In the past provincial election I intensely covered the Edmonton-Strathcona and Riverview (provincial) ridings all-candidates forums at the University of Alberta. For this election, the boundaries of Strathcona are a bit different (larger) and include a diverse liberal, New Democrat and Conservative support base (often leading to vote splitting in the past).
So who’s running. From left to right on the stage (not the spectrum) we have (the letter at the end is how I’ll refer to them when I get to the question-by-question breakdown):
- Linda Duncan (NDP – N)
- Kevin Hunter (Marxist-Leninist – M)
- Rahim Jaffer (Conservative – C)
- Claudette Roy (Liberal – L)
- Jane Thrall (Greens – G)
I’d just like to point out that before I got in I wasn’t allowed my popcorn or pop, a dissapointment.
The format was opening statements (1 min each), then prepared questions (1 min response and 30 s rebuttals), then audience questions (30 s responses), then closing remarks (1 min each). Also, as you can see in the top corner, I’ve already endorsed Linda Duncan officially, but I did go for quotes for all and to see how they all stand on their own merits. In the Riverview forum last election, the Wildrose Alliance candidate appreciated my fairness / objectivity, despite us having almost polar opposite economic views.
Here we go:
Before I jump into the overall breakdown, let me summarize the performance of the candidates in terms of who “won” (which is pretty hard to determine for this one):
- Linda Duncan (NDP) – she gave a lot of good, short sound bites that resonated. Although not going too deep in, and parroting the party line sometimes, she routinely answered questions the best and was on the ball. She was emotive (rolling eyes at times to Jaffer), and friendly.
- Jane Thrall (Greens) – although not a serious contender in this riding, I feel her performance was strong, although at times she suffered from not differentiating from the Liberals enough (it didn’t help that Claudette and Jane were fairly chummy through the debate). I really appreciated her ability to give her own views when unsure of party policy (although each candidate should know their party lines). I also appreciated that Jane never really stooped to bashing any of the other parties, a very strong performance (if you want to tell me she did better than Linda, you may be right and I may just be wearing my orange-coloured glasses).
- Kevin Hunter (Marxist-Leninist) – he was hard to place, as he wasn’t really addressed by the other parties in the debate (although I could say in general the Greens were addressed with the Liberals). He did a good job getting his voice in the mix, and I feel bad that some audience members found more humour than valid arguments in his answers. He began to repeat the same bits over and over (monopolies), and definitely hadn’t participated in too many debates at this level before. In general though, he provided a refreshing view on the stage relative to the rest. Nothing like calling the NDP a “business party”.
- Claudette Roy (Liberals) – she gave slightly deeper answers than Jaffer, but I wasn’t too impressed by her performance. If I was giving positive/negative reviews she would be floating around a neutral value. I think she went after Conservative votes by placing herself more right of centre than the average Liberal is perceived to be (she went as far as saying she belonged in the middle of the table) – but this didn’t affect her performance. In all I just wasn’t convinced.
- Rahim Jaffer (Conservative) – he’s not too far behind Roy, and had he been more honest in his answers (many felt scripted or dodging the question) he may have beaten Roy. I give him some pity points for the countless pointed questions, and he did quip at the end about the “warmth” he got from the room. I also wasn’t impressed when he was trying to get an answer across and was being interupted (he has to ask for the same respect other candidates received). In the end he didn’t convince me that he should be a representative of the people in front of him, and not just a face on the Tory bench (but perhaps again I may be overly biased).
Now for the debate:
G: The party is about more than just the environment, but everything in reality comes back to environmental issues.
L: She emphasized her qualifications, talked about a “bold, progressive vision” versus a “narrow right wing” idea and kind of played on the Liberals as the ‘natural ruling party of Canada’ idea.
C: (someone catcalled “Jaffer” before he started) His intro mentioned how he was “right in the middle of this debate” trying to allude that he’s not as anti-progressive or right wing as many perceive the Conservatives. He talked about choosing between the economy and other “high risk” choices. He also mentioned how he had done stuff for families and students.
M: Decried all the other parties as being fuelled by businesses and serving the rich and promoting “fascism.” He also called for “democratic renewal” and giving individuals the ability to actually talk and control the government.
N: She led off with “I’m looking forward to replacing the current member for Edmonton-Strathcona,” and talking about “real change.” She received the most initial applause.
The first question dealt with the US financial bailout and what should we be doing in Canada.
N: Said we needed to reverse policies that the current government is enacting that mirror the situation in the US. We should also invest in a green economy, stop the flow of energy to the US and reassess the regulations on banks in Canada.
M: We need to stop paying out the rich and start funding social programs. If companies/banks fail the government should seize their assets rather than buy them out. Monopolies should be restricted (this was a common trend on his answers), and the financial reserve system (esp. in the US) needs to be disassembled.
C: Claimed that a NDP government would cause an economical failure (was met with heavy “booing”). Claimed we needed balance (Jaffer’s buzzword number 1), and that Canada didn’t have the same problems and our economy is sound.
L: Bragged about the Liberal ability to go from deficit to surplus from Mulroney to Martin. Sort of emphasizing the past strength of the Liberal economic policy (although that was almost a decade ago now).
G: Agreed that some measures exist already to protect Canada but we should be looking at long-term green/innovation/sustainable ideas for a new economy (green economy came up lots between the N/G/L).
N: The $50 billion corporate tax cut would be given back to communities instead. (Linda repeated a lot of NDP policy early in the debate whereas the G and M gave a lot of personal opinions, L and C stuck to party lines as well).
M: We are in a financial crisis – rising rents, the boom, no manufacturing jobs and an unsustainable economy.
C: Criticized N for raising corporate taxes (noticed that’s not exactly Ns position) which would damage the already weak manufacturing base. Claimed Canada was 4th place in corporate taxation.
L: Supports a “strong private sector” (read: this L is not very left) and promoted the Green Shift to tax polluters.
G: Are the only party with long term goals.
Comment on 1 aspect of the economy that’s a prime concern
M: An entirely integrated social economy with complete control by the people. He also was worried about the tar sands (I’ll generally use the phrasing the candidate used with respect to tar versus oil sands, it may not be 100% accurate though).
C: The current labout and workforce demands are too high. AB has not kept up and we need more immigration and temporary foreign workers (TFW) (a hot topic later in the debate).
L: New technology on climate change and money for new manufacturing jobs.
G: Getting a greener future through waste biofuels, alternative energy sources, etc.
N: The green economy, which leads to health care, environment and education. Also repeated emphasis about stopping corporate tax cuts.
M: Asked why there are more TFWs than immigrants.
C: Talked about 400,000 new people (nationally in the past two years), some TFW, some landed immigrants. Wants to move so TFW can apply for residency after 2 years (a lot of heckling going on over this issue – the audience was not impressed with Jaffer or the current situation).
L: The UofA is a good centre for future green research. Also promised $200 million over 4 years for language training (among other things) for TFW
G: We shouldn’t be measuring success by the GDP alone – very shortsighted.
N: Also forgot to talk about the aboriginal communities which provide an untapped resource and further education needs to be provided to get them into schools.
How will each party address difficulties for low income students?
C: Social transfers to the provinces have been increased (to let the provinces deal with it), tax credits for text books, and $1 billion for low income grants to pay off loans.
L: Increased support by replacing tax credits with money for bursaries and research. Tax credits were no good for students.
G: Education is a right no matter the financial ability. We need grants to reflect the costs. Wants a 50% waiver on student loans upon graduation and further expansion of training for the green economy.
N: Equal access and job choices should be emphasized. We’ve had 12 years of Liberal promises about education. N has tabled the Post-Secondary Education (PSE) Act which gives accountable money to provinces to address issues. And a $1000 grant per student per year.
M: Education is a right. He was a student for 8 years (laughs in audience), but got “a couple of degrees.” Emphasized that we had to find the money for education, no ifs ands or buts. Free universal access.
C: Discussed expanded grant funding: $250/mo. to low income families, $100/mo. for mid-income.
L: The L started the Millenium Scholarship Fund (which the C killed, I think).
G: Challenged the other parties to waive half of student loans.
N: More support for tuition, housing, transit and new families (incl. child care).
M: Business parties are still all talk.
A question on the rising cost of text books and academic materials and what parties would do.
L: Bursaries, grants and student loans are in the plan.
G: Look at the actual cost of product, and see if there are problems in the industry (the closest answer to what students want to hear).
N: Textbooks aren’t the biggest issue but with a $1000 grant up front to help. Also should promote online course material (this issue is not at the front of Linda or the N’s platform, but to be fair it isn’t on anyones, perhaps the publishing lobby is huge?)
M: Disband the publishing monopolies and create public publishing houses (I suppose this would work for students). Was a student too and understands needs.
C: Mentioned that he’s taking a part-time MBA, so he understands student needs too (no one asked how you can be a student and effective politician at the same time). Also, textbook tax credit that helps (rich?) parents who can claim the cost.
L: Students need to organize themselves and get profs to allow use of old editions (too bad the publishers don’t continually publish old editions usually)
G: Admitted the L plan didn’t deal with it and the real issue should be addressed.
N: The cost of books in minimal relative to the rest of university costs ($1000 on top of a $5000 tuition is not a small chunk of change unfortunately, this was the N weak point, IMO).
M: “Rahim is not one of you” to the audience. The students need to select an agenda, find a candidate and get him/her elected (some yelled “that sounds like democracy”).
C: PSE infrastructure has been improved through federal transfers and students/parents can save up to $5000 tax free (unfotunately, that’s only tuition for 1 year).
One feature of your environment plan the other parties don’t have.
G: Starts with “carbon-tax”… (looks at L) “shift” combined with a cap and trade system.
N: Climate change accountability act already passed. Wants to fuse energy and environment, green jobs and a new strategy on the economy and a new renewable energy agency.
M: The role of first nations as protectors of the environment – they never agreed to land pillaging by the big monopolies.
C: Air quality targets for 2015, cur absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, and the need to balance the economy and the environment.
L: The Green Shift – not a tax, a revenue neutral plan.
G: We haven’t yet met Kyoto so C can’t talk (not so blunt, but the gist).
N: No more tar sands approvals (applause), do health studies and wait for proof that we can reasonably expand (if we do).
M: No more approvals, but there’s already far too many plans already approved!
C: There was no plan to deal with Kyoto, but there’s a need to balance (next debate play the Jaffer drinking game – every time he doesn’t answer a question, uses the word balance, or streamline, drink. Bonus all-party drinks: every time the word “green” is used).
L: We must act now, and L is the only party that can do both the economy and green – not a contradiction.
Thoughts on the Climate Change Accountability Act
N: First country in the world to make binding targets, this sets the tone on the world stage.
M: Not informed enough to answer (I really appreciated his brief honesty here, although you do want informed politicians, honest is better than snakey BS).
C: No plan to meet targets or ideas of how much it will cost when it was passed (except it was C in power when it passed).
L: Have own plan, benefits low income families the most while costing large polluters.
G: Beyong binding targets we need to tax and limit pollution.
N: C wants the future we bear costs, but the N will fix the environment now.
M: Public must discuss these things, not business parties (Marxist drinking game: every time “business parties”, “the rich” or “monopolies are mentioned as the root of all problems).
C: Have encouraged developing countries to go greener (which ones? not China, India), and there have been new investments in transit.
L: Cap and trade is too slow and the L will later implement, taxes are needed now.
G: Use a combination to achieve short and long term goals.
Health care wait times and access
M: Stop the rich and fund social programs. Move health care to the government from the rich (although we already have public health care, perhaps he should have been arguing that we should just throw the monopolies money – not monopoly money – at hospitals).
C: Patient wait times guaranteed with all provinces. Also there has been more funding for native reserves healthcare.
L: The L passed the Canada Health Act (in 1984, ironically – but what’s more, why are they using things they did 24 years ago as reasons to vote for them?) and they would implement a national drug plan and get more doctors and nurses out.
G: She has been a health care practitioner as an optometrist in AB and MB. Wants to well-care over sickcare, so improvements to air/water/soil quality and a national pharmacare program.
N: 5 million Canadians don’t have a family doctor, including her. We need to hire and educate more doctors and nurses. Also emphasized Jordan’s Principle for first nation’s children.
M: Canada Health Act doesn’t cover enough (glasses, etc.)
C: Natural Health Products should have a third category (no they shouldn’t, but people like to think that natural = better for no reason) and C-51 was ammended to reflect constiuents wishes.
L: Would cover more under the Canada Health Act by talking with provinces.
G: Alternative medicines have a place in medicine (I think this got some applause, but I was annoyed) and we need to remove barriers to getting more foreign doctors.
N: Agree that we need more foreign doctors. Wait times have been increasing. And it was originally Tommy Douglas who brought universal health care.
How to tackle large student debt
C: Streamlined loan programs for easier repayments and a grant (making it easier to get or pay a loan is not the same as tackling student debt – the answer to debt is not more, perhaps the C don’t have a shit clue how economics work!).
L: Irrelevant tax credits need to go, implement lower loan rates, longer grace periods, grants, bursaries.
G: Education is an investment – 50% loan waived.
N: Tired of hearing these false promises. The N proposed the PSE Act to hold promises accountable.
M: “Why shouldn’t education be free?” – get engineering companies to pay for engineers… and doctors!
C: Wish there was no cost to education, but for now will provide easier loans.
L: The grants are 4 times per year and further investment in the arts.
G: The C plan is ineffective.
N: Affordability once you’re in is one thing, but what about those who can’t even afford to get to university? More support for families and communities.
M: Talk doesn’t turn into action.
What is your personal philosophy on abortion and taser guns (meant as separate issues)?
C: Abortion and euthanasia are settled and no plans to reopen (catcalls for not giving his views). And for tasers the use has been abused and we need to “streamline training” (not sure how that makes it safer – perhaps he was on the streamline train).
L: Dion is pro-choice (all parties except C affirm pro-choice), but we’re waiting to hear on Harper. Unsure on L taser policy.
G: “No tasers on pregnant women.” Some use is justified.
N: Stricter controls on tasers needed.
M: “RCMP have murdered” too many people. This is police brutality (really? coming from the communist?) and we need a full taser ban.
Steve Melenchuk asked what the positions were on dead Bill C-61, which dealt with copyright reform.
C: Any reform needs to emphasize balance. This bill was a first crack at this issue and reform attempts are not over.
M: Would “entrench monopoly rights” over media and intellecutal property (IP). We should have no legislation here.
N: The N led the opposition to the bill, exposed data throttling by internet companies and we also need to protect individual artists. (Steve commented after that this was the best answer he has heard to date on the issue).
G: Opposed to some international copyright treaty (I wasn’t familiar with this point), and should remove the blank media levy.
L: Favoured protecting IP, but should overhaul the bill
Jaffer’s staff has been rude to the Social Justice Forum scheduled for Oct. 9 – how does he expect to win like this?
C: A mix up in communications from multiple Social Justice groups (blame the victim?), there was something else on that night, and the question set up false biased pretexts.
If the NDP advocates a complete ban on handguns how will it compensate citizens?
N: No constitutional right to bare arms, crime has been falling but violent crime is up. (Not an exact answer, a bit weak here).
M: The issues is complex – poverty is a key factor, as well as access to guns.
C: The gun registry was criminalizing law-followers and a ban won’t work.
L: Police liked the gun registry and these issues are complex.
G: There’s no reason for personal handguns in the public.
Will candidates abolish temporary foreign worker programs and give them permanent status?
G: It’s a “shameful program”, they don’t have the same rights and we need to look to immigration instead.
L: Make it easier to integrate.
C: Supported the TFW program as there is labour to be filled and this is the only way. The abused cases are in the minority overall.
M: It should be abolished. The current labour shortage is due to Canadians not being willing to work for the pay the corporations are offering (this was one of his best answers).
M: Should be abolished. They can’t bring their families, they get bad housing, etc. The tar sands need to be slowed down.
On the Conservative environment record, what has been accomplished?
C: Mandatory renewable fuel content regulations, efficiency requirements (for appliances I think), upgrades and retrofits, but huge change can’t come overnight.
G: Change only happens overnight if we start right now (a good response for an evening debate).
N: Agrees with G, need to act now, the L and C slow things and need to hold gov’t accountable to law.
M: We should move beyond schemes to pay the rich to be green. The capital exists for these changes to occur without people paying for it.
Janelle Morin, SU President, asked if they will support a pan-Canadian PSE policy.
L: The Green Shift requires research and development and education (not exactly the right idea I think).
C: Sounds good, but likely will take work. Would be willing to work with SU execs to enact something.
M: Federal government should take a role in PSE.
N: Proposed the PSE act – it is a federal responsibilit too.
G: Unsure of policy, but presonally thought the idea was “brilliant”.
How will Canada act to resolve the crisis in Darfur?
C: Helped fund groups to try to acheive peace.
M: Our role in Afghanistan is US hired guns (to catcalls on “opium”, which I found a bit rude, if you had a question about his policy – or the G opium policy – ask a question). We should have no interventionist policies. No wars.
N: Favoured for getting more attention and pressing for UN actions.
G: We have a role to play in Darfur.
L: Canada needs more prominence in international affairs – listen to Bob Rae tomorrow.
Aboriginal work programs
C: Engage and employ the underemployed – fund organizations that give skills.
M: Sovereignty of First Nations is important. End collonial justice and live up to our obligations. Need a new constitution between Canada, Quebec and the First Nations.
N: Give a lot more to help them get jobs and contribute, etc.
How to end child poverty
M: Serious issue – must go beyond tax benefits – no child poverty under a controlled economy.
N: Reduce by 50% by 2013. Every child has a right.
G: Carbon tax shift reduces payroll / income taxes, and introduced income splitting.
L: The 50-30 plan (reduce child poverty by half and general poverty by a third) in the Green Shift, $1225 per family per year, more childcare spaces.
C: Working income tax benefit introduced, increased tax credits and the (slowly) implementing universal child care benefit.
A transgendered queer man asked how they would work to end transphobia in schools as his son had to quit after abuse in grade 9.
N: Long standing party committee for LGBTQ rights, and ful support behind the issue.
G: No discrimination in the party, and everything possible should be done.
L: Tried to instill diginity for all people as a teacher in school. We need further education not (just) legislation.
C: Abuse is unacceptable (says the guy who voted against gay marriage?), would be happy to discuss implemention.
M: Sees abuse in school as a teacher himself – more resources are needed for teachers.
Someone questioned Rahim’s pamphletting the constituency through the year as a waste of tax dollars.
C: There’s a board of interenal economy in Ottawa so it’s allowed. It’s also the cheapest form of reporting and it’s not as bad as N Jack Layton’s direct mailings.
L: Not reports from Ottawa – very partisan, and how did Layton get her address?
G: The G budget is 5% of the C – oppose all materials (I thought this would be a good chance to oppose on an environmental ground, but they didn’t go that way).
N: This “trash literature” is backfiring for Jaffer.
M: The business parties are abusing the state treasury. We should “fund the process, not the parties” and provide a “level playing field” (I liked these ideas a lot).
“Women’s equality” was removed from a report – do women’s rights matter?
G: Clearly she believes in by running and isn’t sitting home watching debates.
L: Absolutely, over 1/3 of Liberal candidates are women (I like this, but I am somewhat opposed to affirmative action on principle).
C: There’s no Charter breakdown into men vs. women so likely the document was trying to be inclusive.
M: Absolutely, the Charter doesn’t tell us how to guarantee the rights of women though.
N: Absolutely, and C removed the court challenge program that enforces the rights enshrined in the Charter.
For Linda: Won’t slowing or stopping (as Layton wants to do) the oil sands cost jobs and the economy?
N: Was on plane with Layton and people need to stop spreading lies – he never said “stop.” There are no federal powers to do that. Advocate for no new approvals, and the economy has already stopped any new jobs from being filled (not enough workers). (I also don’t get why people keep blasting the NDP for this, Layton never said “shut it all down” and the economy can survive a slowdown).
M: Not a question of jobs, we need to stop exporting raw oil to US – all industry should be in Canada and we should nationalize oil companies.
C: Some say stop in NDP in BC, but it is possible to balance. The N is “narrow and unrealistic”.
L: Greener environment and prosperous economy are not incompatible.
G: Not only party to advocate slow down, a moratorium is needed. And the word “tar” shouldn’t really be used. (Never thought I’d hear a G say we should call it oil sands over tar sands).
One person had tried to contact by email and phone and failed to reach Jaffer or get an answer?
C: Takes pride in his job and tried to get through all requests.
M: Goes door-to-door hearing bad stories about Jaffer. No base or connection with people and treats them just as a vote bank.
We should invest in the arts, but the C advocate cuts.
C: “Streamline” funding, cuts were made to certain programming. Canada Arts Council grants are up.
M: They’re attempting to impose Harper’s view of Canadian Values on us.
N: Stunned to see defense of cuts when there’s tons of artists in this community. Arts can generate upwards of a million dollars for the economy (number may be off).
G: Agreed, opposed C-10, the bill restricting films deemed offensive.
L: Concurs – insulted by comments that “arts are for the elite” and that “arts and culture are important for the imagination” with hand motions to her head.
G: Need to move from the idea that we can permanently exapnd. Need long term environmental and economic viability.
L: Centre seat is for the Liberals and there’s a future for green economics.
C: Thanks for “warmth” – noted that earlier the West wanted in with the Reform (I think he was attempting to allude to the ‘vote for me if you want a voice in government’ that ran the provincial PC campaigns, but he was interupted by catcalls). He noted that he was thankful to be an MP as the son of a refugee (attempt for pity vote?).
M: There are still lines at the mics and we need to keep up the discussion. Harper called this “self-serving election” to get a majority. We need to hold these discussions on our own terms.
N: There’s 2 chocies: “a Harper majority” or “real change.”
Finally, a few people tried to get a ABC chant at the end. There was definitely a strong anti-Jaffer voice there.
Roy seemed to be going after Jaffer’s vote more than Linda’s. Thrall was setting her party to be the one not in the squabbles. Jaffer was trying to portray the Conservatives as the safe economic bet. And Linda lined it up as her or Jaffer.
Perhaps by going more on the right Roy can sap some support from Jaffer and scare some of her more left-leaning support into Linda’s camp and change the election that way.
The leader’s forum is Thursday, and although I likely won’t blog it like this I may give some impressions the day after.