TORONTO — The economy was the dominant issue in a Sept. 1 federal election candidates’ forum hosted by Holy Blossom Temple.
The four candidates competing in Toronto-St. Paul’s riding – incumbent Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, Tory Marnie MacDougall, the NDP’s Noah Richler (son of late novelist Mordecai Richler) and the Green party’s Kevin Farmer – spent much of the 90-minute debate discussing economic policy, with Richler, Bennett and Farmer frequently criticizing the Conservatives for creating policies they said favour wealthy Canadians.
The event, which drew about 200 people, was open to the public and aimed to give the Holy Blossom community a chance to hear where the parties stand on various issues.
The format involved Greenspon, former editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail and currently editor-at-large at Bloomberg News, posing questions to the candidates on issues such as creating economic growth, wealth distribution, international affairs and the state of Canadian democracy. The audience also had a chance to ask questions.
Greenspon framed the economic portion of the debate by noting that young people today are having trouble getting by and that baby boomers are afraid they’ll outlive their savings.
Richler, Farmer and Bennett each criticized the Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper for what they said was failing to invest in a diverse economy, as well as introducing an income-splitting plan for spouses and higher contribution limits on tax-free saving accounts (TFSAs), which they said both disproportionately benefit wealthier families.
“Income splitting won’t help the people who need it most. [The Liberals] would ask people who need it most to pay less taxes and the people making the most to pay a little more,” said Bennett, who added that low interest rates make it a good time for the government to stimulate the economy and invest in infrastructure.
MacDougall defended income-splitting, arguing it helps a lot of middle-income families. The Conservatives plan to lower taxes on families and businesses, she added, saying, “We’re trying to drive more money into the hands of people like those in the room.”
Farmer argued that “our economic system has destabilized the middle class” and that offering tax cuts to its members won’t help elevate lower-income Canadians. He called TFSAs “virtually useless.”
In addition to running a deficit and building a green economy, Farmer said Ottawa should invest in sustainable resource development and social infrastructure such as transit, health care, education and childcare.
The candidates then debated the state of Canada’s democracy, addressing issues such as Senate terms and anti-terror legislation Bill C-51.
Farmer declared that, “democracy under Harper is withering” and that Bill C-51 will “empower a police state and a secret police force.”
Richler criticized the prime minister for “muzzling critics and the press,” and the Liberals for supporting Bill C-51.
Bennett countered that the Liberals believe the bill needs serious changes, but emphasized that “you need to protect people’s security as well as their freedom… you can’t trust Harper with people’s freedom or [NDP leader Tom] Mulcair with people’s security.”
MacDougall argued that the democratic process under the Conservatives has been extremely open, that cabinet ministers have ample opportunity to speak in caucus and that the Conservatives themselves introduced legislation to limit Senate terms.
The candidates touched last on the Iran nuclear deal and their parties’ stances on a two-state solution in Israel.
Bennett reiterated the Liberals’ position that Iran should be judged on its actions, not its words, noting, “If I’ve learned anything from [retiring Mount Royal Liberal MP] Irwin Cotler, it’s that Iran is a threat to Israel’s existence.”
Richler said he has no illusions about Iran, but cited the former head of the Shin Bet Ami Ayalon’s statement that the deal is the best option for Israel. MacDougall called the deal worrisome, saying that “any country that wants to annihilate the State of Israel is no friend of ours.”
All four candidates said their parties support a two-state solution.
CJN editor Yoni Goldstein offered closing remarks, calling on community members and candidates to maintain civility despite differing on the issues.