The good ship Election 2015 sailed into Parrsboro Regional High School on Friday as the five federal candidates in Cumberland-Colchester made their campaign pitches to more than 150 students.
The two candidates who have already represented the area, Conservative Scott Armstrong (2009-2015) and Liberal Bill Casey (1988-2009) took care not to criticize each other. Casey, who left the Conservative Party in 2007, has been saying lately he’s not running against Armstrong, his former campaign manager, but against Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
On Friday, Casey apologized to the students for having to leave before the question and answer period. He said he was going to Amherst to meet former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and thank him for his help in getting an Acadian village that burned in 1750 declared a National Historic Site.
“It’s one of the neatest things that happened to me all the time I was a Member of Parliament,” Casey said adding that after constituents came to him with information about the Acadian village of Beaubassin near Amherst, he approached everybody he could think of to get the village restored, but no one would listen.
“Finally, as a last resort, I walked across the floor in the House of Commons over to see the Prime Minister of Canada,” Casey explained. “I said, ‘Mr. Chrétien I need some help in my riding’ and he said, ‘Come on up to my office and we’ll talk.'”
Even though Casey was a Conservative backbencher at the time, Chrétien picked up the phone and called Parks Canada. It was the first step in eventually getting Beaubassin rebuilt as an historic site and tourist attraction.
“He (Chrétien) stuck his neck out,” Casey said. “He did something that nobody else did.”
Casey said the incident shows how much Members of Parliament can accomplish if they work together instead of bullying each other in the Commons.
“I am hoping that if I get elected again…I can play a part in bringing back civility to Parliament,” Casey said.
Armstrong on cyberbullying
Conservative Scott Armstrong also mentioned bullying, but in a different context noting that during the 2011 election campaign forum in Parrsboro, the candidates were talking about cyberbullying after the death of 17-year-old Courtney Brown.
Armstrong said that as a member of the Commons Justice Committee he pushed for a tough new law cracking down on cyberbullying while also supporting Nova Scotia’s anti-cyberbullying legislation.
“Working together between your federal government and your provincial government, we now have a good piece of legislation which protects all of you, that protects children across this country from anyone who tries to take advantage of you online,” Armstrong said.
During his 10-minute opening statement, Armstrong also pointed to the many things he said the Conservatives had done to help young people train for and get good-paying jobs. He mentioned, for example, that the federal government has apprenticeship loans and grants for people who want to qualify in the skilled trades. And, for the first time, the Canada Student Loan Program is available for trades training too.
“We have to recognize as a nation that all training is good,” Armstrong said, “whether it be academic training at the university or college level or whether it be for trades.”
Robinson paints picture of NDP Canada
When her turn came, NDP candidate Wendy Robinson suggested her wide variety of experiences as a retail worker, small business owner, university student and mother of two has helped her understand the realities many people face.
“I know what it is like to live below the poverty level,” she said, “struggle with student loans, search for gainful, meaningful employment while driving an old car.”
Robinson, who is Mayor of Stewiacke, painted a picture of what Canada would be like under an NDP federal government. She said that among other things, the NDP would develop clean energy to reduce reliance on fossil fuels while increasing youth employment and implementing a fair Employment Insurance system that protects seasonal workers.
“We should not have to wait until age 67 for a decent Old Age Security pension,” she said. “Women in this great country of ours should not be afraid of going missing or being murdered or turned away from shelters. Women should not be shut out of a work force because they cannot afford childcare. Fifteen dollar-a-day childcare is affordable.”
Green plan for Youth
Green Party candidate Jason Blanch tailored part of his presentation to his young Parrsboro audience mentioning the youth unemployment rate of 14 per cent and the high levels of student debt for those seeking more education to better their job prospects. He said the Green Party’s fair deal for youth platform favours abolishing tuition fees for universities, colleges and skills training programs.
“It’s not a new idea,” he said. “Germany, Austria, Norway, Sweden and Finland are some of the countries in the world that have this today. Some of the most successful economies in the world are in those countries. They’ve figured out that if you give people education, you harness their minds, their creativity and they’re able to lead your country to greater places.”
Blanch also mentioned the Green plan for a Youth Community and Environment Service Corps that would provide jobs for 40,000 young people every year for four years working on such things as environmental projects and helping old people.
Jackson’s idea for Engaged Democracy
Independent candidate Kenneth Jackson outlined his plan for restoring grass roots democracy using digital software he developed. He explained the technology is designed to enable citizens to voice their opinions and share their expertise on political issues. It would also allow them to rate the performance of their Member of Parliament and trigger a new election if an MP’s ratings fell below a certain level.
Jackson said he is using his website kennethjackson.ca to consult citizens on various public policies including economic development and the performance of public institutions.
“To me as a representative for the citizens of Cumberland-Colchester, I should do what you actually tell me to do,” Jackson said.
He added that it should not be left up to party leaders to decide on their various campaign platforms.
“We should have our own opinions, we have our own issues, we all have our own mindset and we should be able to formulate that into a valid policy that’s representative of ourselves,” he said.
Jackson told students he is writing a book outlining his ideas for citizen engagement in Canadian politics.
Parrsboro forum one of a kind
It’s a tradition for Parrsboro Regional High School to hold a candidates’ forum during every election campaign. Friday’s forum lasted more than an hour and a half.
Liberal candidate Bill Casey praised the students and teachers for organizing it.
“There’s a lot of schools in this riding and this is the only school that continually does it. When they called the election, this was the first school to call and say we are going to have a forum,” he said.
“So I think you’re number one,” Casey added as the students cheered and applauded.