GRAVENHURST, ON- Four candidates for Parry Sound-Muskoka were on display in Gravenhurst on Tuesday night.
Candidates attending were Scott Aitchison of the Conservative Party, Trisha Cowie of the Liberal Party, Gord Miller of the Green Party, Michelle Smith of the People’s Party of Canada and Tom Young of the NDP.
All four came to the Gravenhurst Opera House to answer a series of questions posed to them by a moderator, who had a list put together by the Gravenhurst Chamber of Commerce.
The event was made possible with the help of sponsors Hunter’s Bay Radio, Country 102, Muskoka 411, The Moose 99.5 FM, Metroland Media, Muskoka Post and Your TV.
Opening statements from all four candidates were given first, after the singing of the national anthem.
In his opening statement, Miller told the audience that the biggest issue in the election is the climate emergency. He said the climate issue impacts everything, and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to get things fixed, with Parliament the tool of change. He also listed off his experiences as environmental commissioner in Ontario and previous roles.
He believes the election will result in a minority government, with the Green Party possibly holding a balance of power similar to the provincial legislature in British Columbia. He also said there will be no “dictatorship of the majority” after this election.
Cowie began her opening statement with an apology to anyone who had heard her singing, as she believed singing was hard compared to public speaking. After thanking the organizers and attendees, she described her work history as a lawyer in Bala, her experience as a parent, and her status as a First Nations woman from Hiawatha First Nation.
She wants to see more reconciliation, and believes current Liberal policies and their platform will be good for the riding. She stated that 13,000 children have been lifted out of poverty by the Canada Child Benefit in the area, and that money put in place by the current government needs to be “fought for” to get into the riding.
High speed internet was also listed as one of her goal’s for the riding, with her statement ending with a re-iterated need to “push the dial” on reconciliation.
Young started his statement by focusing on his ties to the area. According to the candidate, he was born and raised in Huntsville, moving to Bracebridge as a teenager, and currently working as public works supervisor for the Township of Strong. He said both of his parents died when he was young, after which he was sent into foster care.
He’s also undergone multiple surgeries in the local hospitals, and is a firm supporter of the facilities being in place in the region.
Young said he truly cares about the people and the riding is “in his blood”, and that he was the only person at the table of candidates who had lived in the area for the past 50 years. He ended by listing off points from the NDP federal platform, and saying he wanted to support local seniors with the area turning into a retirement centre.
Aitchison focused his opening statement on what he saw as the choice faced by Canadians in this election when it came to national finances. He was not in favour of deficit spending, citing the past four years of growing federal deficits and rising taxes, and stating the Conservative Party’s talking point of balancing the budget over the next five years, if elected.
He also said he had recently watched the climate strike march in Huntsville, and the “pleading” of the young protestors over climate action. He continued by repeating the party’s plan to cancel Canada’s carbon tax, saying it might work in urban areas where people can take public transit but hurt rural areas where people need to drive long distances to work.
He directed people to read the party’s environmental plan online, and said the Conservatives are not the “bogeyman”, and will keep up Canada’s social service spending.
After the opening statements, questions began. The first was focused on whether or not federal employment programs were working or not, given that employers couldn’t find workers in the riding despite high unemployment levels.
Miller responded first. He said the programs were obviously not working, and there must be issues with the training of workers. He said the Green Party would get rid of financial barriers that people face when trying to get job training, and that a focus on renewable energy investment would create more jobs.
Cowie said she had spoken to “countless” local employers with the same issue, being that workers do not have qualifications and there are no applicants, or they have applicants but those would-be employees can’t find housing in the region. She believed the federal government should help with housing, and immigration should be used to fill job needs in rural communities.
Young said that the financial burden of job training needed to be taken off of students, and he also wanted to see factories in the riding re-opened but retrofitted. His example was a factory converted over to make parts for electric cars, with the goal being assistance to manufacturers in the south.
Aitchison agreed with what the other candidates were saying on the skills deficit, but believed the biggest issue was housing. He said that when employees are found for the area, they subsequently can’t find anywhere to live. According to him, local governments had tried to fix the issue by waiving fees for housing projects, but the federal government “needs to come onboard”.
There was not much in the way of rebuttal on those points between the four candidates. Cowie said the Liberals have brought the federal government back into the housing issue with funding promises, which need to be fought for to get to the riding.
Young said that both the Liberals and Conservatives had been in power for years and nothing had been done on the issue, and that action should have been taken “long before”.
Aitchison said the person who gets elected for the riding needs to be able to get noticed to make sure local needs aren’t ignored, and pointed to his record on local hospital and airport investments as an example of “being noticed”.
The second question focused on measures the candidates thought could help first-time home buyers, beyond the current federal incentive.
Cowie said that the federal government could help mitigate the risks of the housing crisis.
Young said that apartments and condos are fine, but believed young people want to be home owners. To that end, he believed that aging residents with larger homes could be moved to semi-detached homes, with their bigger homes going to younger families after being sold. He indicated that the federal government would be involved in this process.
Aitchison echoed his party’s stance on changing the mortgage stress test, and said the Conservatives would want to take a look at money laundering that drives up home prices in some areas. He believed a partnership between the federal government and local governments would be most important.
Miller focused on the idea of co-op housing being a stepping stone for private ownership.
During rebuttal, Cowie went after Aitchison for not stating whether or not the Conservative’s would keep funding in place from the Liberal’s housing strategy. If it was cut, she believed it would hurt the riding.
In his response, Aitchison indicated he believed the private sector would handle housing development better than the government, with incentives better than “taxing the hell out of everybody”.
The third question asked the candidates why they were best suited to represent the riding.
Young said he wasn’t a politician, and this was the first time he was running for office. He believed that he was someone that would take local interests in hand, and there was too much assistance coming from Ottawa for pharmaceutical and oil companies.
He wanted that money to go back to local communities, saying “I live your life, I live paycheque to paycheque, and I’ve never had a silver spoon in my mouth in my life.”
Aitchison cited his local political experience, with his currently-on-leave role of Huntsville’s mayor for the past five years and the support of many local leaders. He said municipal leaders are in the business of “getting things done”, not going to the House of Commons to make fools of themselves.
Miller, responding after Aitchison, said he had “lots of experience” at the municipal level and in legislatures, that Aitchison “so desperately wants”.
Cowie said she was good at making arguments as a lawyer and had good experience as a small business owner. She also said she was a collaborator, tired of partisan jabs back and forth. She would look for common ground in Ottawa instead.
During rebuttal, Aitchison responded to Miller’s quip, saying that as good as his bureaucratic experience was it was better to know the community, and again pointing to his local service record. He said he wants to be helpful not just for Huntsville and Muskoka, but for all of Parry Sound-Muskoka.
The fourth question focused in on a Muskoka-centric matter, with the candidates asked how they would figure out how to create employment at the Muskoka Regional Centre. The property is a long-abandoned site in Gravenhurst.
Aitchison said movement on the property has been happening recently. According to him, he reached out to Premier Doug Ford to set up a meeting during the summer between the premier and local leaders, aimed at stopping a sale of the property. This was successful, according to Aitchison. He would aim to work with all levels of government to find a solution for the property.
Miller said ideas for the property have to come out of the community, with the province and municipal governments finding a solution. The role of the federal government would be to provide funding as needed, with the MP stepping in to find that money.
Cowie and Young echoed Miller’s position.
The fifth question asked the candidates what they liked about their party, and where they disagreed.
Miller indicated the thing he liked best about the Greens was a lack of whipped votes, with MP’s voting on their own initiative instead. The only thing he didn’t like was that the party only had one elected member, which got a laugh from the audience.
Cowie said she liked that the Liberals had tried to do “big” issues, like the climate and reconciliation. She disliked that the party has taken what she sees as a slow pace on those issues, and believes they can’t go fast enough.
Young liked that the NDP is there for the average hardworking Canadian, like “everybody in this room”, and couldn’t think of anything he didn’t like.
Aitchison said that he liked the Conservatives being for small government, people keeping more of their money, and helping the vulnerable. He said that the party understands that government doesn’t have money, they have “other people’s money” and should have a good reason to spend it.
He disliked that the party is constantly branded as “nasty ogres not helping people”, to which a woman in the audience said “unless you’re an autistic kid from Ontario”.
Aitchison responded to the comment, and said he knew people were unhappy with provincial spending cuts. He said he didn’t know how the province was going about those cuts, but said that they were the result from 14 years of provincial Liberal deficits.
The sixth question asked their opinion on immigration in Canada, and what they would change.
Cowie said immigration is a good thing, and more of it is needed in Canada. She saw it as a gift, with Canadians lucky to have such diversity. As for how to change it, she said she hadn’t thought of that before, and indicated she would want to see the way politicians talk about it change, with an emphasis on responsibility and truth.
Young said that families should not be split up during the immigration process, and the government needs to ensure that they’re trained and can find good jobs here and lead good lives when they come to Canada. Their whole family also needs to be able to come with them, and kept together.
Aitchison said immigration was the “bedrock” that formed Canada, and described it as an economic and social issue. While saying it was “imperative” that immigration works, Aitchison said the Conservatives would make minor changes, with a focus on re-uniting families affected by genocides, and bringing “fairness” to the refugee system.
Miller said the climate emergency is generating waves of millions of people each year, coming from places like Africa and Honduras after crop failures. He said that Canada has a responsibility to care for those people, and can aid them by helping define environmental refugees. He said the reality is that refugees from climate change are coming.
Cowie ended the segment by noting that Canada’s First Nations people are the bedrock of the country.
The seventh question asked about the candidate’s views on abortion.
Young said he firmly believes in the right to choose, which got a big cheer.
Aitchison said that abortion is a discussion for a woman and her doctor, and he would fight for a woman’s right to choose.
Miller said he was in favour of choice, and the matter was also settled law.
Cowie was also pro-choice, and in favour of whipped votes on social issues.
The eighth question asked the candidates what they thought the most important issue facing Muskoka was.
Aitchison said the two biggest ones were housing and healthcare. When it came to healthcare, he mentioned the local cost share that the area is facing for possible hospital changes here. He believed the federal government needs to help and play a role.
Miller believed the biggest issue was water quality, mentioning the local lake systems and Georgian Bay. He believed it formed the base of the local economy, with the federal government holding responsibility to ensure water quality is good to support resident’s lifestyles and the local economy.
Cowie believed the biggest issue was reconciliation with First Nations people. Mentioning that a First Nations child in care dies every three days in Ontario, she said kids are dying from the underfunding of past governments. She also mentioned local housing issues. She believed we need to take care of the younger generations here today, to make sure they’re ok.
Young said it was a hard question, with housing being a huge problem. He said he’ll run into someone every day having a housing issue, with the example of people living under bridges in Bracebridge. He believed that quality affordable housing is needed to get people off the streets.
The ninth question asked whether or not the candidates believe the carbon tax was effective.
Miller said the Green’s had plan to tax all emissions in Canada, and redistribute the money to Canadians. He also said the Liberals had “loosely copied” the Greens with their carbon tax, but was unsure if it actually brought money back to people.
Cowie believed the tax worked, describing it as a “price on pollution”. She warned about it getting repealed if the Conservatives were elected, saying that the economy needs a plan to reduce emissions.
Young said he wanted to take money away from oil companies “out west” and invest in “hard working Canadians”, which got a big cheer.
Aitchison was not in favour of the tax, saying he believed it was unfairly impacting rural residents. He said the Conservatives want to incentivize green tech development. He also restated a conservative talking point about the scenario of Canada reaching net-zero emissions, with many people believing it would have no impact on the global situation.
Miller was very angry with that stance, saying that is why the Conservative’s get branded as bogeymen, with that viewpoint letting the world down on Canada’s commitment to reduce emissions.
When Aitchison repeated the same point again during rebuttal, he got a small boo from the audience.
The tenth question asked candidates how they would protect the local waterways.
Responding first, Cowie focused on the prevention of micro bead pollution, which is a long-running problem in Georgian Bay and other local water bodies. She called it the number one problem for the area waterways, and warned against changes to the Liberal’s moves to fix what she called Harper-era damage to waterway protection.
Young’s answer boiled down to bringing officials from Ottawa to see the area and what it has to offer, which would make them want to protect it more.
Aitchison said the federal government had many tools when it came to waterway protection, while specifically mentioning the carrying capacity of the local waters when it came to the number of vessels present throughout the area.
He said the federal authorities play a role there, and he would examine the matter.
Cowie liked Young’s plan, and said she hoped it included dock and a beer. Young said he would never promote alcohol consumption, which got a laugh from the audience.
The next question focused on how the candidates would want to make post-secondary education accessible.
Young indicated that he wanted to reduce post-secondary barriers, and eventually make post-secondary education part of the public education system.
Aitchison pointed to the Conservative’s plans to expand tax credits for post-secondary education.
Miller said the Greens wanted to eliminate all tuition fees, and forgive all federally held student debt.
Cowie pointed to Liberal platform promises of increasing student grants as costs continue to rise, though she said the party would not make post-secondary school free. She wanted to find a middle ground, and believed it would be best for student loan recipients to not have to start paying back the loans until they were making above $35,000.
They were then asked about their stance on keeping the old age security program availability at 65 years of age. All were generally in favour.
The second-last question asked them where they think the federal government should spend less money, and why.
Miller said he would want to see less spending on “aspects of defense”, questioning why Canada is drawn into spending cycles in NATO and the Canadian involvement in the Libyan Civil War. He believed it would be best to have domestic military spending for naval ships and icebreakers, and less spending for what he described as “aggressive action around the world”.
Cowie said the federal government could spend less money in court battles, citing disputes involving First Nations land claims and child welfare, as well as court battles on the carbon tax.
Young said he would want to see less subsidies to “big, big rich people” giving examples of pharmaceutical companies and oil companies.
Aitchison brought up his party’s plan to change foreign aid funding, specifically saying there would be no more aid money for Russia or Iran. He said there was no need for “hack and slash” to reign in current federal spending, and again said the budget could be balanced in five years.
They were then asked the opposite, where the federal government should spend more money and why.
Cowie said more spending should be directed towards the environment and climate action, as well as affordable housing.
Young believed there should be more investment in clean energy, as well as spending on quality affordable housing. He didn’t want the federal government to follow the example of Ontario’s cuts.
Aitchison believed there should be investment in alternatives to carbon based fuels, more money to clean energy development, and smarter spending on the housing sector.
Miller wanted to see more money go towards reducing the impact of climate change on nature, with more funds put towards parks and conservation efforts.
With that final question, the session began to wrap up, as there were no more questions from the moderator and none allowed from the floor.
Cowie re-iterated her platform, saying there was a clear choice between the Liberals and Conservatives in this election. She also said that if the Greens held the balance of power in Ottawa, all the environmental gains by the Liberals will be thrown out the window, and asked for the progressives in Parry Sound-Muskoka to support her.
Young said Andrew Scheer won’t stand up to Doug Ford and the Greens are a “one-issue” party, with both the Liberals and Conservatives only serving to bring more tax breaks for the wealthy.
Aitchison said he was running to put his experience to work, and help everyone get ahead, and not just get by.
Miller brought up the Liberal’s purchase of the Trans-Mountain pipeline and the Conservative promise to get rid of the carbon tax as two areas where the parties fail on dealing with climate change, and said this coming Parliament was a “last-chance” parliament to deal with the issue.
Citing Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, he said that politicians who fail to deal with climate change will be remembered as villains, and he didn’t want to be remembered as a villain.
To that end, he implored voters to go and act, and send him to Ottawa.
The next all-candidates forums for the riding will be held on the following days:
Tuesday, Oct 15th from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts.
All of these events have been sourced from publicly-listed announcements. Any events not listed here will be added if organizers get in touch with our newsroom.