Portage-Lisgar constituents had a chance to have their questions answered by five of the candidates running in the area before the federal election.
The Winkler and Morden Chambers of Commerce held a federal All Candidates Forum on October 9 at Morden Friendship Centre.
Conservative incumbent Candice Bergen, Liberal candidate Ken Werbiski, Green candidate Beverley Eert, Christian Heritage Party candidate Jerome Dondo and People’s Party of Canada candidate Aaron Archer answered questions from residents.
New Democratic Party candidate Cindy Friesen was not present.
Abortion was an issue that came up several times during the evening, and all candidates were asked if they would be willing to open the national abortion debate again.
Dondo said the Christian Heritage Party is the only pro-life party in federal politics, and said it comes down to the sanctity of life.
“For the CHP, we believe in the sanctity of life from conception to natural death,” he said. “It could be as simple as just removing the fund of abortions from the health act. There are a lot of services that are not medically necessary that are not paid for by the government… it wouldn’t prevent abortions from happening but it would restrict it.”
Werbiski said he would not be willing to form a committee to assess any abortion law.
“A woman’s right to choose is already enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he said. “Doctors in this country have a very strict set of rules that they go by, and for me to weigh in on that choice is not something that I would do.”
Bergen said the issue is a difficult one, but her personal beliefs are in the sanctity of life from conception until natural death.
“I believe hearts have to change and I believe we have to look at this issue as something that affects not just women but men and families,” she said. “We have to look at it with a heart of compassion and generosity and caring and stop using it as a bully whip against each other.”
Archer agreed with Dondo and Bergen about preserving the sanctity of life.
“Our party is willing to open up the debate and have discussions open to everyone who is interested and affected by this issue to talk about where the line is that women’s rights and the baby’s rights are,” he said. “I definitely think that everyone, whether you’re a female or a male, whether you’re a father or a mother, need to talk about this so that we can come down to a decision that isn’t right to the end trimester… that’s wrong in my mind.”
Eert said that in Canada, women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies.
“No woman makes this decision lightly,” she said. “The Green Party is and always has been pro-choice.”
Candidates were also asked what solutions they have about helping people get into the dairy business in Canada.
Werbiski said it isn’t right that people should have to have millions of dollars to get into any industry. “The family farm has really rather fallen by the wayside,” he said. “In order to become involved, we do need to have that.”
Bergen said Canada has a rich agricultural sector, and that the country needs to work harder to promote it. “We’ve seen even over the last little while farmers have had a really tough summer and as we’re heading into the fall with the rain,” she said. “We need to be promoting our agricultural sector on the world stage, expanding our markets so that the costs are being able to be compensated for because of customers from around the world.”
Archer said the People’s Party is all about small businesses and giving them support. “Because of the extreme high prices, we would lower that,” he said. “We would still maintain the same high standards, but we would allow co-ops to take their much needed place in the industry so that they can compete with a lot of the larger producers that are already out there. We’re looking to incentivize instead of give money to everybody.”
Eert said the demise of the small farm is a big problem in rural Manitoba, especially with the depopulation of many municipalities. “The Green Party has a number of agricultural policies that would address this issue,” she said. “We would protect supply management, addressing the dairy issue, but we would also allow for local markets within the system, specialty markets. We would also invest $2.5 million a year into a land and quota trust program and farming apprenticeship programs to expand small scale agriculture and help new farmers get started.”
Dondo said he grew up on a family farm, and said it’s unfortunate that the number of dairy farms in Manitoba is decreasing. “I know the number of dairy farms have gone down quite significantly since I was growing up on the farm,” he said. “We need to offer the incentive to allow younger people to purchase farms. We have the Young Farmers program that’s helping out, we need to continue that. We need to allow the parents to transfer the farm to their children without suffering any huge tax consequences when the money isn’t there.”
One resident asked candidates which of the 94 Calls to Action suggested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is close to their heart.
Bergen said her granddaughter is Anishinaabe, and said she is particularly passionate about the rights of women on reserves.
“I’m very proud to tell you that it was a Conservative government about seven years ago that passed a law, even though the Liberals and NDP totally opposed this law, but we passed a law that gave women on reserve equal property rights,” she said. “I know it’s hard to believe that in this country a woman on a reserve did not have access to her property should there be a divorce, and we gave them equal property rights… we believe as Conservatives that First Nations people should have every equal opportunity as every other Canadian to have a job, to be able to raise their family in safety and security and to be able to have success.”
Archer said as a Metis person, he knows more can be done. “I am finished listening to this, I want to actually start implementing some of those,” he said. “I want to start actually seeing that happen, so if you put me in I would 100 per cent be batting for the Aboriginals of this great land as well as all the promises they’ve been given that haven’t been answered.”
Eert said the Green Party believes Canada has a profound legal obligation to reconcile, and said the party rejects the Indian Act as racist legislation. “The Green Party fully embraces all 42 articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” she said. “We recognize the call by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples for Indigenous self-determination. We will reintroduce legislation to enshrine the United Nations Declaration in Canadian law, and we will implement the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
Dondo said he has been working with reserves for around 20 years and has seen their frustration through Conservative and Liberal governments.
“The first thing… is getting rid of the Indian Act,” he said. “It’s a racist piece of legislation, I still can’t believe that today we have an Indian Act when “Indian” is considered a racist term… there’s so many parts of it that are so wrong… there’s so much that needs to be done. The first step is negotiating with First Nations, getting rid of the Indian Act and finding out what they need, hearing from them to hear what they need to succeed in life.”
Werbiski said there isn’t any one recommendation that he favours over the others.
“I think we need to follow all the recommendations, we need to satisfy all the recommendations for the Truth and Reconciliation Committee as well as everything from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,” he said. “We’ve made great strides so far into repairing relationships with our First Nations people, but we’ve got a long way to go… we need to do away with only two year terms [for Chiefs and Councils], and reliable, predictable funding is the lifeblood for any community.”
The federal election takes place on October 21.