Underwhelming turnout for political forum

J.D. Potié
CAMPBELL’S BAY Sept. 27, 2019
Around 50 people gathered at the Campbell’s Bay R.A. for the MRC Pontiac’s first candidates forum for the 2019 federal election.
Hosted by the Pontiac Chamber of Commerce (PCC) in collaboration with CHIP FM, the event was an opportunity for local residents to meet the candidates representing each respective party and hear what they have to say regarding some of the riding’s most pressing issues.
The evening was supposed to commence with the PCC’s annual general meeting, however it was postponed since they didn’t have enough members to make quorum.
Scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m., the room was largely deserted until most of the attendees showed up around five minutes before the start of the forum.
With around 100 chairs set up facing the stage in the large hall, the modest-sized crowd filled about half the seats in the room.
To open the event, PCC’s President Mireille Alary gave words of welcome. She thanked everyone who attended for showing up and announced that the forum would be broadcast on CHIP FM’s airwaves.
The forum was bilingual and its moderators were PCC members Isabelle Gagnon and Ron MacKillop who asked the questions to the candidates in both French and English respectively. PPC member Larry Coleman played the role of timekeeper.
The event proceeded with introductions of each candidate.
Except for Jonathan Carreiro-Benoit of the Bloc Quebecois and Louis Lang of the Marxist-Leninist Party, all registered candidates attended the forum.
Asked three questions, selected by a panel of PCC members, each candidate had two minutes to explain their positions on the specific subjects.
The first question: If elected as MP, what would your overall plan to be provide an economic survival of the region as well as support for the recovery of the Pontiac’s economic growth?
Mario Belec, People’s Party of Canada (PPC): His first step will be abolishing commercial borders.
In an effort to deal with the shortage of labour in the region, he said that minimizing the number of refugees entering the country while augmenting the number of economic immigrants is important.
To increase the desire of business people to settle in the region, he stressed the need to address the issue of public transportation. He plans on implementing a daily transportation line that would take people from Gatineau to the Pontiac.
He said that he hopes to deal with the internet connectivity issue by conducting a study of the region to find out where the internet is deficient or missing.
He also wants to reduce the role of large corporation to allow more competition in the Pontiac when it comes to internet and cellphone coverage.
Denise Giroux, New Democratic Party (NDP): She criticized the Liberals and Conservatives for not speaking up for Canadians and for constantly lobbying with big businesses.
She followed up by announcing the NDP’s plan to create 300,000 new green jobs to increase health and energy efficiency in Canada.
“Imagine your son or your daughter being able to help retrofit your homes, the aging housing stock in the Pontiac for better health and energy efficiency,” she said.
When it comes to the problems with internet connectivity in the region, she said that everyone knows what is causing the problems and that it could be solved quite easily. She believes that all that’s lacking is “the political will”.
She echoed her support of local small businesses and local media and pointed to the Liberal Party’s lack of commitment to the needs of regular Canadians while throwing millions of dollars at gargantuan corporations like SNC Lavalin.
Claude Bertrand, Green Party:
His first initiative will be implementing a task force comprised of federal, provincial and municipal politicians, First Nations representatives, industry leaders and local entrepreneurs.
He said that government grants would be needed and that the committee would play a crucial role in kickstarting the region’s economy.
“Funds will be required, Provincial funds, federal funds,” he said. “Solutions have to be found and there’s no choice.”
He spoke about the impact of the forest industry being out of the Pontiac and the importance of bringing logging jobs back to the region.
He expressed his desire to reduce food importation by a third, in hopes of reinjecting $10 billion in the Canadian Agricultural Economy.
Will Amos, Liberal Party:
As he opened his statement, many of the attendees in the crowd started mimicking choking sounds until moderators finally got them to settle down.
Amos began by pointing to a number of his party’s accomplishments in the last four years, including the federal government’s near $1 million investment in the slaughterhouse in Shawville, lowering the retirement age from 67 to 65, and doubling funding for the Canada summer jobs program.
“That was a project people had been looking for, for over a decade,” she said. “Farmers had been really wanting it and we got that done.”
He brought up the federal government’s $20.7 million contribution to fibre connections in the Pontiac, which connected 4,200 households in 30 different communities.
He finished off by speaking about his involvement with the project of Villa James Shaw in Shawville and his intentions to see it through to completion.
Dave Blackburn, Conservative Party:
He started out by stating that his two priorities will be economic and infrastructural development and considered six things, which he referred to as essential pillars: collaborative work with local leaders, developing a five to ten year strategic plan with regional areas of specialization, infrastructure adapted to the needs of the population in 2019, academic training adapted to the needs of the region, opening of an interprovincial free trade, increase federal jobs in public services of Canada in the Pontiac.
He said that the lack of necessary infrastructure is an urgent problem in the riding and that the issue with high speed internet needs to be severely addressed.
“In 2006, I was in Kandahar in Afghanistan. I can tell you in the little room I had in my shack, I had internet access.”
He pointed to the lack of action on behalf of Liberals on the matter and added that bringing reliable internet and cellphone coverage is crucial to the region’s economic viability.
He added that he’s also interested in interprovincial free trade and making all Canadian-based products available from coast to coast.
Question 2: What would be the position of your party to better oversee how the water levels of the Ottawa River are managed?
Giroux, NDP:
She criticized the Liberal Party’s plans of adaptation with the rising water levels and their lack of political will to deal with the situation.
“How is it that the Liberals were surprised about the floods in 2017, when we’ve been predicting this sort of stuff for years?” she said.
Then, she called for reliable floodplain identification and infrastructure that can adapt to exceptional circumstances such as natural disasters.
She followed up by announcing that the NDP would double the amount of money that the Liberals are promising to help waterside communities adapt to rising waters going forward.
She called out Amos for his lack of action when it comes to nuclear residue storage at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in Chalk River and said that the storing conditions for radioactive waste at the site are “substandard”.
Bertrand, Green Party:
He said that the region needs a concerted table of experts from both sides of the river to sit down with the Ontario Water Regulation Planning Board (OWRPB) in an effort to conduct a comprehensive study on how water levels are managed in the region.
He added that locals need to stand up to the OWRPB and demand that they look into the problem with water levels.
Amos, Liberal Party
He recognized the local population’s lack of confidence in dam operators, but ultimately stated that know one truly knows if they’ve had any negative impact on the matter.
Since the jurisdiction of the Ottawa River is shared by the Quebec, Ontario and Federal Governments, he said that it was imperative for the three to collaborate when it comes to preventing floods in the future.
“What the citizens have called for is what I worked on,” he said. “What we’ve worked on is what is going to be delivered.”
Blackburn, Conservative Party:
He said that the state of water level management of the Ottawa River seriously needs to be addressed.
He agreed with Amos that helping out the very individuals affected by the floods are his party’s number one priority.
He said that his leader Andrew Scheer would announce a policy regarding water management at some point during their campaign.
He also agreed with Amos that the federal government as well as Ontario and Quebec governments need to collaborate to properly prevent potential floods going forward.
Belec, PPC:
He stated that his first initiative if elected will be to review the state of dams in the region and surrounding areas.
He added that he wants to organize a fund for flood victims and ensure that the government always has money for Canadians in need of assistance.
He plans on augmenting the Canadian Armed Forces budget to two per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and to expand the military’s assistance for humanitarian crises.
Question three: What are the positions of your respective parties on the services offered by companies such as Netflix?
Bertrand, Green Party:
He declined to answer the question because he didn’t think it was an important topic too discuss.
Instead, he blasted the one million cubic metre waste facility near the Ottawa River at CNL in Chalk River.
“You couldn’t think of a worse place to put it,” he said.
He said politicians and community leaders must demand CNL to put a halt to the initiative.
He plans on implementing a moratorium on any construction projects taking place in Gatineau Park, in hopes of protecting its beauty for future generations.
Amos, Liberal Party:
He said that he supports the taxation of Netflix and other streaming service providers in Canada.
But he added that he wants to find a way to ensure that, while implementing taxes, the companies won’t turn around and bring their prices up as well.
He said that the federal government has assigned a taskforce to look into the matter.
He brought up the fact that the Canadian government negotiated a $6-million agreement with Netflix to help bolster its local content and support local content producers.
Then, he attempted to clear up some confusion regarding the draft proposal presented by CNL regarding the radioactive disposal site in Chalk River by saying that the proposal hasn’t been finalized.
Blackburn, Conservative Party:
He said that the Conservative Party wants to implement some form of taxation on content providers such as Netflix.
Then, he spoke about his perspective on the region’s economic state and the lack of hope surrounding it.
He said that locals need to find niche fields of specialization to initiate innovative projects and boost the local economy.
He brought up his party’s plan to implement green technology to encourage entrepreneurs be eco-friendlier in their practices.
Belec, PPC:
He doesn’t want to tax Netflix because he believes it would only further affect the pocketbooks of people already paying for its services.
“It’s a bit like having a tax on a tax,” he said.
He followed up by stating that he wants to lower the tax rate for businesses from 15 per cent to 10 per cent in order to make them more competitive. He ended by saying that his party isn’t ruling out a change of position on the matter.
Giroux, NDP:
She called out the Liberal Party for not taxing large businesses like Netflix, while taxing local small enterprises out of a fear of paying more money for their services.
“It’s the clear proof that large international businesses are best friends with the Liberals,” she said.
She blasted Amos with his stance on nuclear waste in Chalk River, his mentality of “letting the process unfold” as well as his lack of transparency. She also criticized him for voting against GMO-labeling in the House of Commons.
After a brief intermission, folks headed back to their seats for the public questioning portion of the event.
Seven people stepped up to the mic and asked some of the candidates about pressing issues on their minds, including Ottawa River management, senior services and the state of the trans Canadian bike path.
Then, each of the candidates wrapped up the forum with brief concluding arguments.
Election date is on Oct. 21, 2019.

 

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