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Organizers aim to put environment at the forefront of election

The federal election underway, environmental groups are looking to make issues such as climate change a central part of the campaign, organizing a series of 100 Debates for the Environment.

Locally, four of the five candidates running in the Kitchener-Conestoga riding have committed to an event scheduled for next month.

Liberal candidate Tim Louis, the NDP’s Riani de Wet, Green candidate Stephanie Goertz, and Kotlyn Wallar of the People’s Party have all confirmed their attendance. Incumbent Conservative MP Harold Albrecht has declined to attend.

“We have a training in GOTV event that night,” said Albrecht’s campaign manager, Andrew Reid. “As well, there’s a debate the next day with the Greater KW Chamber of Commerce that we RSVP’d to. It’s crazy how schedules fill up so quickly.”

A prepared statement indicated that Albrecht will be attending other upcoming debates in Elmira, New Hamburg and Kitchener to address these issues.

The candidates will answer questions about climate change, water protection, wilderness conservation, and pollution and toxic substances.

“If we don’t address these issues and protect our environment then nothing else really matters,” said organizer Dorothy Wilson of the Nith Valley Eco Boosters. “I think because I have grandchildren, I’m quite concerned about their future and what it’s going to be like for them.

“With the federal election coming up, I hope that a lot of people think about who they need to vote for that’s going to take action to protect our environment.”

A biochemistry lecturer at University of Waterloo, Betsey Daub, noted organizers “were not that surprised, not for this kind of debate,” that Albrecht has not committed to attending the event.

In preparing for the 100 Debates for the Environment, the central questions were put together by GreenPAC, a Toronto-based not-for-profit organization that helps promote environmental leadership in politics. Equiterre, the largest environmental group in Quebec, is also helping to coordinate the project.

“We sent out to that question list to the candidates so that they can be prepared,” explained Daub. “Another one of the things that we’re looking at right now is what kind of questions that we could put to the candidates that have to do with local issues.

“One of the ones that we’re looking at is water issues. Water woes have been and still are very much at the forefront in Elmira.”

One question about water quality is among the query list being prompted to the candidates: “What can the federal government do to work with different sectors like municipalities and farmers to reduce both water pollution, and the risk of flood events which may have been aggravated by industrial development and climate change?”

Anyone with environmental issues of their own will have the opportunity to submit written questions, which may be read during the debate by the moderator, Tova Davidson, executive director of Sustainable Waterloo Region. 

There are five debates scheduled in Waterloo Region and already 122 taking place across Ontario.

“I think it’s really important for people to exercise their right to vote and have the information they need to make a good decision,” said Wilson. “Because the environment is such a crucial issue, I think that this debate can provide an opportunity for people to learn more and make an intelligent decision.”

The Kitchener-Conestoga all candidates debate will take place October 9, 7-9 p.m., at the New Dundee Community Centre at 1028 Queen St. in New Dundee.

Debates for each riding in the region, including Kitchener Centre, Kitchener South – Hespeler, Cambridge and Waterloo, are taking place October 2 and 9. See 100 Debates for more information.

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