TORONTO — At an all-party debate for Thornhill candidates, Conservative incumbent Peter Kent, Liberal candidate Nancy Coldham and NDP candidate Lorne Cherry addressed issues important to the Jewish community, including the economy, Canada’s relationship with Israel, Iran’s nuclear deal and the rise in anti-Semitism and terrorism.
The Sept. 30 event, sponsored by B’nai Brith Canada and held at the Sephardic Kehilla Centre, attracted more than 200 people who gathered to hear from the candidates in advance of the Oct. 19 federal election.
Kent, who has represented Thornhill riding since 2008, began by touting Canada’s economy, and boasted that it “emerged from the recession the envy of the G7 countries… Despite opposition attempts recently to talk down the economy and talk up tax hikes, this country is in growth.”
But Coldham, a small business entrepreneur, challenged Kent’s “mistaken view that we have a booming economy,” adding that Canada has “the worst economy in 80 years.”
Defending the Liberal fiscal plan that would see a deficit of about $10 billion for each of the first three years and then a balanced budget by the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Coldham said, “A significant infrastructure investment has been proven time and time again… to be the most efficient and impactful way that a government can stimulate the economy.”
Cherry, also a small business entrepreneur, said Canadians “need a government that looks after 100 per cent of its population, not the top eight per cent.”
He also challenged Kent’s claim that Canada is the envy of G7 countries.
“The U.S. was in way worse shape than us, but now, our dollar is worth 75 cents to theirs.”
Speaking about the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, Kent called it a “thinly disguised, multi-dimensional hate campaign” that targets the only democracy in the Middle East.
He said the BDS movement on campus is disruptive to students and his party has proposed a bill that would condemn the BDS movement and call on administrators of publically funded universities to “take real and firm action against all forms of hate speech.”
Coldham said the BDS movement is “un-Canadian and unacceptable,” but added that she is “annoyed” by the misconception that the Conservative party is the only one that supports Israel.
She said there is a “lack of a clear position and framework for a strong Middle East policy and that would do a lot to help, not just the security issue, but collectively make sure that Israel is safe in this world.”
Cherry said the BDS movement “is a touchy issue.” He also addressed the misconception that the Conservatives alone stand with Israel, but said that the NDP takes a more “pragmatic” and non-hypocritical” stance.
Speaking about the rise of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada and abroad, as well as terrorism on Canadian soil, Cherry said “the only way we are going to combat anti-Semitism, hatred, discrimination, marginalization and sexual discrimination is through education, and education comes through dialogue.
“I myself, I have to admit, I was embarrassed when one of our candidates did not understand that Auschwitz was tied to the Holocaust. That is an education issue.”
Coldham said addressing the issue takes much more than education and dialogue.
I think we need a strong legislative framework… She referred to retiring Liberal MP Irwin Cotler’s Ottawa Protocol on Combating Antisemitism, an action plan that was developed in 2010 and received all party support.
Speaking about the recent nuclear weapons agreement with Iran signed by the P5+1 nations, Coldham said, “This has been a weakness for the Harper government. Canada, yet again, had no say, and is not a player in the negotiations.”
Kent said the Conservative government has long maintained that Canada will judge Iran on its actions rather than words and contradictory slogans.
He said U.S. President Barack Obama should have continued with the strategy of tightened sanctions and aggressive diplomacy because “they were working… But European greed in some quarters, new trade deals with Iran, and I believe, President Obama’s fixation on a legacy deal in his lame duck year, has simply postponed an eventual crisis. President Obama has effectively… punted the crisis to his successor and the world.”
Cherry also criticized the deal.
“This agreement doesn’t go far enough, and the agreement should have been signed with Iran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist… Mistakes made in underestimating Iran’s ability would be nothing less than apocalyptic,” Cherry said.
“We need to put pressure on Iran… and restore our reputation as a peace broker.”