NDP; Sean Fraser for the Liberals, David Hachey for the Green Party and an independent candidate, Alexander MacKenzie, who was not on the debate roster.
The debate was for the most part respectful, with a few good jabs being exchanged between the NDP, Liberal and Conservative candidates. Prepared questions were provided for the candidates prior to the debate and each candidate was given time to state his case and later provide a rebuttal. Questions from the floor were also entertained in the second hour.
All candidates stuck close to their party's playbook during the debate and many of the questions dealt with national rather than local issues, with the exception of a question from the floor by Antigonish Chamber of Commerce President Patrick Curry about the Ivany Report and a prepared question about infrastructure renewal with special consideration given to the twinning of highways with the possibility of toll roads.
On the question of toll roads and highway twinning, all candidates were in agreement that the TCH should be twinned but as to how that work would be paid for, by toll or by government spending, the candidates were split. DeLorey stated that his government would work with the province for the best solution, Landry was against creating toll roads, Hachey promulgated an approach of intergovernmental cooperation and Fraser stated that the road must be twinned and if a toll was the means of finance, so be it. “For the sake of a few dollars when you go by, if it is going to save the lives of people in our region, I say cooperate with the province and get it done,” said Fraser.
In response to the Ivany Report, Hachey promoted the idea of Nova Scotia being an energy superpower, not a petroleum superpower. He gave as an example tidal power development in the Bay of Fundy.
Fraser stated that the report was, “a fantastic blueprint for our future.” He said his favourite part of the report was the call to break free from the mindset that it is an either/or scenario when discussing the environment and the economy. “We can do both.”
Landry talked about the need for rural jobs. “Our natural resources are important but as we develop our natural resources the community needs to be a critical part of that development," he said. "We need to have a government that is sensitive to rural jobs.”
DeLorey stood behind the Harper government record, emphasizing programs such as the Building Canada plan and the decision to reduce the small business tax; which is something all candidates agreed was a common policy goal.
SAFE, a local non-profit that seeks to sponsor Syrian refugees, had a prepared question put to the candidates asking if they would support bringing 50,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2015; a quantity and time frame that Retired General Rick Hillier has promoted.
Hachey was enthusiast about Hillier's proposal and stated that, “Canada is not a fearful country and it is time we stood up and stopped acting like one.”
“This is a heart-wrenching question,” said Fraser. “We're willing to accept 25,000 individuals immediately and in addition to that spend $100 million in support of the High Commission for Refugees in processing people and helping vulnerable individuals on the ground.”
“It's a wonderful initiative,” said DeLorey of the SAFE plan to bring Syrian refugees to Antigonish. He detailed the Conservative plan to speed up the processing of refugees but noted, “In no way will we sacrifice security.” He went on to describe the three-pronged approach the current government has used to address the Syrian crisis: fighting to eliminate ISIS, providing humanitarian aid and resettlement of refugees.
Landry got hot under the collar and lashed out at DeLorey's remarks concerning military intervention in Syria. He said it was audacious of the current government to claim compassion and continue to bomb civilians. “We need to get back to a peacekeeping organization...rather than taking lives as a day-to-day function.”
The debate ended with each candidate giving a final overview of their platform and in the case of Hachey, asking voters to vote with their heart, without fear of vote-splitting or an eye to strategic voting.
Voters left with plenty to talk about and party faithful of all political stripes were analyzing the event as they walked out the door.
The federal election is Monday, October 19. Voter registration cards have been sent in the mail. Eligible voters who fail to receive a voter information card should contact Elections Canada or visit elections.ca.