From left, incumbent Dean Allison (Conservative), Nameer Rahman (NDP), Joanna Kocsis (Greens), Ian Bingham (Liberal). COGECO

Allison on the defensive, Bingham says riding needs strategic voting

Animosity ran high between Niagara West Conservative incumbent Member of Parliament Dean Allison and Liberal challenger Ian Bingham at last Tuesday’s Cogeco YourTV television debate.

Fittingly, a draw for seating held prior to airtime resulted in Allison and Bingham being separated at opposite ends of the table, with NDP candidate Nameer Rahman and Joanna Kocsis of the Green Party providing the buffer zone.

Allison got the proceedings started with his opening statement. For 90 seconds he berated Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government for racking up “record public debt” over the past six years. He accused Trudeau of corruption and conflict of interest over the SNC Lavalin affair, and expressed his contempt for the Prime Minister for calling an election at the dawn of the Afghanistan crisis and the continuation of raging wildfires in western Canada.

“These are qualities of a selfish, out-of-touch government that will say anything and do anything for power,” Allison said. “I truly believe Canadians see through their Liberal arrogance, lies and entitlement.”

Rahman, running in his third straight federal election in the riding, began by recognizing the sacrifices made by all Canadians over the last 18 months. His opening remarks focused on the NDP’s pandemic recovery plans as well as the importance of action on climate change.

First-time candidate Kocsis, a Beamsville native and community activist, made the Niagara West community the focus of her introductory remarks.

“Sustainability and social justice are important to me,” she said. “I chose to stay and fight for my community. I know that the rapid growth in Niagara is concerning to some. I would love to see how many people are sharing in the love for the community that I grew up in.”

I know that the rapid growth in Niagara is concerning to some. I would love to see how many people are sharing in the love for the community that I grew up in.

Bingham, also in his third attempt to win the riding, pushed back against the overriding impression many have that Niagara West is inevitably a Conservative riding. He pointed out in his opening that in 2019, the 26,869 votes combined for the Liberal, Green and NDP parties outpaced Allison’s 23,973. He made clear that part of his strategy is to sway votes from the other left-leaning parties to defeat Allison in the riding.

The other two Niagara West candidates — Harold Jonker of the Christian Heritage Party, and Shaunalee Derkson of the People’s Party of Canada — were not invited to the TV debate. The decision was based on criteria set by the Federal Leaders Debate Commission, which sets standards based on party standing in the House of Commons and vote counts from the most recent federal election. Neither party met those standards, and each candidate was offered a two-minute pre-taped segment at the end of the program. Jonker did not submit a video.

Bingham was forced onto the defensive during the first question, which dealt with the criticism his party has been receiving for calling an election only two years into Trudeau’s current mandate. The other three candidates all expressed distaste for the Prime Minister’s decision.

“As far as we are concerned,” Rahman said of his own party, “Trudeau called this election as a naked power grab to ensure that they get a majority, but not necessarily for the best interest of all Canadians. Although he says his government is dysfunctional, that is not true. We worked collaboratively with them and will continue to do so with whichever government comes forward.”

Kocsis said the poor timing of the September 20 voting date forced her to juggle preparing her children for their return to school with the demands of running a campaign. She believes this election goes against Trudeau’s 2019 promises of delivering a feminist government.

“He has failed to deliver,” she said. “Calling an election in the middle of a pandemic when we know that the work of childcare and caring for relatives in the fourth wave of a pandemic falls disproportionately on women. This is not a good time for us to be redirecting our efforts and our energies.”

The incumbent candidate expanded on Rahman’s comments, affirming that both the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois members seemed to be willing to cooperate with the Liberal government during the past two years.

“There wasn’t anything that the Liberals wanted to pass that they couldn’t pass,” Allison said. “They saw they were up in the polls and thought that this would be an opportunistic opportunity.”

“There’s business to be done,” Bingham responded. “The Liberals have made good progress the last couple of years but it has to accelerate. We need a government who has the ability to pass aggressive climate change legislation. The governments have not been working collaboratively. In fact, in 2016 the NDP voted against a wealth tax which they claimed to uphold.”

We need a government who has the ability to pass aggressive climate change legislation. The governments have not been working collaboratively.

It was Allison’s turn to go on the defensive next. The subject of his vaccination status and his previous social media posts in implied support of alternative Covid-19 therapies was brought up.

“I think it’s appalling that there are people who use their platforms, their privilege and their power to spread misinformation,” Kocsis began. “Preying on the fears of people during a pandemic is one of the most underhanded and disgusting things people can do.”

Bingham challenged Allison on his promotion of Ivermectin, a drug primarily used as a livestock de-wormer, as a Covid-19 therapy.

“Start with the vaccine, get your vaccine, that’s how we save lives. Not by promoting horse medication that is used to prevent ringworm.”

He went on to directly ask Allison to publicly reveal his vaccination status. The MP did not provide an answer.

“Everyone should get a vaccination who is able to do that,” Allison said. “It makes a lot of sense and also helps people not get as sick as they could. I think we also need to look at other options as well. We’ll let the scientists determine what they should be. There are a number of products under development right now. We need to continue to encourage the government to look at all options.”

Bingham was forced to defend the Liberal government’s record on fiscal policy.

“We’re still rated Triple-A by Moody’s for credit rating and we have the ninth strongest economy in the world. Do not let false information mislead you.”

“As a result of the kind of spending that has happened for the last number of years, inflation is at a ten-year high,” countered Allison. “The problem with inflation is that it affects the most vulnerable people who are on fixed incomes. This Prime Minister has spent more money than all of the previous Prime Ministers put together.”

The problem with inflation is that it affects the most vulnerable people who are on fixed incomes

On the subject of restructuring mental health supports, Kocsis listed a number of major drivers of mental health problems. “Addressing the mental health needs of Canadians goes well beyond setting up hotlines and encouraging self-care.”

Bingham touted the Liberal investment of $600 million into treatment centres as a source of pride. His party is promising 7,500 new doctors, some focusing on mental health, to be trained and distributed across the country, with 50 percent sent to rural areas.

“Liberals have actually cut health care,” Allison claimed, “and we have actually committed to move it back to those levels we had before. We’re talking about $60 billion in health care. We would like to see a commitment to 1,000 beds for people who are looking for opioid addiction treatment.”

Rahman, whose wife is a psychotherapist, said the government is not focusing on the mental health component.

“What we’re committing to do is funding mental health services for all Canadians who are currently uninsured. We need more money in there, we need more focus, and we’re willing to do it.”

Bingham refuted claims that the Liberals had cut their healthcare budget and questioned the cost of the NDP’s promises on that portfolio.

The environment and specifically a carbon tax was at the centre of another discussion. On this topic, Rahman threw out probably the most entertaining bon mot of the evening.

“Spending $5 billion on a pipeline does not make sense given the climate crisis that is about to hit us,” he said. “When you buy an oil pipeline and say we need that money to fund climate change initiatives, that’s like saying we need people to smoke to fund healthcare. ”

Kocsis pointed out that Canada has never achieved a climate target.

“Greenhouse gases have risen every year since 2016,” she stressed, promising that the Green Party would bring about a 60 percent reduction from 2005 levels by increasing carbon tax by $25 per tonne each year from 2023 to 2030.

Bingham noted the Liberal government’s spending of $100 billion toward climate action. He referred to the carbon levy as “carbon pricing,” and quoted Simon Fraser University professor Mark Jaccard’s study, published on the Institute for Research on Public Policy website, that gave the Liberal Party’s climate action plan the highest sincerity rating amongst the parties.

Allison strayed off topic for his comment on the issue, talking instead about the continued dumping of waste into Canada’s lakes and rivers under the current government.

The need to get people back to work and to reduce the country’s jobless rate was something all candidates agreed on. Bingham promised to look at ways to bring clean, green jobs to Niagara West, and to promote and invest in trades.

Allison said the Conservatives are promising a 50 percent wage subsidy for six months for businesses to hire new workers once current Liberal pandemic support programs run out. His party also plans to spend $250 million on apprenticeships.

Rahman said the country’s economy needs to go through a massive transition. The NDP’s plan, he pointed out, includes retraining workers for a new high tech green economy and to bring green manufacturing to Canada.

Other topics discussed included government response to the discovery of hundreds of bodies of children on the site of residential schools, electoral reform, the crisis in Afghanistan and the high cost of home ownership.

In her two-minute, pre-recorded segment at the end of the debate, People’s Party of Canada candidate Shaunalee Derkson spoke out against Ontario’s vaccine passport.

“This single action will further divide and alienate our people,” she said. “I can see job loss, small business closures, more unemployment, isolation and depression. Many of us are not going to be able to participate in everyday society.”

Durksen outlined the PPC’s founding principles of freedom, fairness, respect and responsibility.

“This is a very, very crucial time to be able to stand up for truth and fairness,” she said.

The debate will be rebroadcast Sept. 18 at 9 PM. It is also available to watch any time at