North Hatley debate gets lively
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.