While the candidates were cordial, they also brought passion to the table.
The Barrie Chamber of Commerce, in association with the Barrie and District Association of Realtors (BDAR), put on the Barrie-Innisfil all-candidates debate last night.
Members of a panel, comprised of representatives from the chamber, the BDAR and the media, posed questions to candidates on affordable housing, marijuana legalization, the opioid crisis, and red tape for small businesses.
In attendance at the debate were the Green Party's Bonnie North, the Conservative Party's John Brassard, the NDP's Pekka Reinio and Stephanie Robinson from the People's Party. The Liberal Party's Lisa-Marie Wilson was not in attendance, but sent in a prepared statement.
Brassard said his party plans to appoint a minister that reports to the prime minister to lead efforts to reduce red tape.
“It’s red tape that’s bogging down business, not just in Barrie-Innisfil but right across the country, and we have to make sure we’re helping those businesses,” said Brassard.
While no questions were asked about immigration, the issue made its way into the conversation.
“One issue small businesses have shared with us is the lack of workers," Reinio said. "We need to put in place programs to train and retain workers, and attract new workers."
Brassard said: “The other part of that is making sure the universities and colleges have programs where that employment is going to be. Immigration becomes important because we have a retiring population. We need a skilled set of immigrants coming to this country to back fill those positions becoming vacant is critical."
“We need to attract new people to our country to make sure we have young people who buy houses and spend money and pay into our pensions so we have a flourishing economy,” Reinio said.
“It’s not all about having workers we seem to think are going to come from other countries,” said Robinson. “We have to determine whether those people are actually able to do the jobs.”
One of the panelists asked whether parties were planning on continuing strengthening marijuana legislation.
“We’ve made it perfectly clear we’re not going to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Marijuana legislation is here to stay,” said Brassard. “Clearly, there are some issues. The revenue isn’t what was anticipated, we’ve seen that here in Ontario.”
“The People’s Party does not have an official stance on marijuana,” said Robinson, but she shared her concerns about the remaining prevalence of the black market.
Reinio said the NDP would also be planning to keep marijuana legal, as well as looking at the possibility of decriminalizing other controlled substances.
“We need to expunge the records of anyone who has done time for marijuana possession,” he said.
North said the Greens would also continue with the legislation of marijuana as it exists right now.
“What we’re finding now is in some areas (the rollout) has increased the black market, because it’s easier for someone to sell it on the black market at lower rates than what they’re getting through the licensed organizations,” she said. “We need to address that problem, but we’re not going to reverse time.”
North also said the Greens would look at decriminalizing other drugs.
“We also fully intend to decriminalize opioid addiction issues and use. We don’t believe addictions are a criminal problem, they’re a health-care problem,” she added.
A question about a lack of affordable housing stock raised the eyebrow of North.
“When we have 300,000 homeless people in this country, we have to have a Housing-First strategy,” she said. “There’s a fallacy that we don’t have enough supply. Across Canada, there is almost 1.4 million empty homes right now, so there is a supply.”
North also said the Greens want to legislate housing as a human right.
“The People’s Party believes that when people have more disposable income... they’ll have more money to be able to put toward buying their first home,” said Robinson.
“Over the past few decades, we’ve seen Barrie become the fourth most expensive city in Canada to rent, and the housing prices are exorbitant,” said Reinio, adding the NDP would institute a 15 per cent foreign-buyers tax on homes as well as a federal rent subsidy program.
“Every level of government has a responsibility toward affordable housing,” said Brassard. “One of the major issues right now is supply.”
During the audience question portion of the evening, topics discussed included whipping votes, international relations, transportation of oil, taxes and climate change.
The Barrie-Innisfil all-candidates debate will be broadcast on RogersTV starting tonight at 8 p.m., and will run multiple times leading into Election Day on Oct. 21.
The Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte all-candidates debate will take place on Thursday, Oct. 10 at the BDAR office, located at 676 Veterans Dr., from 6-8 p.m.