With only 12 days to go until the federal election, UNB Sustainability and the UNB-SRC hosted a debate on Wednesday, September 8 in Oland Hall with the candidates of the Saint John-Rothesay riding.
The debate focused on questions related to climate change, affordable housing, and student issues.
All five candidates accepted invitation
All five candidates for the riding were in attendance, including incumbent Member of Parliament Wayne Long, who was elected under the Liberals in 2015, Conservative candidate Mel Norton, former mayor of Saint John, New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Don Paulin, People’s Party of Canada (PPC) candidate Nicholas Pereira, and Green candidate Ann McAllister. The debate was moderated by Dr. J.P. Lewis, professor of Political Science at UNB Saint John.
Liberal party candidate
Long spoke first, focusing on his motto of “riding first”, stating that since being elected, he has tripled investment in Saint John-Rothesay. He also mentioned the “windmill project”, port expansions and the $15 million investment into the city’s sea wall as examples of his party’s investment in climate change mitigation.
Long pushed against Norton’s comment that a Conservative government would fund Harbour Passage, stating that it was already being done by his party and that the Liberal party announced in July a $300 million investment in active transportation.
When asked about his party’s plan to help students in Saint John-Rothesay, Long said his government has raised the threshold of repayment of student loans and has doubled the country’s student grants. Furthermore, Long mentioned the Integrated Health Initiative program that is coming to UNB Saint John.
Don Paulin for the NDP concentrated on the argument that for too long, Liberal and Conservative governments have lied to get votes and have made “empty promises”. Often when his turn came to respond to a question, Paulin refuted what Long had to say, telling voters that they were empty promises once again.
Paulin was adamant that the promises that he and the NDP have made over this election would be kept. Some of the mentioned promises included removing the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035, a $15,000 rebate on Canadian-made vehicle purchases, and building 500,000 affordable homes.
For students in Saint John-Rothesay, Paulin said his party fought for livable wages from the Liberal minority government when CERB was being implemented. If elected, he said that the NDP would put forth Pharmacare and dental care, eliminate student loans, and make EI available to students during the school year.
PPC’s Nicholas Pereira was rather combative throughout the debate. His podium was the only podium to have plexiglass in front of it, which Pereira said was done on purpose because of his anti-COVID message. This led to many COVID conspiracy-type comments such as saying that he was placed in a “cage” due to the plexiglass and that Canada is in a “medical apartheid”.
Pereira stated that Canadian politics have pushed a “Marxist and socialist agenda” and that the Canadian government should not be using fear-based propaganda when discussing climate change.
Notable promises that Pereira made were to defund the CBC, bring the budget into balance in four years, and implement stricter immigration policies to reduce pressure on the housing market.
Green Party candidate
The Green party’s Ann McAllister started the debate by saying that climate was the greatest threat to Canada. She said a Green government would implement direct federal funding to municipalities and that this would move forward the city of Saint John’s climate action plan.
While discussing the housing crisis in this riding, McAllister said she would partner with Indigenous peoples on housing strategies, develop supportive housing for the homeless, and make social housing accessible, reducing the need for individuals to own a car.
McAllister was adamant about implementing a guaranteed liveable income, which no other candidate mentioned. If elected, she stated that the Green party would abolish post-secondary tuition, reimpose CERB and allow international students to apply, and bring tax justice through a wealth tax.
Conservative candidate Mel Norton started his opening remarks by mentioning the “failed” Liberal promises. He pointed out that he was disappointed with the “American-style attacks” made by Long, saying that these kinds of attacks undermine our democracy.
Norton pushed the Conservative’s “Secure the Future” plan and discussed his party’s leader, Erin O’Toole, often. He was the only candidate last night to have actively discussed their respective leaders.
Norton stated that the “Secure the Future” plan would set a North American strategy on industrial pollution, invest $5 billion in carbon capture, and “meet or exceed” the Paris 2030 climate action plan targets. Norton refuted Long’s comment that the Conservative party could not agree that climate change was real, saying that the Conservative leadership stated it clearly.
For affordable housing, Norton said that under a Conservative government, one million new homes would be built within three years. Moreover, he stated that they would not tax on the sale of a home, they would ban the purchase of foreign investment on housing, and would place housing on transit routes.
The candidates ended the night by answering two questions submitted by UNB Saint John students. The debate is viewable any time through the UNB-SRC’s Facebook page.