Peterborough Chapter: Candidates discuss homelessness issues at debate organized by the Canadian Association of Retired Persons

Click here to read ‘Candidates discuss homelessness issues at debate organized by the Canadian Association of Retired Persons‘ by Joelle Kovach – The Peterborough Examiner, September 18, 2015,

What to do about homelessness was one of the top concerns at an all-candidates debate attended by about 150 people at the auditorium of the Peterborough Public Library on Thursday night.

The event was hosted by the local chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), and the crowd was predominantly older.

It was the first time all five candidates were in attendance at a debate, during this campaign.

Toban Leckie, a Trent University graduate student who is running for the new Strength in Democracy Party, had not been invited to previous debates in the city.

But he was there on Thursday, alongside Green party candidate Doug Mason, Conservative Michael Skinner and Liberal Maryam Monsef.

Homelessness, particularly among seniors, was a hot topic.

Nickle said he’s come across some ramshackle rooming houses, as he’s been canvassing. What he saw there appalled him.

“Some of our seniors live under conditions you wouldn’t put a dog in,” he said.

Yet then-prime minister Jean Chretien stopped funding affordable housing in 1994, Nickle said, and the Liberals should be ashamed of that.

The NDP is proposing to pump money back into affordable housing, he said – and he expects it would reduce the 10-year wait lists, in Peterborough.

Monsef took exception to the comment about how Chretien handled homelessness, back in 1994.

“I’m running for the Liberal party of 2015,” she said, adding that the party now has a series of plans to put money back into the construction of affordable housing.

She said she knows first-hand how important it is: She lived in places such as the Crossroads women’s shelter when she arrived here from her native Afghanistan with her mother and sisters, as a child.

“Had it not been for these safety nets, I would not be here today,” she said.

Mason said the Greens believe in a national housing strategy because finding comfortable homes for the needy has a “trickle-up effect”.

“If your community looks better, you begin to create a better community,” he said.

Leckie said the Strength in Democracy Party will invest in affordable housing.

“But not every community needs it like Peterborough needs it,” he said. “We like the idea of finding policies that will work for some regions, but won’t take money out of the pockets of other regions.”

Skinner said that’s exactly why housing strategies are better left to the provinces. He believes the feds should stay out of it.

“Is Ontario different from Alberta or P.E.I.?” he asked. “I think it is.”

When poverty and pensions were discussed, Nickle said he’s upset that some seniors use food banks in Peterborough.

Yet some people are hostile to the NDP’s “fairness agenda” when he presents it in public, he said.

“The more hostile they are, the higher the likelihood they’ll go in the parking lot afterward and drive away in a Bimmer,” he said.

But Monsef said it wasn’t fair to “vilify” people who drive luxury cars – they’re the philanthropists of the city, and they contribute to the tax base.

She said the Liberals would “pull Canada out of a recession” and make sure more people can prosper.

Nickle was facetious, in response.

“I want to apologize to anyone who drives a Mercedes or a Bimmer,” he said, looking not at all contrite. “I don’t want their philanthropy – I want them to pay their fair share of taxes.”

Meanwhile, Skinner touted Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) as an excellent tool to help seniors put away money for their nest eggs.

He said it’s a great way the Conservatives have allowed people to put up to $10,000 away, tax-free, per year. But the idea irritated a few people in the crowd.

“That’s if you’ve got $10,000 to put away,” chided a heckler.

Leckie expanded on the heckler’s idea.

“The TFSA doesn’t actually work for everyone – young people my age haven’t been able to contribute at all,” he said.

Speaking of young people, Mason said they should have their student loans forgiven. He said the idea would benefit seniors, in a roundabout way.

If you take away student debt, he said, then younger people have more disposable income to spend and perk up the economy.

Seniors are better off retiring in a rosy economy, Mason said, and that’s why he thinks debt-forgiveness helps everyone.

“It’s a way of taking stress off overly-burdened, productive people – and that has a trickle-up effect,” he said.

The next all-candidates debate is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Friday at the Lions Community Centre on Burnham Street in East City and is expected to focus on aboriginal issues.