Residents in Topsail-Paradise district who wanted to hear their candidate’s thoughts without having to stand out on a doorstep in the cold while speaking with them had a chance last Monday night.
The Rotary Club of Avalon Northeast, the Conception Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Manuels River Centre came together to sponsor four candidate forums for people running in this region.
The Topsail-Paradise forum featured Liberal and NDP candidates Ken Carter and Kathleen Burt. Rotary Club member Ian Patey, who moderated the forum, told listeners PC incumbent Paul Dinn was unable to attend the event.
Patey, who said the right was vote was among one of the most valuable rights, was quick to point out the event was not a debate.
“There will be no heckling, cross talk, or formal rebuttals. We will ask each candidate to be muted while I, or the other candidate speaks,” said Patey.
Burt, who ran as the NDP candidate in Harbour Grace-Port de Grave district in the 2015 election and Topsail – Paradise in 2019, said she moved to the province almost two decades ago and has since lived in eight communities, finding good-hearted, loving folk in every town. She outlined her education and a teaching career that spanned 25 years and four provinces, plus seven years at College of the North Atlantic. Burt said her interest in politics began years back while getting involved in several community groups on the Bonavista peninsula. Often, she said, challenges arose as a result of political decision making.
“More than that, I realized both the Liberal governments and the PC governments were focusing on the health and well being of my children and grandchildren. They often made decisions based on the benefits of their wealthier supporters, or because of the expediency of short-term gain, and very often for the purposes of winning another election,” said Burt.
Some of those poor decisions, she said, include Muskrat Falls, the selling of fish processing capacity to foreign countries, and contracting of outside expertise for production and supply of home-grown cannabis.
In his opening statements, Carter spoke of his wife and children, as well as community involvement, and educational and career credentials, which include his current position as a senior special assistant for Newfoundland and Labrador with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Carter said strong leadership is crucial to the province’s success.
“As an MHA, I want to ensure that our youth get to stay in the best possible Newfoundland when they graduate. I want to make sure that our health care workers have the support they need as we move through the most challenging health care crisis in a century. And I want to make sure that our oil industry has a voice at the table as we navigate through this time of uncertainty,” said Carter.
Like Burt, Carter emphasised he was running to better his children’s future.
The first question put to the candidates was how the parties would work with municipal governments, local business, and community groups to grow the local economy and improve communities within the district.
Carter answered first.
“Through my whole career, I have been invovled in economic development,” said Carter.
He said that government needs to think ‘outside the box’ and look into the tech industry. He also suggested the best ideas will likely come from local entrepreneurs and community groups.
“As the MHA, I feel like it would be my position to facilitate and connect these great minds in the community to partners such as ACOA, the Ocean Super Cluster, the Genesis Centre, and the province,” said Carter.
He admitted that due to our fiscal situation, the province will have to rely heavily on the federal government to help communities, and that he would avail of relationships he has built over the years for the benefit of the district.
Burt said the NDP has pledged to work with municipalities to create a sustainable and obtainable set of funding mechanisms for towns.
“We need a new formula based on need, and cost of meeting obligations, to provide those quality services,” said Burt.
She added the NDP would partner with communities and Municipalities NL to create a multi-year infrastructure plan, which would determine which towns get what funding and when, based on need.
Burt also supported buying local to keep funds within the province.
Next, Patey asked the candidates what they believed to be the biggest challenges facing the district as it relates to COVID-19, and how they, as MHA, would work to address the challenges.
Burt said keeping COVID-19 under control is the biggest challenge for the next year, and possibly even the year after. “We obviously need to make sure that we vaccinate as many people as we can, especially the most vulnerable,” said Burt. “Everything about our economic recovery hinges on that.”
Burt said the NDP will fight to keep senior care in the public sphere, citing outbreaks of COVID-19 in privatised seniors homes in Ontario and Quebec.
“Right now we have good, very good service for our seniors in long-term care because they are publicly funded, and that’s what we would like to maintain,” said Burt.
She said more staff may be necessary to face the backlog of medical appointments and procedures delayed by the pandemic.
Carter, who told listeners he is married to a public health nurse, said he hears public health concerns from residents everyday.
“There is no doubt that we have maxed out our frontline healthcare workers, essential workers, teachers, and many others,” said Carter. “Until the vaccination program is completed, the pressure will remain. Those suffering with mental illness have been particularly vulnerable, and its important that we continue to reach out and show kindness and caring.”
He said COVID has highlighted vulnerabilities in the access to healthcare, such as a family doctor, and like Burt, said medical professionals have found innovative ways to serve clients during the pandemic, such as through computer meetings and phone consultations.
The final question put to the candidates was how they would support the tourism sector.
Carter noted that part of his current job involves speaking with tourism operators. He said the federal and provincial governments have been helping businesses with grants, subsidies, and benefits, which has helped businesses survive. He added that once vaccinations are complete, government needs to be ready to support the industry, with things like passable roads and affordable access to the province.
Burt allowed the Liberal government’s Staycation campaign “certainly wasn’t a bad idea,” but said it hinged on maintaining a low COVID-19 case load and strict self-isolation rules. She said it also hinged on everyday people having enough cash in their pocket to actually be able to take a holiday.
“That’s where I think the NDP’s promise of a $15 minimum wage and the elimination of the small business tax will be of great help,” said Burt.
She said in the meantime, marketing money could be put in place to maintain tourism infrastructure, and that while the party hasn’t “grappled with all the possibilities to help tourism,” she liked the idea of listening to operators as to how to maintain the infrastructure. She agreed with Carter that the transportation system needed to be worked on as well.
In her closing statement, Burt asked voters to consider why the Liberals called an election in the middle of winter, before a budget had been tabled, and before even the first draft of the economic recovery team’s report had been published.
“Why are we being asked to be giving a carte blanche? What they are asking for is a majority government, and I think voters need to really, really think hard about that,” Burt cautioned. “Think hard if they can be trusted to make the economic decisions necessary, that will help everyday Newfoundlanders. Of course, I obviously think that they can’t be trusted with this.”
Carter closed by acknowledging Newfoundland’s serious financial situation. People are legitimately concerned about their healthcare, the future of offshore oil, electricity rates, infrastructure, and education. “These are some of the issues I hear from residents in Topsail-Paradise,” said Carter.
He argued the much bigger issue is the need for Ottawa to work with the province to get through the financial crisis.
“People ultimately have to decide who they want to negotiate with the federal government; Andrew Furey, or Ches Crosbie. That is the decision,” said Carter.
Mark Squibb, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Shoreline News