By: Mike Anderson

The Georgina Chamber of Commerce’s York-Simcoe All-Candidates’ Debate on October 7th was a highly anticipated event with close to 100 constituents in attendance at The Link. The two-hour debate was also broadcast live on Rogers tv Georgina.

Finally, voters in Georgina had a chance to hear the candidates outline their vision for Canada and their stand on important issues facing the riding before heading for the polls on October 21st.

However, they were in for a surprise.

Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, the Liberal candidate for York-Simcoe, did not appear in person, although a pre-recorded video statement was scheduled to air after the live broadcast was over.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen on debate night, but it will be added to re-broadcasts of the debate, according to Rogers tv Georgina producer Jim Anderson.

In her defence, Ms. Wesley-Esquimaux was a late addition to the race – declaring her candidacy on September 10th — and explained in a Facebook post on October 1st she would honour her previously booked speaking engagements in Kamloops, B.C. and Banff, Alberta, which conflicted with the all-candidate debates in East Gwillimbury and Sutton.

However, this explanation didn’t sit well with some of the candidates who were frustrated by her absence.

“It’s nice to have a fulsome debate with all the candidates,” said Scot Davidson, the Conservative incumbent for York-Simcoe. “Because our job is to hold the government responsible. It would be nice for the government to have a candidate.”

David Szollosy, a former Ontario NDP candidate for York-Simcoe, was also disappointed.

“They were poking an invisible person there,” said Mr. Szollosy. “I do respect Cynthia for allowing your name to come forward. I understand that it was a last-minute allowance of her candidacy. But is there actually a candidate running for the Liberal party in York- Simcoe?”

Despite the absence of a Liberal candidate, the debate was feisty at times with both NDP candidate Jessa McLean and Green Party candidate Jonathan Arnold attacking Mr. Davidson’s position on climate change, and suggesting that the Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund, a key part of the Conservative’s environmental platform, did not go far enough.

“Lake Simcoe is important, but we can’t hide behind Lake Simcoe as an environmental initiative, said Mr. Arnold. “That’s exactly what the Conservative party is doing.”

Ms. McLean also pointed out that the Conservatives under Harper were responsible for gutting waterway protections for Canada’s major rivers and lakes, and the Liberals did nothing to restore those protections.

But despite differences of opinion on how to best tackle climate change, all the candidates were unified in their opposition to the Upper York Sewage Solutions (UYSS), a regional proposal to build a new sewage treatment plant that would allow for more urban growth but discharge large volumes of treated effluent into Lake Simcoe.

For Mr. Arnold, the UYSS is a “Hard No.” “That sewage plant will be the demise of our lake, and we need to work towards better solutions for our sewage instead of putting it into the water we drink,” he said. “Let me be very clear. Water is life.”

Mr. Davidson, who also expressed his opposition, added there hasn’t been enough scientific research to determine the impact on fish populations, sediment in Cook’s Bay, and the Town’s water supply from more than 40 million litres of treated sewage entering the lake each day.

Health Care provided another flashpoint in the debate.

Mr. Davidson seemed to score some points by promising his party would ensure stable health care funding, including $1.6 billion for medical imaging to reduce wait times.

But Ms. Mclean countered by blaming his party for the current health care crisis — precipitated by $31 billion in cuts to provincial transfer payments under Harper, which she says the Liberals have maintained.

Even though many in the audience were impressed with Mr. Arnold and the Green Party’s innovative platform – including taxing internet giants like Amazon and creating 300-thousand new green jobs — Ms. McLean proved to be the ablest debater.

Despite declaring herself a Socialist — proposing higher taxes, increased social spending, and public sector expansion — not the most popular stance to take in a blue riding, Ms. McLean demonstrated a firm grasp on the issues and got a mostly positive reaction from the audience.

Although Ms. McLean and Mr. Arnold brought a certain energy to the debate, the same can’t be said about the candidates representing the right-of-centre fringe parties, who were given far too much time to expound on their wacky ideological positions and nonsensical takes on Canadian public policy.

The People’s Party candidate Michael Lotter, whose party is currently flatlining at 1% in national polls, argued that Canada should slash immigration levels and renege on most of its international commitments, including the Paris accord on climate change and UN’s declaration on refugees and migrants.

Meanwhile, the Libertarian Party, who garnered a 0.21% share of the popular vote in the last federal election, was represented by Keith Komar, who openly admitted he didn’t expect to garner many votes but hoped to change a few minds.

Mr. Komar denied climate change, argued for a flat tax, and demanded that Canada re-value its currency by renouncing the IMF and adopting the gold standard. He also argued that vital highway infrastructure projects, like the Bradford Bypass, be built solely by local labour.

For those who missed the live telecast of the chamber’s York-Simcoe All-Candidates Debate, it will be rebroadcast on Rogers tv Georgina until October 21st. The next All-Candidates debate will be presented by the Bradford Board of Trade on October 16th at 7.30 p.m. at the District Memorial Community Centre at 125 Simcoe Rd in Bradford

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