None of the major parties contesting the June 7 Ontario election would support any public funding for non-Catholic faith-based schools, according to their candidates in the riding of Ottawa West-Nepean.
The four candidates – incumbent Bob Chiarelli (Liberal Party), Patrick Freel (Green Party), Chandra Pasma (New Democratic Party) and Jeremy Roberts (Progressive Conservative Party) – participated in an all-candidates meeting for Ottawa West-Nepean, May 29, at Kehillat Beth Israel (KBI) synagogue.
Moderator Laurence Wall, a CBC Radio news anchor, described the event as an exchange of ideas, meant “to shed more light than heat.
“This is not a debate, it is an opportunity,” he said, as candidates shared opening remarks, and then responded to five questions provided to them in advance by KBI event organizers. They also answered audience questions submitted in writing to be posed by Wall.
The first of the organizers’ questions was about public funding for Jewish and other non-Catholic faith-based schools. None of the candidates said their parties would offer a change from the status quo except for Green candidate Freel, a Catholic school graduate, who said the public and Catholic systems should be merged.
“We are focused on offering the best public system in the world,” said Liberal Chiarelli. “We have no plans to extend public funding to private schools.”
Pasma said her parents made sacrifices to send her to faith-based schools but offered no hope that an New Democratic Party (NDP) government would extend funding to such schools.
Roberts said the Progressive Conservative (PC) party has not taken a position on education funding during this election campaign. Their focus, he said, is on improving the curriculum.
The second question asked the candidates for their vision for Ontario’s relationship with Israel.
An NDP government would encourage trade with Israel and development of the IT sector, said Pasma.
Pasma’s framing of the NDP position on Israel was in sharp contrast to the personal position taken by NDP candidate Joel Harden in the next-door riding of Ottawa Centre. Harden is on the record as a strong supporter of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Roberts, who worked as a staff member in the Parliament Hill office of former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, said he was “extremely proud to work with Stephen Harper and the late Jim Flaherty” on ties with Israel, and added “the PC party believes we need to do a better to protect free speech on campus.”
Chiarelli said Ontario and Israel are “natural partners.
“Unlike some members of the NDP,” in an obvious reference to Harden, “we want to keep doing business with Israel.”
The next question asked what the parties would do to support security at Jewish institutions at risk.
Pasma said the NDP would offer additional funding and police training on human rights.
“We all recognize that Jewish institutions are a target,” said Roberts, adding he himself has witnessed people shouting derogatory remarks at a campaign worker wearing a kippah while they canvassed door to door.
“Leadership counts,” said Chiarelli, who asked, “When they hear racist remarks, why doesn’t [NDP leader] Andrea Horvath or [PC leader] Doug Ford call them out?” in reference to statements and Internet memes made or posted by candidates.
The final two questions submitted by organizers related to the healthcare system in Ontario.
The first was about long wait lists for total joint replacement procedures.
“We have to have greater resources on the front lines,” said Roberts. “As I knock on doors in Centrepointe, doctors say they want to see a system that is less top heavy.”
But Chiarelli – a minister in the outgoing Liberal government – rejected the premise of the question noting that “Ontario and Ottawa now have some of the shortest wait times in the whole country” for joint replacement procedures.
Pasma, though, said, “My dad just waited a year for knee replacement surgery, and that’s unacceptable.”
Freel advocated for home doctor visits as a way to alleviate the problem.
On the last question of establishing a dementia/Alzheimer strategy to serve the aging population, Chiarelli said the Liberal Party plans to increase funding and access to adult day programs.
Pasma said the NDP would invest in long-term care homes.
“On average dementia patients get six minutes of care every morning to get ready for the day and that’s not enough,” she said. Under an NDP government, she suggested, “If you need more care, you get more care.”
“This is an issue that comes up time and time again,” said Roberts. “The PC party has committed to 30,000 new beds.”
Before posing the organizers’ questions, Wall invited each of the candidates to make an opening statement.
Roberts said he got involved in politics at age 14 because of the needs of his brother Dylan who has autism. Encouraging other young people to get involved in politics, he rhetorically asked, “Are you satisfied with the Kathleen Wynne government or are you looking for a change?”
Chiarelli noted he has “worked hard to serve you” and stressed the importance the Liberals place in investing in the health of our society. He cited his record as Ottawa mayor in establishing an interfaith panel and criticized [some] NDP candidates for supporting BDS and PC leader Doug Ford for his past use of Jewish stereotypes. “You have a choice,” he told the audience.
Pasma, a mother of a seven-year-old child and five-year-old twins, cited her career as a political staffer and union official addressing housing issues, poverty and affordable child care.
“Why is your leader most qualified to lead Ontario for the next four years?” was among the questions submitted by audience members that were read by Wall.
“We are at less than four per cent unemployment,” said Chiarelli. “We have 15 years of providing excellent services; all day kindergarten was recognized world-wide.”
The Greens have very strong values and no special interest groups, said Freel.
Pasma said replied that Andrea Horvath started out as an anti-poverty activist and “she has a lot of integrity.”
Roberts said Doug Ford sticks to his word and is “a true retail politician.”
Asked to “name one policy of your own party that you disagree with,” Chiarelli said he wants municipalities to have more authority over speed limits in their jurisdictions; Pasma called for more activities for people with developmental disabilities; while Roberts said he disagreed with Ford’s proposal to open up the Greenbelt to development.
“He listened to the people and I was really pleased that he backed off and changed his mind,” said Roberts.