St. Paul’s debate hits all the hot buttons

Around 350 residents pack First Unitarian to hear reps' views

The race to replace former MPP Michael Bryant in the riding of St. Paul’s heated up last night at the Town Crier’s all-candidates debate.

Nine of the 10 registered candidates took to the stage in front of a standing-room-only crowd of some 350 raucous residents, business people and party supporters.

About 20 people in the audience peppered the candidates with questions about the environment, health care, education, homelessness and taxes.

The Town Crier kicked off the discussion by asking candidates to respond to concerns the proposed Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) would result in increased rents.

New Democrat Julian Heller said Premier Dalton McGuinty’s proposed HST was a bad policy.

“The HST is the wrong tax at the wrong time. It’s unfair to seniors, students, unemployed and families,” said Heller, who has lived in the riding for 25 years and ran for MPP twice before. “And don’t be fooled it will be passed on to tenants through (utility) costs. It will result in an increase of three percent in tenant rents.”

The HST would combine the Provincial Sales Tax and the federal Goods and Services Tax and apply them both on some items currently exempt from the PST.

Progressive Conservative candidate Sue-Ann Levy’s literature points to a long list of goods and services that will cost more if the HST is applied to purchases from gasoline to funerals and home repairs.

“The HST is nothing more than a tax grab,” Levy said at the debate, held at the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto.

Liberal Eric Hoskins defended the policy, adding his party would use the revenue from the HST to fund tax cuts and rebates.

Independent John Turmel, who has run in and lost 68 elections, said, “I don’t care how they tax us. It’s how they waste taxes.”

The format then switched to questions from the floor with responses limited to four candidates per query in an effort to keep the debate rolling while allowing for as many questions from voters as possible. This is when the atmosphere changed dramatically.

Turmel objected and abruptly left the stage to hand out literature and shout his protests distracting everyone in attendance.

The interruption made it hard for other candidates to speak. 
At one point and audience member shouted to Turmel, “You got your 15 minutes of fame. We will never forget you.”

Eventually police were called and were posted outside the venue. In the end, they were not needed as calm was restored and the debate continued after the brief stoppage.

Once resumed, a parent asked about increasing student spaces for French immersion in local schools.

In response, Hoskins said Education Minister Kathleen Wynne and the Toronto school board are reviewing how to increase capacity for French Emersion in St. Paul’s.

Levy countered that while the Liberals have increased overall education funding by 60 percent in six years, schools aren’t 60 percent better.

St. Paul’s is a very green community so climate change was raised on several occasions.

NDPer Heller denounced the current nuclear energy program saying his party would increase investment in solar and wind power.

The issue of increasing faith-based funding in education was raised. This was a hot button issue in the 2007 general provincial election when then PC leader John Tory supported extended it beyond Catholic schools.

Levy said simply, “The public has spoken. This issue is dead. I support one publicly funded system.”

Even hospital wait times made it into the debate during a question that mentioned exploring a private care option.

Libertarian candidate John Kittredge said, “We believe Ontarians should have choice in health care.”

Levy pointed to the eHealth scandal and said Liberals spent $1 billion to create electronic access to patients’ records, but so far have nothing to show for the money.

Hoskins, a family doctor, said the Liberals have added 1,800 more doctors and hired 10,000 more nurses in Ontario.

A gentleman said homelessness was on the rise and asked for solutions.

Levy, who has taken a leave of absence as a Toronto Sun columnist, said she’s written extensively on the issue. She advocated for finding apartments for homeless rather than build new affordable housing. She said the city and province spends a combined $250 million on homelessness and would like to see evidence that it’s translating into few homeless.

Green Chris Chopik, a realtor who lives in the riding, said in his closing remarks, “I will attack real problems facing not just St. Paul’s but the province and world: that’s energy and climate change.”

Other candidates running and in attendance were independents Raj Rama and Marius Frederick, who grew up in the riding, and Paul McKeever from the Freedom Party. A tenth candidate Danish Ahmed with the Party For People With Special Needs was absent.

The St. Paul’s byelection is Sept. 17.

To hear what voters had to say about the candidates, the debate and how they plan to vote click here.

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Posted: Sep 11 2009 3:08 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto