Federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole was not present at Thursday’s candidates’ forum at Sackville Town Hall, but his name was mentioned at least twice by Liberal Dominic LeBlanc, who is running for re-election in Beauséjour.
LeBlanc’s drubbing of O’Toole and his repeated attacks on his party suggest the Liberals see Conservatives as a serious electoral threat now that the two parties are running neck-and-neck in national opinion polls.
When asked about abortion for example, LeBlanc began his answer by calling it a constitutional right upheld for decades by the Supreme Court and he said all Liberal candidates are in favour of a woman’s right to choose.
“All of our candidates would vote against legislation, for example, from Conservative backbenchers that seek to restrict a woman’s constitutional right,” LeBlanc said.
“Mr. O’Toole pretends he’s in favour of a woman’s right to choose, but allows 40 or 50 of his members of Parliament to vote regularly in Parliament in favour of laws that would restrict a woman’s right to choose,” he added.
LeBlanc said that he’s proud the Liberal government withheld federal funding from New Brunswick because of the provincial government’s failure to support access to abortions at Clinic 554 in Fredericton.
“We’ll continue to use the Canada Health Act, and in fact, go further and make it illegal to protest or harass people who seek to have access to health-care clinics or facilities including obviously, abortion clinics,” he said.
Conservative candidate Shelly Mitchell said the issue should be “de-politicized completely” because abortion is a private matter between a woman and her doctor.
“I feel like women should have a right to choose what they want to do with their bodies,” Mitchell said.
She added there should be more mental health supports for women who require “such a drastic procedure.”
The NDP’s Evelyne Godfrey also supported women’s right to choose.
“I am not in favour of limiting women’s rights in any way,” she said, “when it comes to anything to do with contraception or abortion or anything to do with their reproduction.”
Stella Anna Girouard said the Green Party supports a woman’s choice, but added one reason the Western world is at war with the Taliban in Afghanistan is that a girl is ready to bear a child as soon as her menstrual cycle starts.
She did not elaborate, but went on to wonder at what age a “soul-mate” develops feelings for another one.
“I think we need to develop the conscience of looking at a person who can feel what we feel and when you have that, you have a true soul-mate and then there’s no problem about abortion or whatever, it’s one thing between a mother and a father,” Girouard said.
LeBlanc returned to his attack on federal Conservatives when asked about dealing with climate change, although this time, he did not mention Erin O’Toole by name.
“I think we all agree that tackling climate change is probably the most important task of the national government as we emerge from COVID-19,” LeBlanc said in response to a question about the best federal strategy to deal with climate change.
“Fifty-five per cent of the Conservative party wouldn’t vote for a resolution that said climate change was real so that’s a bit worrisome,” LeBlanc added before touting the Liberal carbon tax and legislation to reach “net zero” emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.
His Conservative opponent Shelly Mitchell framed her answer around the local issue of reinforcing dikes and other flood control infrastructure along coastlines.
“Climate change is a very real thing and the Conservatives are ready to get to work tackling his very important issue,” she said, adding that her party would reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially by 2030, ban the export of plastic waste and promote zero-emissions vehicles.
Evelyne Godfrey of the NDP referred to the “worst flooding in living memory” in 2010 in Port Elgin where she lives and said she’s witnessed much milder winters than when she was growing up in Sackville in the 1970s.
“I’m entirely conscious of it and I think we can do a lot to grow the green economy,” she said. “The jobs that we create in this province need to be environmentally conscious and sustainable.”
Stella Anna Girouard of the Green Party said that we need to stop “aggressive forest cutting all over the world, especially Canada.”
She went on to call for well managed forests before getting into her own unique set of solutions.
“Plant a tree,” she said. “Use fertilizer on it, use human fertilizer on it,” she said before advocating building houses with hemp.
“You don’t need to cut a tree to build a house,” Girouard said.
Wide-range of issues
The hour-long candidates’ forum, moderated by Mount Allison Politics Professor Mario Levesque and sponsored by the Mt. A. Students’ Union, featured brief discussions about many issues.
They included affordable housing, the transition from fossil fuels to greener energy, economic recovery from the COVID pandemic and providing high-speed Internet to rural communities.
When asked about balancing the federal budget, Dominic LeBlanc mentioned the billions the Liberal government has spent to keep people working during the pandemic and then, launched into another attack on the federal Conservative leader.
“Mr. O’Toole pretends he has a plan not to cut any of the Liberal spending, add $78 billion of his own spending with a series of fake growth projections that are completely unrealistic and the deficit will magically disappear in 10 years,” he said.
“We think Canadians deserve a greater level of transparency around public finances,” LeBlanc added.
Conservative Shelly Mitchell pointed to Statistics Canada figures showing the deficit is growing by 4.1% and she said the economy is “spiralling downwards.”
She advocated economic stimulus spending to get businesses hiring again.
“We need to definitely energize the economy and get things back on track,” Mitchell said.
“Now is not the time, as we’re trying to recover from this pandemic, to be focusing on deficit reduction because the danger is you cut public services just in order to reduce a number that is not really indicative of how people are living their lives every day,” said NDP candidate Evelyne Godfrey.
She called for a focus on “how we kick-start the economy and revitalize, especially here in New Brunswick.”
Green candidate Stella Anna Girouard gave a show-stopping answer that seemed to catch the moderator by surprise.
“It’s very simple,” she said.
“People like money so why not have a COVID lotto? Isn’t that simple? It would do a little bit of paying the debt that we owe, wouldn’t it.”
To watch the whole debate on Facebook, click here.
Note: Mt. A. student organizers excluded two candidates from participation in the candidates’ forum. Jack Minor of the People’s Party of Canada and Isabelle Sauriol Chiasson of the Free Party Canada were not invited to attend. The Students’ Union decided to apply rules developed by the national leaders debate commission, which excludes parties with no seats in the House of Commons or which receive less than 4% of the popular vote.