The latest in an long stream of federal all-candidates meetings took place in Mission Wednesday night as four of the six Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon riding hopefuls gathered at St. Andrew’s Place Housing Co-op on Cedar Street.
Mike Nenn (NDP), John Kidder (Green), Jati Sidhu (Liberal) and Brad Vis (Conservative) were on hand to answer questions from seniors attending the event
Julius Nick Csaszar (People’s Party of Canada) and Elaine Wismer (Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada) were not in attendance. Organizers said several attempts made to contact Csaszar were unsuccessful, while the group had no contact information for Wismer.
Questions were asked in a wide range of categories. The following is a sampling of the candidates’ comments.
Candidates were asked how they would address the homeless and addiction crisis in Mission.
Kidder said providing homes is the first step, although some people won’t take advantage of that offer.
“The bulk of the people just don’t have places to live. That can be fixed as part of our co-op and co- housing strategy … On the addiction issue, one of the reasons we have such a problem with addiction is we treat it as a criminal matter, rather than as a medical matter,” Kidder said.
He pointed to Portugal as an example where drugs have been decriminalized.
“When they pick an addict up off the street, they don’t deliver the addict to the cops; they deliver the addict to a doctor.”
Nenn said when it comes to the homeless issue, you have to look at the root causes – what causes people to fall through the cracks – and jobs are one key issue.
“It’s about good-paying jobs. It’s about assuring that, as Canadians, we have the expectations that we should have a home … and supporting growing local small businesses.
“I saw with globalization and the Walmarts that came in and the minimum-wage jobs and how the single mother working three jobs still can’t make ends meet. And that’s a tragedy,” Nenn said.
Sidhu told the crowd that municipalities like Mission have to ask for help to deal with the homeless crisis. He pointed out that Abbotsford came to him with concerns, and action was taken.
“Now, Abbotsford is on the short list to get help for homelessness. Local people need to tell the federal government what they need. We don’t know until the problem is brought to our attention.
“If we have a problem in Mission, I’d love to work with you. Addiction, we put $100 million towards it to help people fight addiction.”
Vis said there is no easy answer to the homeless situation.
“I believe, very strongly, in a housing-first policy because, oftentimes, even if people have addiction issues, they still need a roof over their heads. That reduces costs at hospitals that are already over-capacity here in Mission and Abbotsford.”
He also said, in this riding, there is a rural opioid crisis and, while he doesn’t have all the answers, the Conservative Party has committed to funding treatment.
Candidates were asked how they plan to fulfill and pay for their campaign promises.
Kidder said we need to change how government works.
“We know that we are an incredibly prosperous country but most people aren’t getting the benefits. Who’s getting the benefits of this? The banks are declaring profits of $3.5 to $4 billion a quarter.”
He said the tax system needs to be altered and that the Green Party has identified $90 billion in money that is available through reasonable taxation.
“All we have to do is to be careful to write the legislation so people can’t avoid the taxes. The money is there.”
Nenn turned his attention to the Liberals’ promise, from the 2015 election, on electoral reform, saying the Liberals promised there would be a different electoral system that would allow other parties to get a say.
“And here we are, four years later, and nothing has happened. I think that is an injustice.”
Nenn said he believes in electoral reform because the truest sense of democracy is having more voices at the table.
“Personally, I think a minority government … is probably the best thing for Canadians. It’s having multiple voices at the table.”
Sidhu told the crowd his government believes in evidence-based decisions, especially when it comes to electoral reform, adding many local town hall meetings took place.
“I had a professor from UFV come out and explain how it works. In Mission, we had one person in favour of the reform. Throughout the country, there were almost 40,000 town halls … There was no consensus.”
He added that the government can’t change the procedure unless the public wants that change.
Vis brought the discussion back to debts and deficits, saying he worries about the economic stability of the country.
“Right now, Ottawa gets away with way too much. They do not have to be accountable to any of you about how they are spending money,” he said.
Vis told the crowd that if he’s elected, he may not be able to review how Ottawa spends money in every department, but he will play his part on the standing committees he’s likely to be appointed to.
“I will hold public servants accountable. I will ask them about line item spending. I will shine a light on how Ottawa spends.”