Five Niagara West candidates speak to Steven Soos on his "True Politics" podcast. FACEBOOK

Liberals call on Green, NDP voters to help topple Allison

The Niagara West federal election debate held on Steven Soos’ True Politics podcast last week was a microcosm of the world we have lived in during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Zoom meeting debate involved Conservative incumbent Dean Allison, Liberal Ian Bingham, Green Party candidate Joanna Kocsis, the NDP’s Nameer Rahman, and the Christian Heritage Party of Canada’s Harold Jonker. The one hour and 56-minute debate featured Zoom mishaps that everyone has seen on a weekly basis. Two candidates didn’t realize they were on mute, Rahman was interrupted by noises that his two children were making, one candidate (Allison) admitted it was his first Zoom meeting after unmuting himself, and host Soos, casually sitting outside in a T-shirt and a ball cap, disappeared from the meeting for a brief period of time. When the debate took a short water break, everyone eventually went off screen except for Jonker, whose screen featured a picture of a canoe on his wall drawn by one of his 13 children.

Given Soos’ background as a social activist and his job as a support worker in the development services sector, many of the questions dealt with social justice, and the resulting debate produced few if any sparks. Candidates were given 90 seconds to comment on the questions asked by Soos and each candidate was given three wildcards where they could spend 30 seconds refuting something one of the other candidates stated. That only four wildcards were used was proof of the lack of feistiness among the participants.

Rahman used his wildcard to clarify parts of the NDP’s policies on mental health that he felt Kocsis misrepresented.

Jonker used his wildcard to challenge Bingham, who stated that Allison wasn’t following simple science. His comments seemed to suggest his opposition to pandemic lockdowns.

“If we continue on this path, we will continue to see the [mental health] numbers increase and we do need to have a good investigation of what really happened here, what should have been done and what can be done differently when the next pandemic arrives?”

Jonker was also the author of the most head-scratching comments of the night while talking about climate change.

“The seasons change,” he said, “there is continual change, one year it is dry here and one year it is dry in the Ottawa valley. It is not that climate change is harming us but climate change happens yearly. We need to support the farmers in all the areas and work with those have abundance and work at moving that stuff around the country instead of saying climate change is hurting things.”

Kocsis’ used two of her three wildcards to challenge Allison and he wasn’t having any of it.

Poverty impacts women more, female-headed households are more precarious and the Conservatives have a terrible track record on women, she said.

“How will you address poverty while you are not respecting women?”

Allison declined to respond to wildcard No. 1.

“No, I will leave it at that,” he said.

Her second wildcard was equally pointed.

“Dean, I have to acknowledge the work you did in removing the excise tax. I cannot let stand that you were a champion for small businesses, because during your tenure and the tenure of the Harper government, the only wineries that were profitable were ones that had over $5 million in sales, not the majority of us,” Kocsis said. “The Liberals have not been able to save the excise tax from the WTO and that is about to flip the whole landscape of wineries in Niagara. What are Liberals and Conservatives going to do for small business?”

Allison had no comment and Soos didn’t ask Bingham for a rebuttal.

Allison, an incumbent for 17 years, spent most of the debate listening to criticism for what the Conservatives and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper did before the Liberals came into power. He was also labelled as anti-feminist, anti-science and a climate change denier by some of his opponents. When he went on the attack, his comments were aimed at the ruling Liberal party.

“I really believe we can’t afford more of the same Liberals which includes corruption, arrogance, entitlement and mismanagement and that’s just what we have seen over the last six years,” he said in his opening address.

He never veered off that narrative.

Bingham continued to be committed to the message he has been bringing voters given his experience as the unsuccessful Niagara West Liberal candidate in 2019. He is pleading with Green and NDP voters to vote for him because his party is the only one able to defeat Allison and end the Conservative reign in Niagara West.

“Currently Mr. Allison’s best friends on this call are Mr. Rahman and Miss Kocsis, because if those votes went to the Liberal party like I am asking they do this election, you would have a progressive voice in Ottawa and not Mr. Allison. The choice is yours in Niagara West in two weeks,” he said, following a question about the feds working with the provinces and municipalities.

“Again it doesn’t matter if you have a member who isn’t fighting for you. The last bill Mr. Allison tried to pass was 2007. It has been a while. Niagara West, you didn’t do anything to deserve that,” Bingham said, after responding to a question on mental health issues.

It doesn’t matter if you have a member who isn’t fighting for you. The last bill Mr. Allison tried to pass was 2007.

“It is the elephant in the room and it always has been for our riding. The last 20 years, the reason why Mr. Allison has represented you is because we are too scared to unite. Your voice in Ottawa is not being heard and I encourage you to vote Liberal this election,” he said, during his closing speech.

By the end of the debate, Kocsis and Rahman had had enough of Bingham lobbying for their votes.

“Rather than Ian taking my votes,” Kocsis said, “I will take his and I will fight for Niagara West like I fought for climate action, like I fought for gender rights, like I fought for the needs of all of those that Trudeau’s Liberals and Dean Allison’s Conservatives have ignored and six years is not long enough to repair the damage Harper did to our country. I will take Allison’s votes too.”

Rahman was equally indignant.

“The reason why Trudeau is in trouble is he hasn’t delivered over the last six years. He has talked a good game and he certainly has a pretty face but his delivery has been non-existent,” he said. “I think people are beginning to clue in on that. His numbers have tanked and if he talks about being progressive, he is not. If you’re talking about a true progressive government, it is going to be with the NDP. If you are looking to consolidate votes behind a progressive candidate, it’s me.”

When the question period was over, each candidate gave a closing statement.

Allison went last and attacked the Liberals with claims of corruption and scandals, and chastised them for their handling of the pandemic.

“We need a plan. Our Conservative plan, Canada’s Recovery Plan, will recover the 1 million jobs lost during the pandemic within one year. We will enact a new anti-corruption law to clean up the mess in Ottawa. We will make it clear that mental health is health and we will treat it properly. We will treat the opiate epidemic as the health issue that it is. We believe law enforcement should focus on dealers and traffickers. The last thing those suffering from addiction should have to worry about is being arrested. Any interactions the government has with them should focus on keeping them safe and helping them recover. A Conservative government will also create a strategic stockpile of essential products like PPE. A Conservative government will change the law the when a company goes bankrupt or is being restructured, and workers and their pensions come first not corporate elites and we will balance the budget over the next decade.”

We will enact a new anti-corruption law to clean up the mess in Ottawa

In his closing, Bingham defended his party’s record.

“Since 2015, the Liberals have done terrific things. I know there is a lot of denying that on this call and that’s fine and I get that that has to be said by other parties.”

He pointed to 435,000 children lifted out of poverty, putting a price on pollution to push Canada toward Paris Accord targets, 1 million new jobs created, helping seniors, getting Canada through the pandemic and seeing Canada record the lowest unemployment rate in 40 years in 2019.

He suggested it’s easy for parties like the NDP to make promises but they are not going to form the government.

“I am someone who fights for you, I am someone who keeps my word and I’m someone who understands the most important common values we share: protecting seniors, mental health, bringing PSWs and doctors to Niagara West, improving transportation, and fighting for new businesses,” Bingham said. “These are my values. Let me make them yours.”

Rahman’s closure included a plug for his party’s performance during the pandemic.

“It is funny when Mr. Bingham talks about CERB when the plans by the Liberals would have only been a ten percent benefit rather than what the NDP negotiated in parliament in a minority government,” he said. “The benefits you see that are going to get us through this pandemic weren’t the result of Liberal leadership, it was the result of NDP leadership.

“Strategic vote stuff is the nonsense that the Liberals rely on and what they have delivered is mediocrity in governance.”

Koscis used her closing to further refute Bingham’s soliciting of Green votes.

“Ian keeps asking NDP and Green voters for their votes. No wonder Trudeau doesn’t want democratic reform. This is very convenient. Trudeau has had six years to deliver on mental health, on poverty reduction, on transportation, on climate action, on agriculture, on support for small businesses and on democratic reform. And he has failed us on all of them,” she said. “Dean has spent 17 years—and I literally don’t know what he is doing because he has not been fighting for Niagara West.”

Jonker made note of his third straight federal election campaign in his closing.

“I think I have run three times in only six years and I think it is because the Liberals keep pushing for an election when they don’t get their way. What we do need is change.”

The changes he’s seeking are ending abortions, palliative care instead of euthanasia, “conscience” protections for all healthcare workers, safeguarding parental rights and the definition of marriage, personal income tax security accounts, defending peaceful free speech for every Canadian, protecting Canada from violent ideologies and economic freedom.