YARMOUTH – The four people vying for the West Nova seat in the upcoming Oct. 19 federal election told a mostly business crowd in Yarmouth why the electorate should choose them and their party as they participated in a candidates forum on Sept. 28.
With just a one-minute timeframe to respond to each question, the candidates didn’t have a lot of excess time to talk about the issues put before them. Even so, they answered questions about the international ferry link, voting in Parliament, highway transportation, increasing immigration, local airports, affordable housing and more during the forum, which was organized by the Yarmouth and Area Chamber of Commerce and the local Rotary Club.
On the international ferry link, candidates were asked about federal involvement in the ferry terminal redevelopment and also operational aspects of the service.
Liberal candidate Colin Fraser said he strongly supports ensuring there is a stable, long-term, ferry service in place.
“We must have a national government that is going to work as a partner with the provincial government here in Nova Scotia and elsewhere to make sure that the federal government plays it’s part in helping to sustain that ferry service,” he said, although NDP candidate Greg Foster reminded the crowd that it was the Liberal party that decided in the late 1990s to divest themselves of Marine Atlantic in Yarmouth, which has led to problems down the road he said.
Clark Walton, the Green candidate, said there should be money going to a ship that is Canadian-built and owned rather than money going to foreign investors.
Conservative candidate Arnold LeBlanc said his party and MP Greg Kerr worked very closely with the community and local stakeholders to re-establish ferry service. He said it has been made very clear that the federal government will not invest in a ferry itself. But he said a Conservative government would be willing to talk with a service provider about what else is needed for the long-term needs of the service.
Still on the transportation front, the candidates were asked about highways and how they and their parties would work with provincial and municipal governments to create safer, more accessible roads. The Nova Scotia government is studying options for twinning sections of 100-series highways, which includes tolls, since funding for upgrades is an issue.
Foster said the NDP would be putting an additional $1.4 billion a year into infrastructure and another $1.6 billion a year into public transit. He said he wasn’t sure what the official policy of the party is when it comes to provinces considering tolls on their 100-series highways.
Walton, of the Green party, suggested that something that could be done locally to improve transportation would be to invest in the bus systems. He said there are many people who don’t have access to transportation.
LeBlanc said the Conservative government has always been very focused on 100-series highways across the county and the province, “That’s why our party made the federal gas tax a permanent program where millions of dollars are transferred to the province so that province, in turn, can work on the roads,” he said, noting there are other projects provinces can invest this money in. He said discussions between the province and the federal government about needed road projects would also continue.
Fraser said investment in roads is vital to the economy and the movement of people in southwestern Nova Scotia. But he pointed out while discussions elsewhere are on twinning, the 101 and 103 highways in southwestern Nova Scotia are not even completed.
“With regard to the 101…clearly we need to make sure that that gets completed,” he said, saying he would work with the province on that front. “As far twinning the highway, I’m not sure that’s as high a priority as making sure we have good highways in southwestern Nova Scotia.”
Another question the candidates spoke quite passionately about in their responses was affordable housing for families who are struggling to find suitable places to live.
LeBlanc said the federal government has been transferring money to the provinces to deal with this issue. If that funding is not sufficient to address the issue he said certainly more discussions would need to take place with the province, municipal units and federal government.
Fraser said he doesn’t need to wait to see if there is a problem with affordable housing, he already knows it exists and it needs to be dealt with.
“We need to make those investments and we need to have a federal government that actually has the political will to invest in people who are vulnerable,” he said. “When children are growing up in a place that is not safe, they don’t have the skills and ability to become productive citizens. This is an economic issue and a moral issue.”
Foster told the crowd more needs to be done to put more money into the hands of working families so they can afford housing. One way, he said, is to reduce families’ expenditures on childcare. He said subsidizing child care at $15 dollars a day, which the NDP would do, would give families more of their own money to apply to housing.
Walton told those assembled that he knows there’s been problems in Yarmouth in the past with landlords not up-keeping their buildings.
“Offering housing at lower prices is subsidizing the landlords,” he said, which doesn’t provide them incentive to fix up properties. “By having guaranteed living income to everyone that needs it, they’ll have the funding so that they have the power to tell the landlord I need something fixed, you have to fix it because I’m paying full price for it.”
A few times during the forum LeBlanc, the Conservative candidate, cautioned people to be wary when candidates and parties are making a lot of promises that will cost a lot of money. If you “promise the moon,” he said, you have to cut programs and raise taxes to pay for it all. He said it's very easy for candidates and parties to "promise to fix" every problem, but everything has to be done in a balanced and costed approach.
Fraser told the assembled crowd that politics has always been a way to make a real difference in people's lives. He said the country needs a change of direction.