Federal candidates in both the Nickel Belt and Sudbury ridings brought a collegial atmosphere to today’s debate at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 76.
Hosted by the local chapter of CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons) and Friendly to Seniors - Sudbury, the event centred not only on seniors issues but also broader topics.
“Seniors cover a wide gamut from 65 to 95 and beyond, and I think seniors are concerned about a lot of issues they have, but they’re also concerned about the upcoming generation — their children and their grandchildren,” CARP interim president John Lindsay said after the debate.
“A lot of the decisions politicians are making now are not necessarily going to affect seniors as much because it’s going to take time for any action to take place with pharmacare or seniors housing.”
Having held a number of debates such as this covering municipal, provincial and federal elections, Lindsay said it’s safe to say this is one great group of candidates, whose dialogue proved meaningful.
Included in today’s event were Sudbury candidates Viviane Lapointe (Liberal), Nadia Verrelli (NDP) and Ian Symington (Conservative). Nickel Belt candidates included Charles Humphrey (Conservative), Marc Serré (Liberal), Andréane Chénier (NDP) and Craig Gravelle (Green).
Sudbury.com community editor Mark Gentili moderated the event, which opened with candidate introductions and was followed by candidates asking questions of one another.
Given the nature of the election, which Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called, it was only natural that the incumbent Liberals spent much of their time on the defensive, answering pointed questions from their political opponents.
Both ridings have been most recently served by the Liberals, with Serré vying to retain his seat in Nickel Belt and newcomer Lapointe coming in after outgoing MP Paul Lefebvre stepped down.
Verrelli opened the event’s question period by criticizing the Liberals’ dedication to addressing climate change, noting that emissions have increased since Trudeau has been in power.
“Compare that to a bold action you say that your … party will bring in,” she said, describing their approach thus far as a “failure.”
“There’s no denying climate change,” Lapointe said, describing it as “the greatest long-term threat that faces humanity at this point in time, but it’s also our greatest economic opportunity.”
Green technology investment is key moving forward, she said, citing the Liberals’ commitment to banning single-use plastic bags and its contributions toward public transit, including $50 million for public transit in Greater Sudbury, as Liberal achievements.
Joining in on Verrelli’s narrative that things have gotten worse under the Liberals, Chénier followed up by noting that housing prices have skyrocketed in recent months.
After acknowledging that housing prices have, indeed, jumped, Serré argued the Liberals’ National Housing Strategy, launched in 2017, is a step in the right direction.
“That strategy we’re continuing to improve now moving forward,” he said,
A 55-unit, five-storey affordable seniors housing complex in Coniston is a feather in the Liberals’ cap, in that Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation didn’t previously fund affordable housing in smaller centres.
“We really pushed hard to ensure that we had a rural strategy,” he said, adding that future funding such as this can be expected moving forward.
Housing has been a provincial jurisdiction in the past, but Serré said the Liberals are taking action.
“It’s nice to see there is a plan going forward, my question is where was this plan for the last six years?” Chénier said, adding the NDP would impose a 20 per cent tax on foreign investors to stop foreign speculation on housing, which she said contributes to rising housing prices.
In these times of rising national debt, Humphrey noted the Liberal plan will have the budget balanced by 2070, which in the terms of election cycles isn’t a plan at all.
“This is in part due to the pandemic, but also due to a vast increase in debt finance Liberal spending,” he said, questioning how the Liberals plan to continue funding a social safety net in the face of rising deficits and inflation.
“This pandemic hit worldwide … really strong,” Serré said. “Someone had to take on the burden of supporting families and supporting businesses -- the federal government stepped up.”
Lapointe later joined in defending the Liberals’ reputation when it comes to fiscal responsibility.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about massive job loss, she said, and the federal government had to step in to do something about it.
“Wage subsidies kept businesses alive during the pandemic,” she said. “The cost to our economy would have been far higher if we hadn’t acted.”
The Liberals tabled a $400-billion budget in 2021, which the NDP called an austerity budget, prompting Lapointe to ask: “What response would the NDP have given for COVID while remaining fiscally responsible?”
It was the NDP who pushed the Liberals to extend the CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit), Verrelli said, adding, “It’s not about Trudeau wanting to do more, the NDP ensured Trudeau did more.”
The back half of today’s debate featured audience questions, which focused primarily on the debate of private versus public, which Sudbury.com will cover in a future story.
The Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce is hosting the first of two “Virtual Fireside Chat with the Federal Candidates” tonight beginning at 7 p.m. The event will be live-streamed by the Chamber as well as Sudbury.com.
Tonight’s event will focus on the Sudbury electoral district, while another event of the same nature on Wednesday night will focus on Nickel Belt.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.