Largely sticking to their respective party lines, the five candidates running in the Kitchener-Conestoga riding made their one all-candidates stop in Elmira on October 10, giving local voters a chance to get a handle on their options ahead of Monday’s federal election.
In the event hosted by the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, all five candidates were quizzed on topics that included fiscal responsibility, climate change, affordable housing and transit during the allotted two hours.
Progressive Conservative incumbent Harold Albrecht, Liberal candidate Tim Louis, NDP candidate Riani de Wet, Green Party’s Stephanie Goertz, and PPC’s Koltyn Wallar offered their party’s solutions as to how to adequately address each issue.
PPC Wallar: Stated intent to balance the budget within two years; compared this to Conservatives’ five-year plan. Money to do so would be gained through elimination from corporate subsidies and welfare, as well as the amount of foreign aid sent out by Canadians: “There’s no reason why Canadian taxpayer dollars should be spent fighting climate change in Asia and building roads in Africa. When you eliminate that kind of spending, you can find those billions of dollars that allow us to reduce the debt and balance the budget.”
PC Albrecht: Rebutted PPC that a two-year plan to balance the budget would be irresponsible. He criticized federal Liberal debt of more than $70 billion: “We cannot keep spending money we don’t have; we can’t keep giving $12 million to Loblaws to buy fridges. We can’t keep investing in Asian infrastructure bank in all of the work that they’re doing overseas when we should be spending that money at home here.” He stated the party’s intent is to keep spending under control, while at the same time, still maintaining valuable public services without harsh cuts.
Green Goertz: She mentioned that the Green Party was the first to release its full platform, one that includes a plan to close tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy, end offshore tax dodging, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, increasing federal corporate tax from 15 per cent to 21 tax to match the U.S.A, and a five per cent surcharge on commercial bank profit. “We understand that having a balanced platform is what needs to happen, but we’re not doing a balanced platform at the expense of cutting services, cutting resources to our communities, to our schools, our educational centres.”
Liberal Louis: The candidate praised current federal Liberal record, citing more than a million jobs created, record low unemployment rate, and lowering small business tax rate from 11 to nine per cent: “We know that Canada can’t cut its way to prosperity. Cuts don’t help people, cuts don’t grow the economy, austerity does not help. Putting the interests of wealthy people in front of the middle class is something that’s not going to help our community. We can’t afford another level of federal Conservative cuts on top of the provincial Conservative cuts that we’re already facing.” He noted the party’s intent to crack down on corporate tax evasion.
NDP De Wet: She too noted a current problem area for spending includes corporate subsidies. Lax laws and loopholes must be strengthened so that they do not allow certain groups to disproportionately benefit. She supported foreign aid among all the criticism: “We spend money to build roads in Africa so that business people can import and export their goods with ease. So that’s not just giving away money for nothing. If we help other countries keep their air clean, it benefits us as well. So the notion that it’s just a giveaway and we don’t get anything for it, is simply a fallacy.”
NDP De Wet: Pointed to environmental technology and clean energy; has been acknowledged as the leading, growing industry in the world, she said. Investors in the private sector are investing the money at double the rate, compared to the fossil fuel industry: “If we, as Canada, want to take the leading role, we have to step up our game there.” Other plans include the retrofitting of buildings and eventually transitioning to zero-emissions vehicles.
Liberal Louis: Expressed that all the candidates had just debated this issue the night before, except for the Conservatives. The ultimate goal for Liberals is net-zero emissions by 2050. Party offers a retrofit program that allows an interest-free loan of up to $40,000 to make a home more energy efficient (solar panels, insulation, upgrade old furnaces, etc.) “That’s money that you can have right away that you can use to protect your home and your business.” In addition, a $5,000 rebate for electric vehicles, ban single-use plastics, and phase out coal nation-wide.
PPC Wallar: If elected, Wallar promised Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic that the PPC would directly fund infrastructure needed to prevent extreme weather events, such as flooding in New Hamburg. The answer to eliminate emissions, he added, lies with the free market. “Last year, the United States led the world in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. It did that without a carbon tax, it did that without government intervention … the way they were able to do that is because they let the free market develop the technological solutions that power the reducing of emissions.”
PC Albrecht: Personal practices available to us are a good start, a list that includes recycling, tree planting, and composting. Personally planted more than 1,700 trees on his property. Pointed to an occasion in November 2015 where the federal government allowed eight billion litres of raw sewage to be dumped into the St. Lawrence River in Montreal. “When it comes to protecting our environment, we need to work alongside some of the environmental groups that have been doing excellent work on this for many years.”
Green Goertz: Protect waterways through water national strategy, protect food through environmental farm plan, and protect infrastructure through green infrastructure fund. Increase affordability of life and property by launching extensive energy retrofit, which will create four million jobs, said Goertz. Create an energy grid across Canada to ensure the country is not giving excess energy to the U.S. “The Green party doesn’t view the environment as one single topic. It’s everything you look at around us. It’s our infrastructure, roadways, housing, it’s our transportation model.”
PC Albrecht: Criticized the mortgage rules implemented by Liberal government, particularly the stress test that must be passed in order to purchase a home. Said it’s a “one-size-fits-all” approach applied to all homes across the country – what might work in the Toronto housing market might not apply to Elmira or elsewhere in the riding. “Affordability is not simply on housing – it’s finding or purchasing a home, or providing a home for someone on low-income.” Criticized carbon tax and general taxation making life costlier for Canadians.
Green Goertz: Retrofit housing, in order to decrease the cost of utilities on homes. Change building codes to net zero, which would also reduce utility costs. Increase public transportation; reduce the need to buy a vehicle. “Affordability of living and housing – it’s a very complex issue and topic. It has to do with … where else are you spending your money? If you can’t afford a house, are you spending money in other ways?”
NDP De Wet: Plan to provide 500,000 units of quality and affordable housing units across the country. Would provide the first half (250,000) within the first four years, and the rest within the next six years (10 overall years). The party is looking at providing 500,000 units of quality and affordable housing across the country. “We’re also looking at providing an immediate relief to renters, with a rental benefit of up to $5,000. We want to re-introduce the 30-year mortgage packages.” Tighten grip on money laundering.
Liberal Louis: Pointed to a national housing strategy, a 10-year plan with the aim to cut homelessness by 50 per cent. “It’s a holistic approach; we need to make sure that people, especially middle-class, can get help with the cost of living. We want to make sure that people can stay in their homes as long as possible, especially in our small towns and communities like this.” Plan to increase the Old Age Security (OAS) pension by 10 per cent for seniors over age 75 and raise CPP’s survivor’s benefit by 25 per cent.
PPC Wallar: “The policies of the Liberal, NDP and Greens constitute a ridiculous amount of government intervention. The housing market is one of the largest markets in this township – the level of intervention that they’re proposing would throw it completely out of whack.” Described heavy government intervention as inefficient, bureaucratic and over-budget. Reiterated PPC simplified tax plan: 15 per cent rate for income between $15,000 and $100,000 and a 25 per cent rate for all income over $100,000. Party would remove carbon tax, which Conservative party will not do, he said.
Green Goertz: “I guess my answer would be a clear yes.” Discussed supporting professionals coming to Canada through reviewing qualifications, ensuring immigrants consider their licensing, and helping them to match local educational standards. Advocate for working with municipalities and provinces to improve integration of families.
NDP De Wet: Discussed her own experience as an immigrant, having grown up in South Africa. Assist immigrants with improving the foreign credential recognition – making it a more streamlined and efficient process. Will do fair share to welcome refugees fleeing from violence or persecution. “It is not a free-for-all, it’s not like the doors are open and come make yourself at home. But we will never, ever shut the door on someone who claims they are in crisis.”
Liberal Louis: Also spoke about personal experience as an immigrant, coming to Canada from the United States. Believes that immigrants make Canada stronger. Listed occasions where federal government has helped with the issue such as in 2015, when it announced a plan to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees fleeing from war. “I’m proud that our government has done so much to help immigration – keep it fair, and keep it simple. Especially in a time where people are building walls and closing borders, that Canada remains a beacon of light that we can come here.”
PPC Wallar: Prioritize immigrants fleeing from war or persecution, rather than coming from the U.S. to Canada. Pointed out flaws with the current immigration system – those who apply for refugee status and are rejected can appeal indefinitely. While appealing, they can be housed in big cities and are provided with government funded supplies. Wants to fence off problem areas. “We would lower the numbers and prioritize the economic immigrants who would like to come to Canada, as they have the skills and qualifications necessary to fit into Canada.”
PC Albrecht: Current practices in place help immigrants to feel welcome – he noted one of the joys of his experience working as an MP has included attending new citizenship ceremonies. Follow up with congratulatory letter and invite them into his office. Favoured private sponsorship over larger number refugee intake: “The stats are clear: when you have private sponsorship refugees, those refugees do far better in the long term than those who are brought in large groups without private sponsorships to go along with it.”
While there were plenty of topics to disagree on, all candidates supported the two-way, all-day GO passenger service and expressed willingness to work with the Connect the Corridor coalition, at least to some extent.
Residents of Kitchener-Conestoga, along with Canadians from coast to coast, go to the polls on Monday (October 21).