Voters got a taste of what each political party is offering in the federal election at the Woolwich Memorial Centre on Tuesday afternoon, as Kitchener-Conestoga candidates found little to agree on, except perhaps their support of light rail transit (LRT) in the region.
In an event hosted by the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, the four candidates were questioned for two hours about issues such as the economy, government debt, childcare, and infrastructure.
Incumbent Conservative MP Harold Albrecht did plenty of rebutting, as the other candidates found much to criticize about the current federal government.
They were first asked how soon their party will deliver a balanced budget.
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Green Party candidate Bob Jonkman criticized austerity measures, using Greece as an example. He said initially the government needs to incur some debt to re-stimulate the economy. But, he said they’d have a balanced budget for the next five years, starting right away.
NDP candidate James Villeneuve said his party has a track record of balanced budgets and their budget will be released in time for the advanced polls, with a balanced budget in the first year if elected.
The Liberals’ Tim Louis said it would take two years to balance the budget, and claimed they’re the only party being honest about the federal budget. He said the Liberals will invest in the economy by creating priority jobs because household and private debt is more important than federal debt.
Albrecht said the federal government has reached a surplus a year earlier than expected and the way to balance the budget is to lower taxes and keep debt low, in order to attract businesses and create jobs. He said Canada’s current debt is $617 billion, with $26 billion a year in interest.
“Mr. Albrecht says the Conservative budget is balanced and I think those numbers magically appeared a few weeks back. They haven’t been spending the money that’s been allocated to programs. … By recycling those very same dollars and calling it a savings, yes, perhaps the budget’s balanced,” Jonkman said.
Both he and Louis accused the Conservatives of not respecting veterans in Canada and cutting their budget, which Albrecht refuted, saying they’ve increased their budget from $2.8 billion to $3.6 billion. Louis said PM Stephen Harper has shown disdain for them, and noted the minister of Veterans Affairs’ refusal to answer questions.
When asked if they would support a proposal by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to increase incentives to create co-op and internship opportunities for students, all parties answered yes. They also all said they support two-way all day GO train service.
As for what the priority infrastructure projects are for Waterloo Region, candidates had different ideas. Albrecht said they should be listening to what municipalities need, and that the LRT is a priority, along with replacing bridges and highways.
Jonkman said public transportation is a top priority for the Greens, and he’d like to see the LRT come right up to Elmira like trains used to. Villeneuve agreed on the need for better public transportation and said the NDP will cut commute times across Canada.
Louis said after speaking with the local mayors, it’s important for them to connect the townships to the cities, along with improved infrastructure in roads, bridges, sewers, and affordable housing.
Candidates had plenty to say about their economic development priorities for the region.
Jonkman restated the Green Party’s focus on public transit and affordable housing.
Albrecht noted it’s important to increase opportunities for businesses, such as through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
“When it comes to trade agreements, I will continue to be active in trying to finalize trade agreements. The trade offices we have in many parts of the world, we’ve increased the number, so when a tradesperson here wants to sell something to another country they have help in finding what are the regulations, what are some of the cultural things they need to be aware of,” Albrecht said.
The Liberal, Green, and NDP candidates all said they’ll support a national pharmaceutical program, with the Greens committing $300 million annually. Albrecht said there’s been no commitment by the Conservatives on that yet, and he’d prefer to see a cross-Canada palliative program.
They all said their parties will increase funding for affordable housing. The Liberals have committed a third of their $60 billion infrastructure budget to social infrastructure, which includes affordable and seniors housing. Albrecht said it’s an issue for all levels of government and when housing is provided many of the problems accompanied by mental health are diminished.
Jonkman stated that clean food and water are essential first, especially for some places in northern Ontario where they don’t have fresh water. Approximately one in nine people in Canada are living with housing needs said Villeneuve, and the NDP will add housing as a right in their housing strategy.
Villeneuve touted the much-debated $15 a day childcare proposal, as a way for parents to be able to both work and still afford to send their children to daycare.
“I think a large part of being able to develop the area, strengthen the economy, is our plan for $15 a day childcare. The cost of childcare is breaking household budgets. The average Canadian family is paying $1,000 a month. The program is proven in Quebec,” Villeneuve said.
Albrecht challenged the NDP’s childcare plan, saying it leaves far too many rural families out. And he says the Conservatives provide $160 a month per child under six to families, and $60 a month per child from six to 18. He also made mention of the Conservatives’ income splitting plan, which has been criticized by other parties as only helping wealthy families.
Villeneuve and Albrecht got into a debate when Villeneuve said the Conservatives are giving people money to stay home, when in reality they want to go out and work.
“I do take exception with the implication that if you’re staying at home you’re not being productive. It’s not for everyone, but if a parent chooses that they shouldn’t be penalized,” Albrecht said.
Louis talked about the Liberals’ plan for a child benefit tax free program which will benefit nine out of ten families, and said they’ll reduce taxes for the middle class.
“It doesn’t get more local than when I knock on door after door after door and people talk about the cost of living and how they’re struggling to get by, and we’re turning into a nation of haves and have-nots. That’s a local issue, but that’s a local issue across Canada,” Louis said.
You can watch the entire candidates’ forum on YouTube, under the chamber of commerce’s username, GreaterKWChamber.