Local voters in the Sept. 20 federal election who were looking forward to last Thursday’s English-language leaders debate were served an appetizer beforehand during a Zoom forum featuring the respective party candidates in Haldimand-Norfolk.
The sponsor of the web event, which lasted about two hours, was the Simcoe and District Chamber of Commerce with an assist from the Delhi and District Chamber of Commerce.
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Due to the all-pervasive impact of COVID-19, much of the local discussion centred on the pandemic and how it has been handled at the federal level.
Canadians have watched how the Trudeau Liberals’ minority government has responded since March 2020. With a fourth wave mounting, new variants emerging, and flu and cold season around the corner, authorities warn there are other shoes to drop.
“We must never again be caught unprepared,” said Leslyn Lewis of Dunnville, the Conservative Party of Canada candidate in Haldimand-Norfolk.
Lewis lamented Canada’s shortage of personal protective equipment at the onset of the pandemic and the country’s ongoing inability to manufacture its vaccines.
“The Liberals were not ready and the response was very delayed,” she said.
The format chosen for the evening was question-and-answer. Rebuttals were explicitly forbidden. This freed the candidates to answer as they pleased questions posed by Simcoe chamber president Sue Downs and past chamber president Alan Duthie.
The ongoing discussion about whether Canadians should carry “passports” to determine who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t weighed heavily on some candidates.
Christian Heritage Party candidate Charles Lugosi and Veterans Coalition Party candidate George McMorrow warned that a passport system will create social divisions by creating two classes of Canadians.
“We have to ensure we do not fall into a segregated society of the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated,” Lugosi said.
Conversely, New Democratic Party candidate Meghan Piironen, a university student and recent graduate of Cayuga Secondary School, had no such reservations. She said vaccine passports are needed to protect the vaccinated from the unvaccinated.
“I believe the vaccine passport is important for our safety, and I am not against it whatsoever,” Piironen said. “For non-essential services, I believe it is important to have vaccine passports. The NDP will always prioritize Canadian workers and keeping them safe.”
For her part, local Liberal candidate Karen Matthews took the opportunity of the forum to promote her party’s commitment to subsidized daycare for all families.
Matthews noted that the pandemic shock to the economy had a disproportionate impact on female workers and that they need help getting their careers back on track now that vaccines are taking the edge off pandemic symptoms.
“It’s going to be important to get women back into the workforce,” Matthews said, touting her party’s $10-a-day daycare plan.
For his part, McMorrow said there are plenty of “Help wanted” signs in store windows most everywhere you go. He blamed this on federal Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) payments to displaced workers, something he said the VCP will put an end to.
“We will revisit the CERB,” McMorrow said. “We don’t believe in paying people not to work. Not that we disagreed with the CERB. But it’s time to get back to work. That’s what’s keeping people lazy and at home. If you want to pay people not to work, you’re asking for trouble.”
The People’s Party of Canada candidate in Haldimand-Norfolk – Ken Gilpin – made a brief appearance on Sept. 9 but begged off before the event got underway.
A PPC colleague appeared in his place on screen and explained that Gilpin had been feeling ill lately and that he was just not up to take on the strain of an all-candidates forum.
The tape of the event is available for viewing for those who wish to watch it. To learn more, visit the Simcoe chamber website.