Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Issues

First of all, thank you to the candidates who took the time to respond to our questions — Michelle Dockrill, Lois Foster, Jodi McDavid and Kenzie MacNeil. As promised, we extended the deadline to Thursday at 5:00 PM for those candidates who had not yet replied, and here are the results of that extension:

Alfie MacLeod, Jaime Battiste, Randy Joy, Archie MacKinnon.

Alfie MacLeod, Jaime Battiste, Randy Joy, Archie MacKinnon.

Sydney-Victoria

Alfie MacLeod (Conservative Party of Canada), Jaime Battiste (Liberal Party of Canada), Randy Joy (Veterans Coalition Party of Canada) and Archie MacKinnon (Independent) did not answer the Spectator‘s questions.

Top: Billy Joyce, Eddie Orrell, Laurie Suitor. Bottom: Clive Doucet, Darelene LeBlanc, Mike Kelloway.

Top: Billy Joyce, Eddie Orrell, Laurie Suitor. Bottom: Clive Doucet, Darelene LeBlanc, Mike Kelloway.

Cape Breton-Canso

Billy Joyce (People’s Party of Canada) Eddie Orrell (Conservative Party of Canada), Laurie Suitor (NDP), Clive Doucet (Green Party of Canada), Darlene LeBlanc (National Citizens Alliance) and Mike Kelloway (Liberal Party of Canada) did not answer the Spectator‘s questions.

To show our civic-mindedness, we’re removing the paywall on these election edition stories today (Friday) so anyone who wishes to read them before Monday’s election may do so.

And now, here are our thoughts on what we heard (with the exception of Michelle Smith’s, she is working in a different time zone this week and her answers will be added as soon as received):

 

Dolores Campbell

Would your party or, in the case of the independents, you, consider establishing a Guaranteed Annual Income for all Canadians that would provide them with at least the basics of life?

Only four of the candidates running for federal seats in Cape Breton bothered to take the time to respond to my question re: a guaranteed annual income. This was a little surprising to me, given what they’ve all told us about how their particular party understands the problems facing those in our communities who are struggling financially.

I saw today on social media a term which, I admit, I had never heard before, “unsatisfied basic needs” or UBN, a measure of poverty which sounds mealy-mouthed to me. How about HCH — Hungry, Cold and Homeless?

Independents 

Both Independent candidates — Kenzie MacNeil in Sydney-Victoria and Michelle Dockrill in Cape Breton Canso — are supporters of a GAI, MacNeil since the 1970s. Dockrill was able to reference the policy enacted in Dauphin, Manitoba in the 1970s as well as Kathleen Wynne’s similar plan in Ontario. (You know the one, the one that Doug Ford unceremoniously cancelled soon after his election.)

Green Party of Canada

Lois Foster, representing the Green Party in Sydney-Victoria, stated that a “Guaranteed Living Income” (GLI) is costed in their platform, although the party’s own costing document states:

Over the longer term, the GPC intends to negotiate [with] other orders of government to implement a Guaranteed Livable Income, to effectively eliminate the fear of job loss and poverty. It is not yet clear how much such a program would cost or what cost reductions in existing programs it would enable, nor how such costs and benefits would be shared among governments.

The platform explains the program this way:

Establish a universal Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI) program to replace the current array of income supports, such as disability payments, social assistance and income supplements for seniors.

Building on the MBM [Market Basket Measure], payment would be set at a “livable” level for different regions of the country. The negotiation to implement a livable income across the country would take place through the Council of Canadian Governments. Unlike existing income support programs, additional income would not be clawed back. Those earning above a certain total income would pay the GLI back in taxes

Independents would be able to support the Greens’ promise of a GLI should the Greens form a government or be in a position to put forward a GAI policy to whichever party does form one, although most of us would deem either scenario as pretty much an impossibility, given the polls. What I like about the Greens’ stance is that any money earned by recipients of their GLI would not be clawed back but taxes would be paid on their total income. Personally, I would prefer if they paid taxes only on their earned income, but just the fact that the Greens have a GLI plan in their platform is a good thing.

NDP

As for the NDP platform, as outlined by Jodi McDavid, they are promising the sun, the moon and the stars with a platform expected to result in a $32.7 billion deficit in the first year with a projected increase in revenue of $30 billion. It would be hard to be critical of such wide-ranging measures that would assist so many, but why they would not have included a basic income plan seems very strange to me. McDavid found fault with the $16,800 that was given single people as part of the GAI pilot program in Ontario, but I’ve read the stories of some who were on the receiving end of that money and how it changed their lives for the better.

The NDP plan, or parts of it, could very well be implemented, given how the polls are indicating a very close election that could put them in a position to form a coalition with another party, although they insist they would not do so with the Conservatives. (That, of course, could change on a dime.) But I believe having the NDP as part of a coalition government, pushing to implement the best policies of both parties, could only be a good thing. And who knows? Somewhere along the way, the voices of those most vulnerable in our society might finally be heard.

 

Sean Howard

Non-Violence

Non-Violence is a bronze sculpture by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd of an oversized Colt Python .357 Magnum revolver with a knotted barrel and the muzzle pointing upwards. Reuterswärd made this sculpture after singer-songwriter and peace activist John Lennon was murdered. There are now 32 copies of the statue around the world, including this one at the UN headquarters in New York. (Wikipedia)

In the 1990s Canada was a leader on international disarmament, receiving plaudits for its role in negotiating the ‘Ottawa Convention’ banning landmines, and earning the nickname ‘the nuclear nag’ for its efforts to move NATO away from reliance on nuclear weapons. Today, Canada stands with the nuclear-weapon states in opposing the new UN Nuclear Ban Treaty, and has ceased to champion the ‘human security’ agenda it helped to shape. What would your party – and you personally – do to restore Canada’s credibility as a country that does more than ‘talk the talk’ on peace?”

I am grateful for the thoughtful and interesting responses received, though also dismayed — if not surprised — at the deafening silence of the candidates of the two traditional governing parties. Both the Liberals and Conservatives, in fact, are turning their backs on their own record of taking issues of peace and disarmament seriously. A gulf, indeed, appears to be opening between those for whom a ban on nuclear weapons makes perfect moral, human and political sense, and those who appear to have banished the subject from their minds and consciences.

 

Rachel Haliburton

Prime Minister Stephen Harper uses a sign to show a future 1 percent cut to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) at a Giant Tiger department store, on Friday June 30, 2006. The tax cut takes effect on July 1, 2006. JANA CHYTILOVA / OTT

Prime Minister Stephen Harper uses a sign to show a future 1 percent cut to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) at a Giant Tiger department store, on Friday June 30, 2006. The tax cut takes effect on July 1, 2006. JANA CHYTILOVA / OTT

Given deficits are rising and healthcare in trouble, would you (or your party) consider raising the GST back to where it was before former Prime Minister Stephen Harper cut it?

I was very disappointed with most of the responses to my question, which may indicate that it was poorly worded. The question was intended to get the candidates to explain how they would pay for their promises: in the case of at least some of the main parties, this includes a promise to cut taxes on the “middle class,” and to provide ever more and even better services.

As someone who works in higher education, and whose work as an ethicist requires me to spend a lot of time in hospitals, hospices and long-term care homes, I can tell readers (and I’m sure that this will come as no surprise) that these institutions are in big trouble, because they do not receive enough funding from various levels of government. But we seem happy to believe, and politicians seem happy to tell us, that we can have everything — better services and lower taxes.

In this context, my question about the GST was meant (given the first part of the question, which referenced challenges in healthcare) to encourage candidates to explain HOW they would pay for their promises, and to see if any would acknowledge that we might have to raise some taxes, somewhere, to make a better society for all. The only candidate who answered the question in the way I expected was Lois Foster, the Green candidate, who laid out a detailed (and, to my mind, well thought-out) explanation of how the Greens would pay for their promises. Her response was enough to make me seriously consider voting Green!

As for the other candidates, I’m not sure what to say: they focused entirely on the GST part of the question, rather than the healthcare part. Further, while the GST can be regressive, it’s clear it could be tweaked in ways that would actually benefit those living in poverty: for example, we could charge no GST at all on things like food and rent, and raise it on the sale of luxury vehicles, and use the money to fund school lunch programs.

But if we truly want to make life affordable for “working people” (another unclear category like “middle class”) by, say, providing dental and pharmacare, and even camping credits, as well as maintaining or even improving healthcare and education, candidates need to explain how these things will be paid for. Voters are not idiots: we need to have clear information about party platforms if we are to actually know what we’re voting for.

Do we want lower taxes and fewer services? Or the reverse? The Green proposals seem to recognize the importance of explaining how their promises will be paid for, and they seem to have worked out where they can raise taxes without penalizing those living in poverty. Moreover, these proposals seem to fit well with the larger goals of the party.  I expected to see similarly detailed proposals from all of the candidates. To the others, then, I can only ask again: how are you going to pay from your promises?

 

Mary Campbell

A 2017 audit of the federal access to information system (led by Fred Vallance-Jones of the University of King’s College in Halifax) found that the system is slower and less responsive than provincial and municipal systems. The federal government was given a grade of “F” for disclosure of information — much of what it releases is redacted and it is reluctant to provide information in computer-readable formats like spreadsheets. Given that citizens have a right to this information and that access to it is key to a functioning democracy, what do you (or your party) intend to do to improve Canada’s access to information system?
All the candidates who responded recognized the importance of access to information, which is gratifying, although the federal Liberals also recognized that importance in 2015 — their platform included “five or six fixes to the act,” according to retired CBC reporter (and ATIP ninja) Dean Beeby:
They haven’t delivered any of them.

In fact, they delivered a bill, which is still going through the Senate, which is going to make things worse — in the opinion of myself and many others.

It’s sort of ironic because the Liberals have fretted about the decline of the news business and they’ve talked about how can we restore the ability of journalists to do their investigative work.

Well, here’s one thing they could do. And they’re just washing their hands of it. They’re just giving us sort of a very tepid response to a very serious problem.

The public has a right to see what governments are up to and this act was supposed to be a conduit. And, in fact, it’s an obstacle now.

And here in Nova Scotia, Stephen McNeil’s liberals promised, “the most open and transparent government in Canada,” according to SaltWire columnist Jim Vibert, who noted in 2018 that:

[P]ublic information held by government, and which Nova Scotians have every right to see, is routinely denied them.

Even when the [privacy] commissioner’s office gets involved and tells the government it has no right to withhold information, the air-tight bureaucracy is as likely as not to ignore that direction. Nova Scotians have to incur the cost and hassle of taking the province to court to gain access to information that is theirs by right.

The thing is, opposition parties (and independents) benefit from effective access to information systems as much as — if not more than — journalists, businesspeople and regular citizens do, so they tend, while in opposition, to support measures to strengthen systems and empower privacy commissioners. (Independents, it’s just occurring to me, by virtue of rarely entering government, probably never lose their love for effective access to information systems.)

Political parties, on the other hand, tend to be like the federal and provincial Liberals, losing their enthusiasm for access-to-information reforms once they’ve come to power and are suddenly the ones who could suffer embarrassment or political damage from the release of information.

But I’m pleased to see the Greens’ have an actual plan and that the NDP candidate in Sydney-Victoria has such a personal understanding of the importance of the free-flow of information, and I will hope these are plans and beliefs that could withstand the pressure of electoral success.

 

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