The final federal debate before the Oct. 21 election for Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte candidates took centre stage last night.
BarrieToday was part of the televised debate's panel that asked all five candidates a series of questions at the forum hosted by the Barrie Chamber of Commerce.
In the wake of the ongoing opioid crisis, BarrieToday asked where we as a society were lacking in the battle against addictions and overdoses and how each candidate’s party would help.
The Green Party's Marty Lancaster said his party would put the negative focus on the drug, and not the person addicted to it.
“We need to criminalize the chemical, not the people," he said. "The people need to be treated with a drug-rehabilitation program, not being made criminals. Fentanyl is a crime, not the person.”
David Patterson, from the People's Party, agreed the drug’s use is at an all-time high, but believes it's buried in the “fake” news of environmental issues.
“The fentanyl crisis is a crisis. No one has died from climate change in the past 50 years and no one will in the next 50 years,” Patterson said. “This is a serious crisis and no one has a plan for that. None of these parties up here have presented a plan, including my own.
“The media plays a role because the media is focusing on the fake climate-change crisis instead of the real problems in our country," he added.
The NDP's Dan Janssen took a different approach in how they would help the epidemic.
“I think the best way to address the opioid crisis is with care and compassion,” Janssen said. “There is a human impact to this issue and it's affecting our neighbours, our friends and our families.
“Our party is going to support municipalities who want to create safe consumption sites and we’re going to make sure we make and evidence-based response," he added. "We’ll look at what Simcoe Muskoka health unit has put forth and listening to the experts and moving forward to what they’re saying.”
The Conservatives' Doug Shipley said that, with his time on city council, he heard from a doctor who believed the crisis would be with us for seven generations.
“We need to start looking at it as an addiction issue, not a criminal one, and get these people some help,” said Shipley. “A lot of these people who are addicted have some things in their background that they need help with and we need to help them deal with them.”
The Liberals' Brian Kalliecharan agreed the issue is a big one. His party plans to try to hit the drug at its source.
“We’ve increased funding on border crossings to ensure that we intercept illegal fentanyl,” said Kalliecharan. “We’re also increasing support for our communities for safe consumption sites.”
BarrieToday's follow-up question asked how each candidate would help people who are living on the margins and requiring support from local shelters.
Lancaster said politicians need to “start talking to them, listening to them and finding what their needs are and get them housing, that is number one.”
Shipley agreed the crisis was dire and that help “has to come from all three levels of government and has to be a buy-in from everybody.”
He also stated there were two issues downtown, one being the homelessness and addiction problem, and the other being to make the area flourish.
“There are some businesses downtown that are suffering right now. We need more support down there. We need to push a little of the positive, too, because there are some good things going on.”
Lancaster pointed out to Shipley that most of his answer spoke about business, asking why the Ward 3 councillor voted against the safe consumption site (SCS) in downtown Barrie.
“Most of your answer focused on business, I think you missed the question,” said Lancaster.
The Conservative party representative made it very clear where he stood on an SCS, an issue which is currently before city council.
“I’m for a safe consumption site, we need it badly,” said Shipley. “I changed my mind and used to be dead-set against it. When I ran (municipally) last time, I said I wouldn’t approve it. Then I researched and went to them and now I’m for it. It just has to be in the right location, Marty.”
Another big issue was how to grow small business in the region; each candidate had a slightly different view.
Kalliecharan said the Liberals are looking at reducing taxes, and then glanced at Shipley with an accusation that the Conservatives favour big businesses.
“We’re reducing small business taxes from 11 per cent to nine per cent,” Kalliecharan said. “We’re cutting corporation fees by 75 per cent. We support small businesses, unlike some of our opposition, who encourage large businesses to prosper.”
Shipley took exception to Kalliecharan’s insinuation that the Conservatives don't support small businesses and let him know it.
“It was your party that gave $12 million to Loblaws last year for new freezers? Maybe you’d like to spin it around when talking about corporate funding," Shipley said.
Janssen said the NDP would always look out for businesses, and would focus on those particularly in smaller communities to help them thrive.
“We will be maintaining the small business tax rate and we’ll be cutting merchant fees so they are at a level that is reasonable for small businesses,” said Janssen. “We will ensure that we’re procuring and sourcing from local communities where things are getting built.”
Lancaster focused on green energy to make small businesses flourish.
“The Green Party is creating a fund that will help any small business that wants to improve their efficiency,” said Lancaster. “If they want a vehicle that uses less fossil fuels, if they want to use less heating in their building, any aspect of their business that reduces their fossil fuel usage, we will support them through that fund.”
Patterson, meanwhile, repeated a promise he has made all campaign: that his party would eliminate key taxes to elevate investment.
“The People’s Party will completely eliminate the capital gains tax, over a number of years where will phase it out,” he said. “The capital gains tax penalizes companies for investments, so eliminating it is going to encourage investments.”
The debate was the final one, locally, before Election Day on Monday, Oct. 21.