Newmarket-Aurora provincial candidates competed for voters but kept largely cordial in Newmarket's only in-person debate of this election May 19.
New Blue candidate Iwona Czarnecka, NDP Denis Heng, Green Carolina Rodriguez and Liberal Sylvain Roy debated at the NewRoads Performing Arts Centre, on issues like health care, the environment and the economy and included questions submitted by NewmarketToday readers. The event was also streamed online and co-hosted by the Newmarket Chamber of Commerce, NewmarketToday and yorkregion.com.
Voter Amanda Robar was one of approximately 40 to attend in person. She spoke positively about the parties discussing how “they would work together” and said the debate helped her decide which party to lean toward.
“I really appreciate them coming out because reading is one thing, but listening to them is a completely different thing," she said.
All Newmarket-Aurora candidates were invited to attend, but Conservative Dawn Gallagher Murphy, Ontario Moderate Yuri Duboisky and Ontario Party Krista McKenzie were not present.
One of the largest smatterings of applause came when Heng noted the absence of the Conservative candidate on a question about long-term care. Gallagher Murphy, running for the incumbent party, has faced criticism for missing out on these events, though Duboisky and McKenzie have also not attended any.
“I apologize if this is getting very boring,” Heng said about the agreement on the issues among the candidates early in the debate. “Maybe if there was another candidate here that provided that different point of view.”
But some more disagreement came compared to previous debates in the riding, with New Blue candidate Czarnecka attending her first all-candidates event. The New Blue Party was launched by former Conservatives, offering a different, right-wing viewpoint.
After she said the government needs to find ways to reduce building costs and improve citizens' purchasing power to address housing supply, Roy said the government needs to intercede.
“I struggle with the idea of leaving it to the markets to regulate itself. We’ve seen over the past few years, it’s been ballooning out of control and for housing, I think we do need the government to step in and find ways,” he said.
Czarnecka replied with concern about the provincial debt.
“We cannot continue to keep throwing money on problems,” she said. “That will be paid on the backs of our grandchildren.”
However, candidates found common ground on several issues, something acknowledged by candidates themselves. For instance, Heng, Rodriguez and Roy all spoke about the need for a basic income. The face-to-face questions, which saw candidates rebutting each other's answers, had candidates finding agreement on the issues more often than not.
All candidates also spoke about the need for housing affordability. The Greens' Rodriguez, a university student, said she could never own a home if things continue as is.
“It doesn’t just take building more homes and building supply, but it takes building with a purpose,” she said. “It’s one thing to have an affordable housing plan, but it’s (another) thing to have an affordable living plan.”
Besides open and head-to-head questions, the debate featured four “snappers” questions, which required candidates respond only with a yes or no.
Candidates present unanimously opposed construction of the Bradford Bypass. They also unanimously approved of the York Region chair position being selected by direct election, which was axed by the provincial government in 2018. All of them also agreed to repeal Bill 124, which capped nurse salary increases.
But there was some disagreement on whether they would support the Upper York Sewage Solution, which faces environmental concerns but has been put forward by the York Region as needed for future growth. Heng said yes, Iwona Czarnecka said no, Rodriguez said “tentative no,” and Roy said, “tentative yes.” NewmarketToday has included the topic in its separate election questionnaire sent to all candidates, with responses due by next week.
The last question of the evening asked candidates about improving political discourse. Candidates spoke about working together, and complimented one another.
“That’s how we kind of raise the discourse,” Heng said, “working together instead of vilifying other parties and saying, ‘orange good, blue bad.’”
The debate is the last publicized all-candidates event of the riding after ones hosted by the Aurora Chamber of Commerce and Aurora Public Library. Advance polling is already underway this weekend, but candidates will continue on the trail ahead of the June 2 election.
“Participation in elections is critically important,” said moderator Peter Sturrup, head of school at Pickering College. “With all the strife in the world today, it is important that we reflect on the fact that we do have the right to vote, so please exercise that right.”
Voter Teresa Rae said though she would have liked audience questions and was disappointed the Conservatives were not present, she thought it was a good debate.
“It was really informative,” she said. “It was respectful of each other, and that’s good.”
The Newmarket chamber will release a recording of the debate that will be available to watch online.