Four of the territory’s five federal election candidates attended a debate Tuesday evening hosted by the Yukon Federation of Labour focused on issues affecting workers.
Candidates answered six questions regarding pharmacare, pension protection, food accessibility, Canada Post, education and work opportunities for Indigenous peoples and childcare.
Conservative hopeful Jonas Smith did not attend the forum, held at Yukon College. Smith also missed last Thursday evening’s event put on by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition and attended by all the other candidates.
Last evening, asked to pledge commitment to guarantee universal pharmacare, the Green Party’s Lenore Morris said her party is in support.
She lamented the current cost of pharmaceutical drugs in the country.
“The prices we pay are very high and almost random,” Morris said. “There is almost no relation in the cost of producing the drug and the cost of purchasing it.”
Nationalizing drug purchasing would help support universal pharmacare, she added.
Liberal incumbent Larry Bagnell said he is also in support.
He cited a recent Liberal policy announcement to encourage joint purchasing initiatives with the provinces and territories to work toward universal pharmacare. He said this will include a drug agency to start negotiations.
NDP candidate Justin Lemphers – the federation’s former president – said he agreed with Morris that provinces and territories should combine their purchasing power.
Lemphers said the NDP would implement a national pharmacare program “immediately.”
He suggested a one per cent wealth tax on Canadians with more than $20 million in personal wealth could potentially foot the bill.
Lemphers added the universal care plan would include “mouths and minds” for a more holistic approach than is currently seen in Canadian healthcare.
Joseph Zelezny, the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) candidate, was the only candidate opposed to universal pharmacare.
“It would bankrupt the country,” he declared.
Zelezny said the PPC would transfer GST revenue to provinces to give those governments the autonomy to “innovate and be fully responsible for health care.”
The candidates were then asked to explain how they would protect private pensions and ensure a high quality of life for seniors.
Zelezny said the PPC would instruct the Bank of Canada to have a zero per cent inflation rate to “stop the erosion of purchasing power.” He also pledged to end the carbon tax and lower business taxes.
To protect private pensions, Zelezny said the PPC will backdate funds to address disability pension reductions that created a two-tier category for veterans.
Pumping additional federal funding into pension initiatives would lead to “endless deficits” for the country, he added.
Morris said the Green Party plans to gradually raise the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) from 25 per cent to 50 per cent of the income replacement target.
“Canadian Pension Plan is an important source of income for many seniors, but it’s not enough,” she said.
As a solution to protecting private pensions in case of bankruptcy, she suggested changing legislation by amending the Bankruptcy Act.
Morris added her party proposes raising guaranteed income supplements by 20 per cent.
Lemphers similarly advocated for the stronger protection of private pensions.
“We need to have mechanisms in place that allow those workers who invested into that pension program to have security in k
knowing their future is protected,” he said.
Lemphers said the CPP needs to be improved to support a rising number of Canadians who will need it.
He added that “not everyone is able to self-fund their retirement,” adding he wants to ensure stable access to pensions for seniors.
Bagnell said the Liberals have already boosted the guaranteed income supplement for low-income seniors and ensured the pension age begins at 65.
Bagnell proposed that old age security for seniors over 75 to go up 10 per cent and increase the basic personal exemption for people in the $15,000 annual income bracket.
He also proposed that the survivor benefit for pensioners who have lost their spouse to rise by 25 per cent.
“Once you retire, you’ve earned that pension,” he said.
The candidates were then asked how they proposed to strengthen food security in the North.
Bagnell cited work the Liberal party has done to improve the Nutrition North program. He mentioned assisting small retailers with payment options, a northern isolated food fund for greenhouses and freezers, and a local food infrastructure fund.
Lemphers said he hopes to further localize food sources in the North through “food hubs” in each community. He said advanced reconciliation and a reduced carbon footprint would be the result of leaning on traditional knowledge keepers to grow food systems.
“Food security has to be a much broader solution with our limited infrastructure,” he said.
Morris agreed that the expansion of local food production could be the answer to food security and reducing carbon footprint.
Morris said she has seen a big expansion in local farming in recent history, and thinks the government should work to encourage its growth.
“For local food production to thrive, it needs infrastructure,” she said.
Zelezny said enabling equal opportunity to expand Yukoners’ purchasing power would do more to increase security than “overregulation” of the industry would.
“Every time you try and control an economy, that’s borderline communism,” he said.
Candidates were then asked how they would support Canada Post.
Lemphers said his party is for expanded government support of Canada Post. Reinvesting in postal banking would help the country grow and allow it to serve the “greater good” of the public, he said.
Morris said the Green Party has a plan for expanding Canada Post. It includes diversifying services, better servicing rural communities, reversing recent funding cuts and moving to electric vehicles.
Morris also advocated for a “last mile delivery” system that would only use low-emission vehicles, limiting Canada Post’s carbon footprint.
Zelezny said he believes Canada Post should be privatized to enable more competition and inspire creative solutions to expand the service. He added that cutting income taxes would help with this.
Bagnell said he is for Canada Post establishing a banking service that would benefit rural communities. He added that he has made this case to the minister in the past.
In the fifth part of the debate, candidates were asked to describe how they would improve education and employment opportunities for Indigenous groups.
Zelezny said such support falls under territorial jurisdiction, but that the PPC supports all treaties. He discussed working with First Nations governments to better support them.
Morris said the Green Party believes Indigenous people have a right to access high-quality and culturally appropriate education and services. She called increasing equality a “high priority” for the party.
“It’s going to be community by community,” she said, adding the party would look for First Nations’ guidance in the best way to expand support systems.
Bagnell said First Nations education has been sorely underfunded, noting that the Liberal party has committed billions of dollars to try to correct that inequity. He cited the Liberals’ Indigenous Languages Act and advocated for simultaneous translation for Indigenous languages in Parliament.
“When you have the strength of your culture and language … you have the type of confidence in yourself that will lead you to success in education and in life,” he said.
Lemphers said the NDP endorses better employment, education and health for Indigenous groups.
For employment, Lemphers said Indigenous groups are on the front lines of climate change. He would create “co-ordinated action plans” for wildfires and floods.
He also advocated for more local education in rural Indigenous communities and better, safer housing in those communities.
Zelezny said providing clean drinking water to First Nations communities is a high priority for the PPC. He said “bureaucratic processes” have contributed to the issues Indigenous peoples face.
Finally, the candidates were asked if their parties will provide affordable childcare.
Morris said providing universal childcare is “fundamental” for women’s equality. She advocated for a national childcare program.
The Green Party would collaborate with provinces, territories, Indigenous communities and the childcare sector to make it happen.
Lemphers agreed that investing in universal childcare is “necessary” and the NDP would be willing to invest in establishing one.
Bagnell said the Liberal party is proposing to add 250,000 spaces to before- and after-school care and cutting fees across the country by 10 per cent.
Zelezny said childcare concerns come down to the economy and “whether people are prosperous.” He vowed to cut taxes, shrink the government and “make life cheaper.”
By GABRIELLE PLONKA