North Hat­ley de­bate gets lively

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier North Hat­ley

Last Thurs­day’s po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates de­bate at North Hat­ley’s Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist Church was lively, draw­ing a ‘stand­ing room only’ crowd of over one hun­dred. Bloc Que­be­cois France Bon­sant, Lib­eral Wil­liam Hogg, Gary Cald­well for the Greens and Con­ser­va­tive San­drine Gres­sard Be­langer were there with this year’s ‘no-show’ be­ing the NDP can­di­date, Jean Rousseau, who couldn’t at­tend be­cause of his work sched­ule.

Jaime Dun­ton, the mod­er­a­tor of the de­bate, read a brief mes­sage from Mr. Rousseau, ex­plain­ing his ab­sence. Then, get­ting things off to a good demo­cratic start, Mr. Dun­ton polled the au­di­ence to see how many would have trou­ble un­der­stand­ing English or French, re­sult­ing in a some­what bilin­gual de­bate.

Mrs. Bon­sant was the first to read an open­ing state­ment, do­ing so in French: “I’m run- ning a cam­paign about the is­sues, close to the peo­ple.” Men­tion­ing our forestry, au­to­mo­bile and agri­cul­tural sec­tors, she said that On­tario and the West are favoured by Ot­tawa. The Bloc depu- ty some­times switched to English fur­ther in the de­bate.

Mr. Hogg spoke in both English and French: “I’ve worked the ter­ri­tory since 2009...I’ve had ques-

tions asked in the House of Com­mons and met with thirty MPs in the last few years.”

Also speak­ing bilin­gually, Mr. Cald­well drew the first laughs from the au­di­ence when he wel­comed the Con­ser­va­tive can­di­date to the de­bate, say­ing: “The last Con­ser­va­tive wasn’t al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate!” He went on to stress the im­por­tance of a green econ­omy, men­tion­ing the suc­cess of his own ‘green’ busi­ness.

“Peo­ple who know me were sur­prised that I am a Con­ser­va­tive but I be­lieve they have the most bal­anced pro­grams, laws, bills and I’ll demon­strate that tonight,” said Mrs. Gres­sard Be­langer who was par­tic­i­pat­ing in her “first ever life­time de­bate” and also spoke French and English.

Mr. Dun­ton asked the first ques­tion which re­volved around Bill C 393 which would al­low peo­ple in third world coun­tries ac­cess to Cana­dian generic medicines to com­bat AIDS, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, malaria and other dis­eases. Mr. Cald­well spoke first say­ing: “We should re­mem­ber that the tax­pay­ers pay half of the re­search costs of these drugs.” “In the Bloc we rec­og­nize the need for these drugs and we pre­sented an amend­ment to the bill but the Con­ser­va­tives went against it,” said Mrs. Bon­sant. Mrs. Gres­sard Be­langer ad­mit­ted that she was sur­prised that the first ques­tion was about Africa. “We have other pri­or­i­ties here, like in Stanstead, to make sure peo­ple have food on the ta­ble.” “Mrs. Gres­sard Be­langer doesn’t know where she is,” said Mr. Hogg, re­fer­ring to the UU Church and its in­ter­est in hu­man rights around the world. He then men­tioned for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Chre­tien’s strong in­volve­ment in African de­vel­op­ment, adding: “That fo­cus has been lost since Harper has been in power.”

The sec­ond ques­tion came from the au­di­ence and asked the politi­cians what they would do to help the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion of one in­come or one par­ent fam­i­lies. Mr. Hogg spoke about eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment be­ing the key, also bring­ing up el­e­ments of the Lib­eral plat­form such as more money for se­niors and nat­u­ral care­givers, as well as gen­er­ous amounts of money ($4000 to $6000) for stu­dents to con­tinue their ed­u­ca­tion. Men­tion­ing Stanstead for the sec­ond time, Mrs. Gres­sard Be­langer said peo­ple are telling her that pro­grams don’t re­spond to ru­ral needs and she would try to at­tract in­vestors to the re­gion. Mrs. Bon­sant spoke about the Bloc’s fight to de­fend the rights of the unem­ployed and the Bloc’s strat­egy to pro­tect aging work­ers. Mr. Cald­well spoke of peo­ple “as­sum­ing their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties” and said that “child­care has gone too far” and he would pre­fer that fam­ily al­lowances were more gen­er­ous.

When the next ques­tion came up, about Canada’s po­si­tion on the ex­por­ta­tion of drink­ing wa­ter, most of the can­di­dates were against the bulk ex­por­ta­tion of wa­ter and the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to com­mer­cial­ize wa­ter. When the Con­ser­va­tive can­di­date an­swered “We’re com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing wa­ter and ecosys­tems; the Con­ser­va­tives will not do crazy things with wa­ter”, there was an au­di­ble groan from the au­di­ence with sev­eral queries of “What about the tar sands?”

The en­vi­ron­ment was the topic af­ter a young woman from the au­di­ence asked why none of the par­ties had “piggy-backed” with the Green party, which re­ceived al­most a mil­lion votes in the last elec­tion. “We have an en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenge and if we don’t meet that chal­lenge, we’re fin­ished...En­vi­ron­ment is not an is­sue in this elec­tion; we’re re­ced­ing. Peo­ple can make it an is­sue by vot­ing for the Green party. And you don’t have to worry about the Con­ser­va­tive get­ting in here – the Bloc is go­ing to win. So if the en­vi­ron­ment is a moral is­sue for you, vote for the Green Party,” said Mr. Cald­well with his usual frank­ness. Mr Hogg com­mented: “We need en­vi­ron­men­tal laws and to in­vest in re­search and de­vel­op­ment, al­ter­nate en­er­gies. We need a bal­ance be­tween eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and sus­tain­able use of nat­u­ral sur­round­ings.”

Stanstead East’s Ge­orge Weller, who was in the long line of cit­i­zens wait­ing for their turn at the mi­cro­phone, asked: “How many of you sup­port the CanUsa Pro­ject – the pro­ject that would al­low any­one legally in Canada or the United States to freely cross the bor­der?” Mr. Cald­well spoke about the shared cul­tures of New Eng­land and Que­bec, men­tion­ing in par­tic­u­lar the Amer­i­can Tillotson Fam­ily who re­cently do­nated a moun­tain to the vil­lages of Ste. Hermenegilde and East Here­ford. And he knows first­hand how the tighter bor­der can com­pli­cate mat­ters: one of his em­ploy­ees has just been barred from en­ter­ing the United States for five years.

Mr. Hogg, who at­tended the first CanUsa Pro­ject meet­ing, said: “If Harper gets in he will con­tinue to close borders, like the one in Beebe. We need to keep borders fluid and friendly.” “It’s not true that we’re clos­ing borders. The CanUsa Pro­ject is a very good pro­ject and I will back that. There were rea­sons why some borders closed,” coun­tered the Con­ser­va­tive.

“The prob­lem started when the Lib­er­als closed the RCMP post in Coat­i­cook. Eight Bloc de­putees have borders in their rid­ings so we vis­ited the Amer­i­can Am­bas­sadors and ex­plained that some of the borders were clos­ing. They didn’t know about it,” said Mrs. Bon­sant.

The loud­est ap­plause of the evening came af­ter a ques­tion about corruption and the lack of bid­ding on con­tracts, when Mr. Cald­well com­mented: “This gov­ern­ment is not re­spect­ing democ­racy. They’re will­ing to go to any means to the ends and you should throw the b******* out and elect some­one else!” Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Hogg, the price tag for the F35 jets that were or­dered by the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment with­out go­ing to bids could ap­proach $40 bil­lion. “There was no bid­ding be­cause we are or­der­ing them with other coun­tries,” ex­plained Mrs. Gres­sard Be­langer.

At 9:00 pm, when the de­bate was sup­posed to end, those who were still in line and hadn’t had a chance to ask their ques­tions, as well as a few in the au­di­ence, got quite vo­cal, so the can­di­dates agreed to con­tinue a lit­tle longer. The is­sues of form­ing a coali­tion gov­ern­ment to oust the Con­ser­va­tives, pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion and the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana were all brought up, draw­ing some sur­pris­ing an­swers out of the vis­i­bly tired can­di­dates. “Mar­i­juana is not the same to­day as it was 20 years ago,” said the Con­ser­va­tive who was then asked if she had tried it. “Not re­cently, but a long time ago maybe.” Mr. Hogg men­tioned the Young Lib­er­als and their in­ter­est in the de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana. Mrs. Bon­sant said she was for de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing mar­i­juana for med­i­cal rea­sons, as long as it’s not sup­plied by the Hell’s An­gels, and got the last laugh from the crowd when she con­cluded with: “One joint, one at a time, never killed any­body!”

Jaime Dun­ton (cen­tre) mod­er­ated the de­bate of the four can­di­dates (l. to r.) Bon­sant, Wil­liam Hogg, Gary Cald­well and San­drine Gres­sard Be­langer.

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