Five of the six candidates in the riding of Sydney-Victoria agree that health care is one of the biggest concerns for voters in next week's federal election.
Asked during a debate in Sydney on Wednesday to name the three most pressing issues, most also said housing and the economy are important, but there were differences when it came to other priorities.
The incumbent, Liberal Jaime Battiste, said in addition to health care, the federal government's COVID-19 pandemic response and the environment are important.
"If we don't get the environment as the top topic of everyone and we're not thinking about it, we're dooming our children to having no future," said the academic from Eskasoni First Nation, who also has a law degree.
Battiste also said the Liberal Party intends to spend an additional $9 billion on health care and $1.2 billion on housing.
Jeff Ward of Membertou First Nation said the New Democratic Party also plans to spend money on housing and health care.
On the economy, Ward said the NDP pushed the minority Liberal government to increase emergency funding for people affected by the pandemic.
"When it came to [the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit], it was only $1,000," the general manager of Membertou Heritage Park said. "We made it $2,000. Just saying."
Conservative Eddie Orrell, a physiotherapist and former MLA from North Sydney, said he and his team have knocked on more than 20,000 doors and voters are worried about a lack of doctors, long wait times and lack of health services.
"We're going to raise the health care transfer payment by six per cent and we have mental health and addictions as one of our big platforms, as well," he said.
Orrell, who ran against Battiste in 2019 and lost by about 1,300 votes, also said the Conservatives plan to spend more than $1 billion on housing and will add a million jobs to the economy in the first year of government.
Nikki Boisvert, the Marxist-Leninist Party candidate and a self-employed tattoo artist from Sydney, said investment in health care is crucial, because when people are sick, there's no economy.
She also repeatedly said Canadians need a universal basic income (UBI) that's liveable in order to lift people out of poverty and improve health.
"Wages have gone nowhere, except for CEOs, except for the rich," Boisvert said.
"We need to tax the rich and we need to have UBI, because at this point you only grow an economy from the bottom. Wealth flows up. It doesn't trickle down."
People's Party of Canada candidate Ronald Barron, an industrial mechanic from Sydney, called for increased equalization funding for municipalities and proposed creating a regional government for the five municipal units on Cape Breton Island.
He was the only candidate who said he would push for freedom from vaccine mandates and suggested immigration should be reduced temporarily.
"When you take them in, they don't have a doctor, they don't have a place to live, they don't have a job," Barron said.
"It's irresponsible to bring in people when you don't have the infrastructure for them."
The Green Party's Mark Embrett, who lives in Halifax and works for Nova Scotia Health, did not attend the debate.
The full debate, which was organized by CBC Cape Breton and moderated by Information Morning Cape Breton host Steve Sutherland, is available online here.
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