The three main candidates in Memramcook-Tantramar took part in a lively 90 minute forum last night that showed their varying strategies for wooing voters in the September 14 provincial election.
Green candidate Megan Mitton emphasized her experience speaking up for the riding on a wide variety of issues in the legislature, while Liberal Maxime Bourgeois and Progressive Conservative Carole Duguay presented themselves as best able to fight to protect local interests including the Sackville Memorial Hospital and the Memramcook Institute.
The bilingual candidates forum, organized by the Mount Allison Students’ Union (MASU), was conducted by Mario Levesque, head of the Mt. A politics and international relations department and was broadcast live by the campus/community station CHMA as well as on Facebook.
Former People’s Alliance candidate Heather Collins declined to participate and MASU did not invite Independent candidate Jefferson George Wright to take part because he is not running on behalf of a registered political party.
The debate was held without a live audience at Sackville Town Hall and before it began, MASU President Jonathan Ferguson explained that to ensure clear sound, Mayor Higham had granted special permission so that the moderator and candidates would not have to wear the masks that are now required in all town buildings.
“I have proven experience as an MLA standing up in the legislature, working in a minority government, working to serve constituents across the riding,” Mitton declared in her opening statement.
“I am an experienced, proven and effective Green MLA and that is better than having a backbencher and there are no Green backbenchers,” she said, suggesting that if elected, either of her Liberal or PC opponents would end up sitting on the sidelines as a rookie MLA.
Liberal Maxime Bourgeois countered Mitton’s strategy during a discussion about cuts to Sackville hospital services that Conservative Premier Higgs first supported before cancelling them in February.
Bourgeois said the Liberals are firmly against cuts to rural hospitals, then added that Green leader David Coon had been quoted that morning in the Irving-owned Telegraph-Journal as saying he saw a lot of similarities in the Green and Conservative platforms.
“So, I think it’s fairly scary to see that David Coon is actually considering working with the Conservative government,” Bourgeois said. “I truly believe that I am the best choice just because, well, one of the reasons is that we don’t want Higgs to cut our health care.”
PC candidate Carole Duguay said Higgs has admitted he made a mistake in supporting cuts to hospital services that the regional health authorities had recommended and that the previous Liberal government had tried to implement.
She added that Higgs had promised to consult citizens before making any changes.
Duguay suggested that if she is elected, she would have influence with Higgs as premier.
“I am there to represent the citizens and therefore, I will be the voice with the premier,” she said, suggesting that if the government were to try to make any changes, she would be in a position to speak up.
“I will make sure to remind him of the promise he made to have consultations,” she said.
When asked by moderator Mario Levesque if she would vote against her own party on the issue, Duguay replied, “I would definitely stand with the citizens of Sackville.”
Mitton responded that Duguay wouldn’t likely be able to vote against her own party because of the voting discipline the older parties impose.
“We’re looking at likely Progressive Conservatives able to form a government, but no one here is going to be at the cabinet table,” Mitton said.
“We may see though a minority government in which the Greens could hold the balance of power and responsibility,” she said, adding that’s what the Green leader meant by working with a PC government.
“What is the other option to go back to the polls again, to not have a government be formed?” she asked. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
The Liberal candidate raised Green collaboration with the Conservative government again during a discussion about climate change.
Bourgeois noted that Mitton had called for urgent action on climate change.
“I think it’s a bit ironic,” he said, “Megan Mitton saying that it’s an urgent action where the Green party has voted for the Conservative budget on multiple times.”
“That’s not true,” Mitton interjected as Bourgeois went on to say that the Liberals favour many actions on climate change including banning glyphosate spraying on crown land and eliminating single-use plastics.
After Mitton renewed her call for action including rebuilding the economy in the pandemic so that our economic system no longer contributes to climate change, Bourgeois weighed in again.
“If it’s an urgent matter and we still need to address it, I’m wondering why the Green party, I think seven out of eight times voted for the budget,” he said.
“I’m not sure what he is talking about,” Mitton responded. “I did not vote in support of the government’s budget,” she said, acknowledging that she had abstained as did every Liberal MLA. (Mitton’s Green colleague Kevin Arseneau also abstained while leader David Coon joined the People’s Alliance and government MLAs in voting for the budget.)
“The reasons the Liberals abstained,” Bourgeois said, “is that we wanted to be sure that the government would stay in power because of the pandemic.”
PC Carole Duguay was quick to respond.
“Both the Liberals and the Greens have abstained,” Duguay said.
“As a representative, I am elected to be your voice, not to abstain and be silent. I believe both parties should have voted either way, it’s a democracy and we need to vote, we can’t just abstain,” she concluded.
To watch the debate on Facebook, click here.