Burnaby South candidates face off in federal election town hall
The candidates took questions on housing, mental health, diversity and more.
A Burnaby South election town hall on Tuesday evening saw 5 candidates take the stage to answer questions about housing, economic recovery, and mental health and addiction.
Likky Lavji (Conservative), Brea Huang Sami (Liberal), Peter Julian (NDP on behalf of Jagmeet Singh, who was absent because he was in Toronto for a sit-down interview with CBC News), Maureen Curran (Greens), and Martin Kendell (Independent) were in attendance.
There was much discussion during the nearly 90-minute town hall. Here are some key highlights that stood out:
The town hall kicked off with a question about economic recovery and how the parties plan to help struggling Canadians and small businesses.
Julian: Said that many parts of the NDP platform — such as a national pharmacare plan and housing affordability — helps to benefit small businesses. He said the NDP’s plan was a “comprehensive recovery approach” that recognizes that Canada is still in a pandemic and Canadians will continue to need support from the government.
Sami: Said the Liberals acted quickly to put supports into place for Canadians during the pandemic. “We know not all sectors will recover at the same speed,” said Sami who added the Liberals are committed to implementing additional supports for the hospitality and tourism sectors. “In the meantime, we have the National Recovery Hiring Program where small businesses will be able to continue to hire more people and keep their employees on payroll,” she said.
Lavji: The Conservative candidate said the party is committed to securing the economy. He said that while the COVID supports made available for Canadians were positive, there is now a massive debt for the country to pay off. “We need to stimulate our economy by putting resources back in, getting people back to work,” he said. Lavji said the Conservatives would provide up to a 50% salary break for employers over the next 6 months to get Canadians back to work.
Kendell: Didn’t provide a clear answer to the questions but did note his observations about the pandemic and the impact on workers and businesses. He said he saw many of his friends lose their jobs during the pandemic and rely on supports like CERB, which helped them survive. However, when it came to the government’s supports for businesses, he said he had “big problems with some of these big industries. They basically gave themselves bonuses, they bought stock back, and they also laid people off, which was not part of the deal. The deal was that … the industries were supposed to be paying people to stay on the payroll, keeping [people] off EI–that didn’t happen.”
Curran: She pointed out the Greens have a similar plan to the NDP when it comes to recovery. “We also believe that one of the best ways to encourage people and allow them to get back to work is to support them, to give them the healthcare, and the daycare, and those mental health supports,” she said. “A lot of people have been struggling recently, we need those things to help bridge us back into … employment.” Curran added that instead of investing billions into fossil fuels, the money has to be put back into communities and invested into green infrastructure that will last for future generations.
Mental health and addiction
The next question asked candidates what their parties’ plans are to support the mental health of Canadians and to tackle the opioid crisis and addiction.
Lavji: Said that the Conservative’s plan recognizes that “mental health is health.” He added that the policy the Conservatives want to introduce will allow “people with mental health benefits so they can actually recover” by offering employers a 25% tax credit for the cost of additional mental health coverage for the first 3 years. Lavji did not address addiction in his answer.
Kendell: Said he does not support the decriminalization of simple possession of illicit drugs. “I think that opioids and methamphetamines are awful drugs,” he said. “That being said, I think there are drugs such as marijuana, and psychedelics, which we should be exploring in order to help people with their dependency issues.” He said that individuals experiencing addiction need to be provided with “proper treatment,” and support such as job opportunities, and shelter.
Curran: As a teacher, Curran said she’s noticed how young people specifically are struggling with mental health and “that’s something that needs to be addressed.” She said that the opioid crisis needs to be dealt with from a holistic perspective. “When it came to things like COVID, we listened to the scientists and public health experts and they say not to decriminalize everything, but to … decriminalize personal possession so that people who are having the problems can go and get help without being arrested. They will not go for help if they’re going to end up in jail,” she stated.
Julian: Said Singh has pushed for mental health care “from the top of our heads to the soles of our feet.” He said the NDP platform has very ambitious mental health goals. According to the NDP platform, these include bringing in mental health care for uninsured Canadians and making mental health prescriptions free under its universal pharmacare program. Julian said the party supports decriminalization and safe supply. “We need to declare this a public health emergency. The Liberals–Mr. Trudeau– failed to do that,” said Julian.
Sami: Highlighted the Liberal’s plan to implement $4.5 billion over the next 5 years towards mental health services under the Canada Mental Health Transfer. She added the party would set up a mental health crisis hotline to help those who are isolated access help immediately.
Diversity and inclusion
Candidates were asked what diversity means to them and how their party will leverage diverse perspectives in decision-making and planning for economic growth to create a more inclusive country.
Curran: Emphasized that local, diverse voices need to be heard. “The community is [made up of] a wide range of people. That’s one of the reasons I love it here. I grew up in Toronto, it’s the same idea. It has a wide range of people from lots of different places. And that means we need to have the services that help support everybody, whether they’re single families, or whether they’re single parents, whether they’re seniors,” she said. Curran added that in order to serve a diverse community, there needs to be supportive housing and support for Indigenous communities.
Julian: Began by mentioning that Singh is the first racialized national leader in Canada. He said Singh understands the importance of involving folks from diverse backgrounds in all levels of decision-making. “That’s why in the NDP platform, there are specific references to working with marginalized groups for housing, working with Indigenous communities to actually have a place, an Indigenous housing strategy, [and] making sure that we are fighting back against racism with the anti-racism strategy,” he said.
Sami: Said the Liberals are committed to making an “equal Canada” where “everyone is protected” and the party is committed to a “number of great programs to support women, support Black communities, support LGBTQ communities, [and] support all other residents.”
Lavji: Began his answer by speaking about the workplace. He said the Conservatives are pushing for large corporations to ensure employees “actually get a seat at the board level. He went on to say that the Conservatives want to be “inclusive of every single human being” and there is “no race, there is no sexual orientation” and that everyone must be treated as “one human being.”
Kendell: Stated that as a “white guy” he’s “very proud to have to have friends of all different spectrums of the rainbow.”
“I have friends who are LGBTQ, I have friends who are east Indian, Asian, from all around the world,” he said. Kendall added that there have been “good advances” made to create equal opportunities for minorities, but there is room for improvement and his goal as MP would be to ensure “every Canadian is equal.”
Representing the people of Burnaby South
The candidates were asked if they were willing to vote against their party if there was an issue that was of particular importance to the people of Burnaby South.
Lavji: Said he is committed to being the “loud voice” to make things happen for his riding. In short, he said, “the answer is yes, I will speak on behalf of the riding.”
Kendell: Noted that he doesn’t have a party behind him but said he wanted to make clear his party is the people of Burnaby South. “I don’t care if you voted Liberal. I don’t care if you voted NDP, I don’t care if you go to PPC. I don’t care if you didn’t vote, I’m here for you. That’s what I’m here for.”
Curran: Said her party is not whipped and she is not controlled by them. “I am here to be your voice. I’m here to work together and bring a party platform. But if there is something that is in conflict with our needs, as a community, I would certainly stand up for you first and for my conscience,” she said. Curran added that one of the reasons she turned away from the NDP is that she found Singh was not speaking out about the issues with the TMX pipeline expansion project which is causing “massive” problems for the community.”
Julian: Defended Singh and said he has stood up for issues that “all the party leaders have simply ignored, including Trans Mountain.” Julian said Singh listens to the people in his riding and works collaboratively with all levels of government.
Sami: Said a “strong local voice” was needed to represent the people of Burnaby South. “We need real local leadership. We don’t need someone who just has a fancy party leader title. … We don’t need someone who has disappeared for the whole 2 years.”
This is a snapshot of some of the issues covered and the responses provided during Tuesday’s town hall. The full event can be viewed online. Be sure to read Burnaby Beacon’s interviews with all 5 Burnaby South candidates here: