Federal candidates face off over social issues

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by Vance Gutzman

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown twists into many parts of our everyday lives, including the current federal election campaign.

In past campaigns it’s been tradition for all-candidates meetings to be held live and in-person, but social-gathering restrictions have rendered that a thing of the past this year.

Nonetheless, a meeting of the candidates running for election in Renfrew Nipissing Pembroke did take place last week. 

Focusing on social issues, the debate was hosted virtually by the group Ottawa Valley Against Racial Discrimination, along with the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County, and moderated by Cindy Tran, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation journalist who grew up in Pembroke. 

“This is all about having a conversation,” said Duane Gastant Aucoin, one of the organizers of the debate.

Aucoin noted at the outset of the meeting that all five candidates running for election in this riding had been invited to take part, although incumbent Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant and People’s Party of Canada candidate David Ainsworth did not respond to their respective invitations.

Those who were on hand for the debate were Green Party candidate Michael Lariviere, Liberal candidate Cyndi Mills, Independent candidate Stefan Klietsch and New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Jodie Primeau.

The candidates were asked a number of questions, including what they would do, if elected, to make the Black, Indigenous and other People of Colour (BIPOC) population in this riding feel safer.

Klietsch said he’s pushing for reforms to Canada’s political system with a goal to accomplishing that.

“I believe making our economic and political institutions egalitarian and competitive will indirectly benefit BIPOC people in our riding,” the Independent candidate said, adding the status quo system discriminates and people with lower incomes.

Liberal candidate Mills said “no one should be treated differently in this country.”

“We’re all from somewhere,” she said. “I’m about inclusion for everybody.”

Mills, meanwhile, was placed on the defensive when Tran noted in a question to the candidates that the governing Liberals have promised help to provide clean drinking water for Indigenous people, yet many reserves in the country are still dealing with that problem.

“The Liberal Party has made progress,” Mills said in her party’s defence, noting that 109 water advisories have been lifted since the Liberals came to power in 2015.

“But there’s still more work to be done,” she added. “I want to make sure we take this to the finish line.”

NDP candidate Jodie Primeau took a more direct to the question.

“We need action right here in Renfrew County and the Ottawa Valley,” Primeau responded.

“We have communities right here that don’t have access to clean drinking water. We need clear action to do something this year, not at some indeterminate time in the future.”

Primeau, meanwhile, was asked how the legal system could be reformed in terms of ways of helping people to report hate crimes.

“What we need to do in the Ottawa Valley is start to create a record,” said the Deep River native who runs a law practice here in town.

“I want to begin to record those experiences in a meaningful way.”

Green Party candidate Lariviere responded to the candidate in reference to Canada’s Indigenous people.

“All they’re asking for is to have their land and tribal rights recognized,” he said.

“The glacial speed at which this is going is never going to get resolved.”

Among other questions, candidates were asked what steps they would take to combat domestic violence and abuse.

“We need to reshape our economic institutions so anybody who wants to get out of an abusive relationship can do so, and keep resources and property in the process,” Klietsch responded.

Primeau suggested the issue is more complex than that.

“If a woman wants to leave an abusive relationship and get into community housing with her children, they’re looking at two years before they can get into emergency housing,” Primeau said.

Voters will go to the polls Monday to choose the next Member of Parliament for the riding.

Gallant, who has represented the riding since the year 2000, won the last federal vote in October 2019 by almost 19,000 votes, taking 52 per cent of the ballots cast against five opponents.

Gallant finished the count with 31,080 votes out of 59,957 ballots cast.

Liberal candidate Ruben Marini finished second with 11,532, while Eileen Jones-Whyte won 8,786 for the NDP.

Across the riding, voter turnout was approximately 69 per cent.

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