2006 January 20
By BARB RAYNER
ST. ANDREWS Questions about everything from their views on same- sex marriage to whether Canada should have sent troops to Iraq were fired at the four candidates running for election in New Brunswick Southwest Monday night.
The all-candidates night with incumbent Conservative MP Greg Thompson, Stan Smith (Liberal), Andrew Graham (NDP) and Erik Millett (Green) was organized by the town's Chamber of Commerce, and attracted a crowd of about 200 to the Fairmont Algonquin on a cold winter evening.
Each candidate was first asked to make an opening statement.
"Every rule in the book was broken by the present government....That is probably the worst you have seen in this country in terms of an elected federal government but there's more than that. There's a lot of mismanaged programs, misplaced programs and simply policy failures by this present government."
He spoke about the Liberals $24 billion cuts in health care which threw every province into a crisis, the shortage of 1,200 officers in the RCMP, the under funded, under manned and under equipped military, management of the fishery and the worst trade relations ever with the U.S. - Canada's biggest trading partner.
Thompson said the Conservatives are basing their campaign on five priorities - clean up government by passing the Federal Accountability Act, provide real tax relief to working families by cutting the GST, make the streets and communities safer by cracking down on crime, help parents with the cost of raising their children and work with the provinces to establish patient wait time guarantees.
Smith said the successes that Liberals cherish today - the creation of the public health care system, bilingualism, multiculturalism, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the restoration of fiscal order - did not come about by chance.
"They are an extension of the values that set us apart from our political opponents and they guide our actions. When you get right down to it, this election is about values.
You can choose Stephen Harper's vision of a fend-for-yourself type of Canada, or Paul Martin's vision of a society that works together for the common good."
Smith questioned how the Conservatives could honour the $75 billion in promises in their platform. Speaking of the Conservatives proposed cut in the GST he said this will reward those who have money to spend rather than who need it most.
Graham said he finds it a little confusing when people say there are two choices in this election. He said there is quite a slant in the media.
"The reason I'm a member of the NDP and why I'm running...is I believe they have the best overall record of pushing the agenda of people."
The NDP is about balancing priorities, he said, with priorities like the environment. Last year, the NDP put forward a motion that would have required mandatory fuel emission controls for cars, said Graham, but this was voted down.
This, he said, would have been one thing to reduce the smog in the atmosphere. The NDP, said Graham, has a solid Kyoto plan that would encompass a clean air act, a clean water act and a polluter pay action as well as a comprehensive home retrofit program to reduce energy consumption.
Millett, who began the evening dressed in white coveralls and a mask, as he did at the debate in St. Stephen last week, said that during the last 135 to 140 years, there have been successive Conservative and Liberal governments but the environment has never been front and centre in their policy making, programs or in their thinking.
"However, I think we've reached a point now where we can no longer ignore the environment and have it as an add-on or an afterthought in our policy making, in our programming, in our thinking. With global warming, with ice caps melting and polar bears falling through the ice, the writing's on the wall."
Referring to the proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) issue in Passamaquoddy Bay he said that more importantly, from an environmental perspective, is the issue of Point Lepreau and its refurbishment. He said the nuclear generating station is built on an earthquake fault.
"I'm not saying that the workers are not well trained. I'm not saying they're going to jeopardize our environment. It's the technology. We've seen with (Hurricane) Katrina that eventually technology will fail and we'll be left to pick up the pieces... If we don't put the environment at the centre of all our policy making then we end up cleaning up things like the Agent Orange fiasco at Gagetown. We'll end up cleaning up Point Lepreau and have to defend and guard the waste on that site for 500 years."
Asked what needs to be done to fix the decline in the tourism and aquaculture industries, which are important to Charlotte County, the candidates had a variety of suggestions.
Graham said that a lot of factors affecting these industries were beyond the control of the riding such as the increase in fuel prices and the value of the Canadian dollar. However, he said he thought they could try to create conditions here to improve tourism as soon as possible.
Smith suggested a year-round ferry between Campobello and St. Andrews would not only give the people from the island the opportunity to come to Canada without going through the U.S. but they would also be able to use the facilities and services available in the town.
Thompson said if communities work together, the government will listen to some of the ideas they are projecting, because nothing happens in isolation. He said government has to put policies in place that will make things happen, and that includes cutting down on red tape. He noted that last year, red tape cost the Canadian economy $30 billion.
Millett said when they look at issues such as community development, eco- tourism and local community economic development they need to look at the big spending priorities of government. He said if they took the $1.4 billion for the Point Lepreau refurbishment and put it into New Brunswick Southwest in five areas - small business, green energy, sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry and sustainable fishery - no one would be unemployed in the riding.
The candidates were asked what their party could do to secure the existence of Charlotte County Hospital and for their party's position on privatized health care.
Thompson said the Conservatives believe in a universal, single payer public system and they stand by the Canada Health Act. The province was hit hard by cuts in health-care funding, he said, but the Conservatives have made a commitment to the system.
Smith said the Liberal party does not believe in a two-tier health care system and they believe in having one system that everyone can take advantage of. He said they have also put $5.5 billion in a wait-time-reduction fund.
Graham said the health care system is in serious trouble with long waiting lists. He said he does not see how a country of Canada's stature should have a health care system in such a decline. The NDP brought in universal health care, he said, and they will defend it to the teeth.
Millett said right now they don't have a health care system - it is a sick or disease care system. He said they need to put the emphasis on prevention and money needs to be put up front so people don't get sick in the first place.
The candidates were asked where they as individuals and their party as a whole stand on same-sex marriage.
Graham said that he is very accepting of other modes of human existence. He said he fully accepts the wishes of gay and lesbian people to take marriage as their commitment for life. Graham said he does not think the term "civil union" really cuts it for people who want to spend their lives together and the NDP is fully supportive of the same-sex marriage legislation introduced last year.
Millett said no one really has a monopoly or a patent on an abstract idea - and marriage is an idea. He said he didn't think anyone can have a monopoly or a patent on that and exclude others from enjoying that idea.
Thompson said he believes marriage is the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. He said he also supports the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the guarantee it gives to those people that do have a same-sex relationship.
Smith said he sympathizes with the rights of homosexuals. Over the years society has changed, he said, and this is a compassionate society determined to create an inclusive Canada.
This, he said, is a personal issue and one that should be left in the hands of the individual and the church.
In televised debates the parties have talked about banning hand guns and the candidates were asked if this is something the government is considering or if it's just a ploy to get votes.
Thompson said this banning of hand guns was something the Prime Minister came up with to get votes in downtown Toronto and it has nothing to do with reality, since there has been a severe restriction on hand guns in Canada since 1936.
Smith said what is needed in this province is a gun control bill of every type that is made in New Brunswick, by New Brunswickers for New Brunswickers.
Graham said the NDP has a plan to create legislation where there would be a four-year minimum sentence for illegal possession and sale of restricted weapons.
He said they also have legislation to stop the illegal importation of guns from the U.S., with a four-year minimum sentence and toughening up border controls, which includes arming of Customs Officers where necessary.
Millett said politicians are very good at giving a simple solution to complex problems - he called it a simplex. He said he did not think the real issue was gun violence and he thought violence against women was a much more serious public safety issue.
The candidates were asked if they thought Canada should work closely with the Americans in Iraq, and if they thought Canada was right not to have joined the invasion.
Thompson said Canada has provided logistic support in Iraq, but he does not believe they should put troops there. He said he did not think they should go into those types of ventures without knowing exactly what is at stake.
Smith said when the Americans first invaded Iraq, he personally felt Canada should have sent some troops there, but as he has looked at the carnage there, he is thankful Canada did not send any.
Graham said to get involved with a megalomaniacal war to try to secure further oil supplies by invading Iraq and Afghanistan is the furthest thing from Canadian values. He said he is thankful that former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien did not get Canada involved.
Millett said he was glad to see Thompson had done a flip-flop on his party's policy with respect to going into Iraq, since that was not the song Stephen Harper was singing back in 2004. He also took a dig at former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who is now advising Harper, saying he only turned the military on their own citizens - First Nations people over a golf course in Oka, Quebec. He said it's old men, like Thompson, who start wars and it's young boys who fight them and it's women and children who die.
Chris Saulnier, of Chamcook, asked the candidates what their party's position was on support for programs for salmon farmers similar to those for land based farmers which would be provided by an aquaculture framework agreement.
Millett said the Green party's policy is to end subsidies for aquaculture based on a belief that aquaculture competes against the indigenous species. What they need, he said, is to think of the long-term sustainability of indigenous species, and they support the Maritime Fishermen's Union management plan for the inshore fishery.
Graham said nothing the NDP would do would damage the aquaculture industry, but they would maintain stricter laws regarding the Clean Water Act to make sure there are cleaner oceans.
While it would apply more strictly to aquaculture, he said, it would also mean a better and cleaner industry.
Smith said the aquaculture industry is a key component of this area providing over 4,000 jobs. If he was elected, he said, he would support the aquaculture framework but also believes the industry has to tighten up on pollution.
Thompson said he has always supported the aquaculture industry, which is currently going through some incredibly tough times.
He said the industry has met and exceeded some environmental challenges and it can only get better over the years. In fact, he said, traditional fisheries are very supportive as opposed to where they were 15 to 20 years ago.
Mary Casement, of St. Andrews, cited a case of a co-worker who had to wait 40 hours for surgery at Saint John Regional Hospital, and asked Smith to explain why, under the Liberal government, the health care system has declined to this level, and if he feels with the new time frame they plan to establish, that 40 hours is acceptable to wait for emergency surgery.
Smith said he did not think 40 hours was an acceptable time to wait, but pointed out that the provincial government is also involved in the health care system. He said he could not answer as to why the system has gone down that far, but would be supportive of getting it back to the level it's supposed to be.
Graham said the NDP has a plan to create a monitored, accountable health care system to make sure that when the funds provided by the federal government go the provinces they are monitored and accounted for so that people are not cut short of the health care they deserve.
Thompson said this is crisis management and they have to have a better system of how information is transferred from hospital to hospital. When a crisis like that occurs, he said, they should know immediately there is somewhere else they can go.
He said this does go back to arbitrary cuts in health care by the Liberal government, which collapsed the province's systems.
Millett said the Liberals are now in a position where they do have billions of dollars, so they could start reinvesting money in health care but in a preventative way.
Young Christine Leavitt brought a little levity to the evening when she asked the candidates why politicians argue but young people are taught not to. Her question brought applause and laughter from the audience.
Graham said he has always taught his children that they can talk back to him and often he finds out he is wrong. He said he thought a free exchange of ideas was important between political candidates. Only through dialogue and communication, he said, can you reach a middle ground.
Smith said when they are talking it might seem to be an argument but when the discussion is over he thought you should be able to shake hands.
Thompson said this was probably the best question of the night. He said there are very few true democracies in this world where people can talk things over and, sometimes disagree violently, but it's with words - not with guns. This is a country of free speech, he said, and they should cherish living in a democracy where they can make things better with words not guns.
Millett said Leavitt had made him out to be a hypocrite since as a school teacher and vice-principal he is telling students not to fight all the time. He told her kids often fight over taking turns or something but this was more a battle of ideas and perspectives of the world.
Asked if they would work to seek funding from whatever government is in place to provide financial support for the marine research facilities in St. Andrews, all four candidates said they would.
The subject of LNG came up several times during the debate, although not in a specific question. Smith said LNG tankers will not be going through Head Harbour Passage. He said the Liberal government has commissioned extensive studies and they will say no to the LNG developments once those studies are completed.
If he is unsuccessful in the election he said he will stand shoulder to shoulder with each and every one of them against LNG in Passamaquoddy Bay.
Millett said the Green party is not just opposed to the proposed LNG development in Passamaquoddy Bay but to all LNG, including the one in Saint John.
Thompson said not one Liberal has stood up in the House of Commons to defend St. Andrews and Charlotte County against LNG.
He said the Conservatives have already voiced their opposition to LNG development in Passamaquoddy Bay.
"I'm the only one standing in this room as a candidate whose leader, whose party, whose caucus has said no to LNG. That was confirmed today by Mr. Harper in Saint John as it was last week in Woodstock.
"We've stated our position very carefully and it's predicated on the best advice that we could get from all jurisdictions in terms of what our position would be and it would be no to LNG. I stake my parliamentary career and reputation on that. We will say no and, if we get elected, they will not go in Passamaquoddy Bay."
© 2006 Advocate Media
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.
The Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB