Newmarket Chamber of Commerce members put Newmarket-Aurora candidates to the test on issues closest to their heart, including business growth, taxes, trade, skills and regulations, at a federal election debate yesterday morning.
When a candidate responded along party lines, some chamber guests scoffed, “You didn’t answer the question!”, while the candidates themselves also challenged each other’s positions at times.
The candidates invited to the debate, held at Cardinal Golf Club on Davis Drive West, were the New Democratic Party’s Yvonne Kelly, Liberal Party’s Tony Van Bynen, Conservative Party’s Lois Brown, Green Party’s Walter Bauer, and People’s Party’s Andrew McCaughtrie.
Century 21 realtor Amin Roomani said he appreciated the business-focused forum and the chance to get to know the individual candidates, along with the party platforms.
“The fact that they’re thinking more about what small business means to the local community is good, because without businesses, there is no community,” Roomani said. “I heard that message consistently, but what that turns out to be later on, I don’t know.”
The Newmarket realtor believes the local candidate matters because “at the end of the day, that person is invested and will use their passion to build the community, versus just a political platform”.
Top concerns for local business owners included:
- Regulations that were imposed by successive governments that have left many small businesses struggling to compete with large and multinationals, and how a new government would alter those regulations to assist small business owners;
- How to ensure that large international trade deals such as the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement would benefit businesses in small communities like Newmarket;
- Potential workers who are unable to afford to live in the area where they work because of a housing crisis across the country, and what measures are proposed to alleviate that;
- Whether or not the Canadian government should focus on retraining workers from shrinking sectors to solve the skills and labour shortage;
- Improving inter-provincial trade and reducing barriers;
- How the federal parties would approach a comprehensive review of corporate tax system that has long been recommended by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, as well as organizations and business leaders across Canada and;
- How could a government inspire those who are unemployed, have lost hope of finding work or stopped looking for work, to start a business and hire those who are underemployed.
The candidates didn’t stray far from party talking points that have been front-and-centre so far in the campaign, but didn’t hold back from firing political shots at opponents.
The NDP’s Kelly criticized the Liberals for not investing enough in people who are underemployed.
“We need to recognize foreign credentials and move on that,” she said.
On the subject of provincial downloading of services onto municipalities, the Liberals’ Van Bynen quipped that “we’ve just recovered from (former Ontario Conservative premier) Mike Harris’s downloads."
The Conservative’s Brown took several opportunities to hammer home the ballooning debt under the federal Liberals and warned chamber members that “increased debt today means higher taxes tomorrow”.
The Green’s Bauer, himself a small business owner, emphasized that Canada needs to “focus on sustainable industries and close loopholes that are being exploited by the country’s wealthiest and biggest corporations".
McCaughtrie, who struggled somewhat to get the PPC's platform across, said most everything that “gets in the way of businesses doing business” should be rethought and possibly eliminated.
The debate forum was expertly moderated by former Newmarket chamber chairperson Barbara Bartlett, and members commented afterwards that they came away better informed.
John Flanagan, an investor who runs a wellness business and is also president and CEO of International Network Professionals, said the local candidates mean well, but they are missing the fact that “a working relationship needs to be established instead of the bickering between labour, business and government”.
“We’re all in this together, we’re in a global economy, and we’ve got trade north and south but we don’t even have free and fair trade within our own country,” Flanagan said.
“It’s clear the candidates are concerned about the environment and climate change, and the people who are $200 away from bankruptcy, however, for those of us that are running businesses, we have to at least break even and when we see a federal government that is running $20-billion deficits, from my perspective, that doesn’t cut it,” he said.
One of the questions posed to candidates came from Flanagan, who asked: What would you and your government do to inspire those who are unemployed, lost hope of finding work or stopped looking for work, to start a business and hire those who are underemployed?
“I’m sort of mixed between the candidates on that one because I feel the question went over their heads,” he said.
“Some of the comments with respect to large corporations I agree with, are there tax loopholes to be closed, yes, but why does the government bail out some of these large corporations only to miss thousands of small businesses that are trying to become medium-sized and eventually big business owners?” Flanagan said.
The local entrepreneur said he’s already decided who is getting his vote, but he declined to share it with NewmarketToday.
Newmarket chamber president and CEO Tracy Walter said she was encouraged to see that all the candidates shared key points and perspectives on housing, immigration and the removal of inter-provincial trade barriers.
“They may not have all agreed on the solution, but there was common ground between all candidates on the need to address these issues for the betterment of Canada’s business community and the success of the Canadian economy,” Walter said. “I was also pleased to see a debate that was respectful, especially following the federal leaders debate (Monday) night.”