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Federal candidates debate social justice issues in Bay of Quinte riding

Federal candidates from the Bay of Quinte talk about youth, indigenous people, affordable housing, healthcare and much more.  Photo by Rhythm Rathi

By Rhythm Rathi [1]

BELLEVILLE – Wednesday night’s debate organized by Youth2Youth Hastings [2] and the United Way Hastings and Prince Edward [3] got every federal candidate from the Bay of Quinte riding talking about issues related to social justice.

These issues included mental health, income security, housing, COVID-19 recovery, student debt, unemployment, isolation and human equity. 

The questions reflected the prospective of youth and the challenges created by the pandemic. They came from people in the community who are struggling with difficult circumstances and organizations that support them.

One of the major highlights of the debate was when the candidates were asked to speak about affordable housing and homelessness, where the recent Hastings County study on the topic was highlighted by moderator Ed Bentley.

According to a recent study 85 percent of people in Belleville experiencing homelessness listed unaffordable rents as the cause said, Bentley.

Every candidate shared their thoughts and their party’s plans to make housing affordable and accessible.

“What needs to happen first is that we declare an unaffordable housing crisis in Canada,” said Erica Charlton, the Green Party candidate.

“At that point, we can appoint a Minister of Housing, who is going to be accountable for resolving these issues for us while we work over all of our initiatives,” she said.

She further added, “we are going to need all levels of government working together to come up with a plan.” she backed her statement up by saying that the plan is needed because “we are going to need diverse types of housing.”

PPC candidate Janine LeClerc said their party wants to ban foreign nationals from purchasing real estate in Canada not just for two years but forever.

She added that non-Canadian permanent residents must be taxed higher after doing a municipal assessment of their property value, making it certainly expensive for them to hold property.

“So they must either rent it to Canadians or rush to sell it to Canadians,” said LeClerc. 

Ellis said his party has launched Canada’s National Housing Plan.

“We partner with Hastings County, the survey and the study that was done last week was federally funded … our goal across Canada is to cut chronic homelessness in half by 2035,” he said.

Moderator Bentley also brought up the topic of social and economic inequities faced by many Indigenous communities after the discovery of unmarked mass graves of Indigenous children at former residential schools.

Each candidate spoke about their party’s plans for truth and reconciliation addressing these social and economic inequities faced by First Nations.

They spoke about how their party is committed to creating a culture that provides protection and fair opportunity for all Canadians.

LeClerc from the PPC had a strong emotion in her voice as she condemned this “murderous outrage,” pointing towards the discovery of unmarked mass graves.

“I am a mother at heart,” said LeClerc. “This can never happen in our country again, this should have never happened in our country.”

Williams spoke about how his party is committed to help the Indigenous communities and also said they are going to develop community-based marine fishers in the north, “which will help create employment and fight local and regional food insecurity,” he added.

NDP candidate Bell speaking about the reconciliation said that an Indigenous voice is needed to better understand the issues faced by the Indigenous communities and help them more.

Charlton from the Green Party highlighted how the Indigenous communities are affected more by the climate crisis.

“One of our first agreements was to take care of the land and to take care of the people and if we are not going to do that first, we can’t have these conversations about what we are going to do next,” said Charlton.

She also supported Bell’s point about not having the representation of the people that they are talking about.

Following this, the candidates spoke about their party’s plans about pandemic recovery, poverty, gender equality and supporting the vulnerable groups of the society.

These groups included the youth, women and those who are precariously employed and people living in poverty.

The candidates talked about the social and economic divisions exposed by the pandemic. Here, the candidates spoke about their party’s recovery plans and agenda to ensure that no one gets left behind.

LeClerc talked about ending lockdowns and supporting small businesses.

The Conservatives took the affordability angle where Williams mentioned tackling inflation. 

“We are the only party that is committed to reduce the debt (and) balance the budget in 10 years but significantly reduce it in next five years,” said Williams.

NDP candidate Bell said that large corporations that made huge money during the pandemic must be taxed more.

While the Green Party candidate Charlton talked about having a proportionate distribution of wealth ,which had Bell from the NDP nodding her head in agreement.

Ellis mentioned that during the tough times of the pandemic the Liberal Party launched the Emergency Community Response Fund which was administered through organizations like the United Way.

“A core function of our Liberal plan, building back better. Ensuring no one gets left behind is fundamental to my role as your member of Parliament,” said Ellis. 

Moderator Bentley’s list also included a question suggesting what we’re going through at the moment might create what is called a lockdown generation and what would each party do to restore a sense of hope in young people?

One by one each candidate took a run at this question.

LeClerc said she’s heard about the increased suicide and depression rates amongst teenagers during the pandemic.

She said when someone is depressed it is better to see somebody face to face and Zoom sessions do not help the same way. She mentioned that her party wants to work with organizations that are already established in reaching out to the youth.

“We want to know what they say because we care and we think that they deserve a voice,” added LeClerc.

Ellis spoke about the role young people have played in his life and how he started a youth committee when he was the mayor of Belleville.

He said when first ran for MP he realized that the Prime Minister cared about the youth and wanted their input.

“He appointed a Minister of Youth,” said Ellis.

He then spoke about their party’s youth-funded projects. 

Williams said, “We need to have youth involved at every aspect because every problem that exists across this whole region for normal individuals, it also includes all of our youth.”

He also added that as a member of Parliament he will be as engaged as possible and as active as possible to work with any organization that is working for the youth to resolve these problems.

“We have to really start listening more and we need to start acting more,” he said.

Full recording [4] of the debate can be found on United Way Hastings and Prince Edward [3]‘s Facebook page.