INVERNESS: No fewer than seven candidates for the Cape Breton-Canso MP seat visited the Inverness Fire Hall for a lively discussion last Sunday night.
Around the table were: Michelle Dockrill, independent; Billy Joyce, People’s Party of Canada; Darlene LeBlanc, National Citizens Alliance; Laurie Suitor, NDP; Clive Doucet, Green Party; Mike Kelloway, Liberal; and Alfie MacLeod, Conservative. Serving as moderator was Rob Burbach, vice-president of the Inverness Development Association which sponsored the event.
Burbach kept the discussion focused on three distinct areas: the role of the federal government on supporting rural infrastructure; climate change; and the rural economy.
“The Inverness boardwalk was only built because ACOA came out with a federal grant and, traditionally, large rural economic projects need all three levels of government to work together,” said Burbach. “What’s the role of the federal government in supporting rural infrastructure?”
Joyce said Part 6 Section 91-95 of the Canadian Constitution outlines the powers of provinces as opposed to the federal government. Past governments have blurred the lines between the two, he said, in order to make political promises, but he added he’d be happy to work with municipal units through federal infrastructure programs.
Kelloway noted that Inverness’ waste water problem is a good example of much needed infrastructure, and if elected, he said he’s ready to battle to have the situation fixed.
Working with municipal councils and the local MLA is key to federal involvement on infrastructure, MacLeod said.
“The federal government isn’t keeping track of aging infrastructure well enough,” said Suitor, adding that climate change has to be considered in how infrastructure ought to be installed. “Otherwise, your infrastructure will fail in short order.”
Doucet said there’s a discrepancy in what tax payers provide and what they get back.
“Fifty per cent of our taxes go to Ottawa, and we’re not seeing 50 per cent come back,” he said. “We need a national program for bringing rural towns and villages up to standard.”
Dockrill questioned how the failure of Inverness’ waste water treatment plant managed to go without a remedy from three levels of government. An independent MP has significant freedom to support any legislation needed to remedy such problems.
LeBlanc said she traveled local highways a fair bit, and she’s seen death traps that aren’t scheduled for repairs in the province’s five-year highway improvement plan.
On the climate change side of things, local resident Neal Livingstone had a question for the candidates. He asked what the candidates think of solar energy as a way to help both the environment and boost the economy in terms of creating green jobs.
The point was, clearly, something that fits well with the Green Party’s mandate.
“The old economy is going, and the new economy is arriving,” Doucet said. “We need to start retrofitting our buildings and the whole island. Cape Breton has tons to offer, but it’s been badly invested in for my entire lifetime.”
Kelloway noted that it’s wrong to think a sustainable environment costs jobs. Indeed, he said, the building trades benefit from building projects associated with green projects. Suitor said there is simply no longer a choice to sign on with renewable energy.
MacLeod said technology is the answer to climate change, and there is an economic benefit to that. Dockrill said the answers are in the communities, and she mentioned that coastal erosion is a similar issue that needs to be addressed.
Joyce pointed out that his party believes “climate change alarmism is based on flawed models.” He suggested that green technology can be developed in the private sector.
The National Citizens Alliance holds that climate change is a natural phenomenon, LeBlanc said, and she questioned the motivations of scientist who claim different.
Serving as president of the IDA is Rose Mary MacDonald, and she presented a question to the candidates relating to the community’s waste water treatment facility. The facility needs to be replaced. It currently is causing a smell in the community that’s quite unpleasant.
“The provincial government is willing to work with the community, but they’re saying it [the application to fund a new waste water system] will go to the federal level the next round,” she said. “That will happen in 2020 and the actual construction will happen in the summer of 2020.
“This community and the investors in this community do not deserve that type of service.”
MacLeod was very direct about his response.
“The first thing I’d do is meet with the premier asking him to make this a priority for this community,” MacLeod said. “Second, I’d sit down with the Minister of Infrastructure and Renewal and say this is a priority for this community. We can’t wait any longer.”
Doucet said as a former city councillor, he worked with sewer and water issues extensively. He had the idea that a federal pilot project could be set up with a new funding mechanism to fix the problem promptly.
“The buck stops with your MP,” said Kelloway. “Your MP plays a fundamental leadership role with bringing levels of government together, the business community and the not-for-profits to make this of primary importance now.”
Dockrill said water woes facing Inverness were allowed to happen by all three levels of government. “The only way to get action from the government is to shame them into it,” she said.
LeBlanc, Suitor, and Joyce were also unimpressed that the matter grew to such an extent.
“There’s no reason the federal government is ignoring this,” Joyce said. “It should have been thought of before they pledged new money for airports and golf courses.”
On the matter of the rural economy, Burbach presented a question regarding what each candidate would do as it relates to helping young people put money in their pockets while remaining in their home communities.
“There’s an agreement called the labour market agreement where the federal government works with the provincial government to identify key training areas that lead to employment,” Kelloway said, adding that microloans can serve to help small start-up businesses, and good internet service is important.
“Internet is very important, and we can look at tax cuts to make it more affordable for young people to buy homes here,” MacLeod said. “The other thing that’s a challenge is raising a family. One of the things we’ve been looking at is that anyone on maternity leave won’t have to pay taxes on that leave.”
Dockrill said both the Liberals and Conservatives are good at presenting talking points, but “if you want to effect change, you have to be honest with what’s in front of you.”
LeBlanc was also critical of past governments, noting that “Nova Scotia has the highest childhood poverty rate in Atlantic Canada, and Cape Breton has the highest in Nova Scotia.” She said it’s time an MP brings proper childcare policies to the area.
“We need families here where parents are able to see their kids and grandparents are able to see their grandkids,” Suitor said. “If we had a comprehensive program, we could offer financial supports for families. We need to support the ingenuity of the young people in our community for home-placed businesses.”
Joyce said the People’s Party of Canada wants to eliminate the capital gains tax and reduce the personal income tax rate. “We want to take care of our seniors, our veterans, our first nations first,” he said.
Doucet said better internet, better child care, and better housing are all matters that are addressed in the Green Party’s policies.