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Simcoe North candidates field range of questions at first forum of election

Federal candidates share views on issues ranging from health care to fate of Champlain Monument to housing during two-hour forum at St. Paul's

From the Champlain Monument and immigration to the housing crisis and health care, Simcoe North’s federal election candidates got to share their views on a variety of topics Thursday evening.

Orillia 4 Democracy hosted a candidates forum at St. Paul’s Centre in conjunction with the St. Paul’s social justice committee and Rogers TV. Due to COVID restrictions, there was no audience in attendance. The meeting was live-streamed on Rogers TV.

On hand were Krystal Brooks (Green Party of Canada), Adam Chambers (Conservative Party of Canada), Janet-Lynne Durnford (New Democratic Party of Canada), Stephen Makk (People’s Party of Canada) and Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux (Liberal Party of Canada). Christian Heritage Party candidate Russ Emo was not in attendance.


The candidates were given some questions in advance. They were first asked what should be done to “reconcile” the combination of increasing immigration and its effect on carbon emissions.

Wesley-Esquimaux praised the Liberals’ record on sustainability and the environment and noted the need for more people via immigration.

“We have a massive land mass here, a very small population in contrast to that, and I believe we’re going to have immigration whether we like it or not because we’re going to be having environmental refugees that are directly associated to the carbon emissions that we’re talking about around the world,” she said.

“I’m for bringing people into the country and not saying no. We’ve said no in the past and people have died, so we need to do better.”

Makk noted the PPC would reduce immigration, which he said would lead to a reduced negative effect on the environment.

“I don’t think reduction of emissions and pollution can be reconciled by high immigration,” he said.

“Mass immigration drives urban sprawl. We can’t drive more cars, heat more homes, pump more oil, pave over more farmland and fill our greenbelts with McMansions and somehow reduce emissions at the same time.”

He said the Liberals’ push for more immigration is their way to “fuel the fiscal Ponzi scheme of deficit financing.”

Chambers said it’s important to bring more immigrants to Canada and he feels air pollution is a “global issue” and should be treated as such.

“That means standing up to our fellow countries in the world, like China and Russia and India and Brazil, to make sure that they all have reasonable, realistic and responsible environmental plans,” he said, adding the Conservatives have a plan to put a “carbon tariff” on goods imported from countries with weak environmental standards.

Brooks urged those who are against more immigration to consider where people will go if their home countries become uninhabitable.

She said population growth and urban sprawl are “two very serious threats” to the environment.

“We do need a sustainable amount of immigration and refugees to fill vacancies in the job market that we cannot fill in the skilled trades, but this needs to be balanced at a sustainable level and not only used to meet the needs of property developers looking to get rich,” she said.

Durnford took issue with the question.

“I think this is a divisive question that sets up a false dichotomy,” she said. “I reject the idea that immigration has much of anything to do with carbon emissions.”

Canada welcomes about 300,000 immigrants per year, she said, adding that amounts to less than .008 of population growth.

“Immigrants strengthen our country and I will always stand against those who use fear of our neighbours to divide us,” she said.


When asked what they thought was the root cause of the housing crisis, Makk said there are many, but he feels most are “bad government policies at all levels — generally, excessive government meddling in the economy.”

“Economic growth is needed for people to be able to afford housing and for builders to have the confidence to build. Getting out of the way of productivity is how governments can best help the economy,” he said, adding the PPC would “induce provinces and municipalities to abandon policies that restrict housing availability.”

Chambers, too, said a number of factors are involved, including low interest rates making it “cheaper for people to take on more debt.”

“When we have a prime minister who says he doesn’t think about monetary policy, that makes me concerned because it’s the monetary policy that has been fuelling the (increases) we’ve seen in our housing markets,” he said.

For Brooks, “recognizing the housing unavailability and homelessness as twin crises is important.”

She said the Greens are calling on the government to redefine affordable housing to reflect current realities.

The NDP would make it easier for people to rent or buy, Durnford said, adding the party is “committed to an immediate investment to build half a million units of quality, energy-efficient, affordable housing.”

It would also slap a 20 per cent foreign buyers tax on home purchases by investors living outside of Canada.

Wesley-Esquimaux acknowledged low interest rates played a role, but said the crisis is “a longstanding problem.”

The Liberals would work with banks to do a better job of keeping interest rates in check, she said, and look at reducing the cost of mortgage insurance.

Health care

Candidates were asked to explain their personal experiences with Canada’s health-care system.

Chambers did not talk about his personal experience, aside from his involvement as a board member at the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care, but said Conservatives would “massively boost health transfers to the provinces — double them to six per cent a year.”

Brooks said her experiences with the health-care system “have not been very pleasant.”

There were “birth alerts” during both of her pregnancies, meaning the hospital was advised about a concern for her to care for her babies. She feels her experience as a kid in foster care played a role.

“We have a long way to go in our health-care system, particularly mental health,” she added.

It was a personal question for Durnford, too.

“My personal experience with public health is one of the reasons that I am running in this election,” she said, noting her husband received a kidney transplant.

“He literally owes his life to the care he received here in Orillia and Toronto. However, he now relies on $2,000 worth of prescription medication every month just to stay alive.”

The NDP wants to implement universal pharmacare by getting the wealthiest to “pay their fair share,” she said.

Wesley-Esquimaux has had “personal issues with health care over the course of time as an Indigenous woman.”

She has worked with the Indigenous Primary Health Care Council to help people do a better job when dealing with Indigenous peoples and those from other countries.

Makk has “no major complaints” about the system.

He noted he was hospitalized twice with COVID-19 and “was very well cared for.”

“My only concerns are over the public monopoly of the delivery of services,” he said. “I couldn’t just go to a lab and get a COVID serological test on my own dime, and I’m troubled by the fact that I can enter into a contract for services with my plumber but I’m prohibited by law from entering into a contract with my doctor. That’s not fair to me. It’s not fair to my doctor.”

Long-term care

Should all long-term care be public and non-profit? Opinions, for the most part, varied slightly.

“Profits should never be the bottom line when it comes to seniors,” Durnford said, adding the NDP would make long-term care public.

Wesley-Esquimaux said the Liberals are pledging $9 billion over five years for senior care.

Makk said he would “absolutely not support nationalization of long-term care.

“The assumption that a profit motive makes for a worse product is a fundamentally flawed, Marxist argument that I’m surprised we still have to endure these days.”

Chambers noted health care is largely a provincial responsibility. He said making it non-profit wouldn’t necessarily help address the wait list for long-term care.

Brooks wants to see a national strategy on long-term care.

Ontario and Alberta, she said, “have failed miserably, and when provincial governments fail, it is up to the federal government to step in and create national standards.”

Champlain Monument

The candidates were asked if Orillia’s monument to French explorer Samuel de Champlain should be returned. It was removed for repairs in 2017 and its return to Couchiching Beach Park has been put off after Chippewas of Rama First Nation and the Huron-Wendat Nation withdrew from the monument working group in light of the discoveries of children’s graves at former residential school sites.

“We can keep old statues, but we can also build new ones,” Makk said.

However, he added, “I worry about the whole question of reconciliation because a lot of it is an emotional and cultural thing, and such things cannot be resolved quickly or, perhaps, ever. Sometimes the wounds are too deep. However, I am optimistic that this can be done.”

He didn’t say whether he wanted the monument returned, but said the PPC’s position is to look at how to make people’s lives better immediately.

“How about we proceed right now in a spirit of friendship, respect and co-operation to fix what we know how to fix — basic things that we all have in common: roads, schools, health care, clean water?” he asked.

Chambers wants the monument brought back “with the blessing of our Indigenous friends.”

“We need to be listening more as individuals to the concerns of our communities,” he said.

Brooks would like to see “some kind of agreement” regarding the monument, but said “more consultation needs to happen.”

“I believe that Orillia, currently, has a very big issue in acknowledging the history of this town regarding Indigenous people, and there is no reconciliation without truth,” she said. “We are buried in the truth stages of that.”

Durnford doesn’t want the monument returned.

“My opinion is that we need to listen when people speak their truth, and many people have spoken out to say that the Champlain Monument is an example of whitewashed history and of Canada’s painful history of colonialism and, for that reason, I do not support the return of the monument,” she said.

Wesley-Esquimaux said she didn’t “really have an issue with the monument.”

“What I have an issue with, and what I think a lot of Indigenous peoples have an issue with, is the supplication of Indigenous peoples at the foot of Champlain.”

Clean drinking water

The final questions candidates faced: Why do so many reserves lack clean drinking water?

“The root cause is lack of will by previous governments and not listening to the communities about potential solutions,” Durnford said.

If elected, the NDP would invest money immediately to ensure all communities have clean drinking water, she said.

It’s a problem with a long history, said Wesley-Esquimaux.

“All the way back to John A. Macdonald, there’s been an intention to move Indigenous peoples to the worst lands and the worst places and isolate them from the rest of society,” she said. “We’ve created these artificial communities that have very poor housing in them and poor infrastructure.”

The Liberals have been addressing it, she added, with some goals achieved and some in progress.

“It’s Canada’s obligation and responsibility to correct what has been done historically and make it right in the present, in the future,” she said.

Part of the issue can be attributed to the “‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality on the part of the government and Canadians in general,” according to Makk.

He said the PPC can ensure clean drinking water on reserves.

“We have an armed forces that puts in clean water into villages in Africa. Why the heck don’t they do it in the Northwest Territories?” he questioned. “We can do it and the PPC would take care of that to show some good faith and, hopefully, start a discussion and friendship and mutual respect.”

Chambers had a blunt response to the question about why some don’t have clean drinking water.

“I’m comfortable in admitting that I don’t know,” he said, “but I’d like to learn more about it.”

Indigenous communities and all levels of government need to find a solution, he said.

Brooks agreed with Wesley-Esquimaux that there has been progress on the issue, “but we really need to finish that,” she said.

A lack of clean drinking water on some reserves isn’t the only challenge faced by Indigenous peoples, Brooks said, adding a disproportionate number of them are in foster care and victims of human trafficking.

“I love being Native, but it is tough, and I don’t know one other Native who doesn’t feel the same way,” she said.

Thursday’s forum was the first candidates meeting in Simcoe North. The Orillia District Chamber of Commerce is planning to host one, but details have not yet been confirmed.

Thursday night's event will be broadcast several times on Rogers TV ahead of the Sept. 20 election.


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Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is the desk editor for Village Media's central Ontario news desk in Simcoe County and Newmarket.
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