The Jewish Federation of Ottawa and advocacy partner The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) began a series of election roundtable discussions on Monday, May 16, with two candidates from the New Democratic Party of Ontario. All local candidates were invited to participate.
Joined by Chandra Pasma (Ottawa West Nepean) and for much of the time by Melissa Coenraad (Kanata-Carleton) who had a prior commitment, the candidates presented their party’s platform as well as tackled questions on antisemitism, health care, long-term care, and the environment.
Pasma began by addressing the rising cost of living in her opening remarks.
“We’ve been stretched to the limit between health care, elder care, and the rising cost of living. The NDP has a plan to make life better, to make it more affordable by tackling the housing crisis and expanding the healthcare system,” she said.
There are several measures included in the NDP platform along these lines, including a $20-minimum wage and double support systems such as Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
The conversation quickly turned to the rise in antisemitic acts, which Pasma called the “spreading virus of white supremacy.”
“I’ve never in my life needed to come up with an exit strategy for church,” said Pasma, acknowledging that as a Christian she has not experienced the security concerns that Jewish congregants have had to face.
“We have plans in place to provide for security costs, including cameras.”
The plan is the Our London Family Act, which Coenraad explained will exist “to protect places of worship and create safe spaces around places of worship. It’s sad to say we need to have this.”
Another element in the NDP’s plans to knock back antisemitism and hate-motivated incidents includes educating children in public schools.
“We don’t want them to have this disdain out of a lack of knowledge,” said Coenraad. “This is something I’m looking forward to being able to implement.”
Pasma said part of the strategy is that children will learn about the history of the Holocaust to fight the spread of Holocaust denial, adding that a Holocaust memorial will also be erected on the grounds of Queens Park.
“Hate crimes should be identified as a hate crime,” added Pasma when asked about punishments for antisemitic incidents. “Having this also allows us to track hate crimes and develop more of a plan to prevent it from occurring.”
The NDP’s plan involves collecting this kind of data in collaboration with communities and neighbourhoods. It’s also part of the NDP’s plan to require mandatory training on racism and bias for public officials, such as judges and police officers.
Especially important to the Ottawa Jewish community, candidates were asked how the party would safeguard the sustainability and accessibility of culturally appropriate long–term care homes, such as The Bess and Moe Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge, and ensure admissions policies more effectively prioritize culturally appropriate care.
“We saw unacceptable suffering and death at long-term care homes during COVID. We really need to change how we approach care for our elders and for people with disabilities. There will be no more for-profit care in Ontario,” said Pasma.
Coenraad agreed, pointing to smaller, family-style care homes as a solution.
“This will make it easier for people to find culturally appropriate representative homes and continue with their faiths and food requirements,” she said. “It’s also been proven that in these homes, where you sit around a dining table instead of a cafeteria, our residents do better and live healthier lives.”
Pasma also shared the NDP’s plan on mental health care, which involves bringing it under the OHIP banner, so access is more equitable.
“Most of what we provide publicly in Ontario is when they reach a crisis level,” she said, pointing to pandemic-isolated seniors and newcomers struggling to integrate during a pandemic as areas needing support before crisis levels. “We also want to hire additional mental health workers for schools, so problems are quickly identified and addressed.”
When asked how the NDP plans to pay for their promises, Pasma said the party believes that those who can most afford to pay, should be paying.
“Cost is such an important question, but the cost of underinvestment is being imposed on those who can least afford to pay them,” she said. “We have a tax freeze on those earning less than $200,000, but tax increases on the highest income earners.”
As an entirely separate package from the NDP’s election platform, they also have the Green New Democratic Deal, which seeks to make Ontario net-zero by 2050, starting by cutting emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2030 and making all public buildings net-zero by 2030.
“It’s low-income communities that will be most affected by climate change,” said Pasma. “We’ve really centred the values of equity and reconciliation so everyone can share in the benefits of addressing climate change.”
The Green New Democratic Deal includes rebates for home-energy retrofits and electric vehicles, support in installing home EV charging stations, and expansions of municipal transit systems because “not everyone should be driving,” said Pasma.
“Right now if you try to take OC Transpo, it’s a nightmare. We want to make it more affordable, expand it and also electrify it, across the province.”
Although it was only briefly touched on, Pasma did clearly and unequivocally indicate she was not in favour of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and pointed out that at a federal level the NDP supports a two-state solution to peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
“It’s important to engage in the debate, but it’s not my place to tell them they’re wrong (as a non-Jew),” said Pasma when asked about how to address those in the party who do support BDS. “There’s no foreign policy in provincial jurisdiction, but we want to be building an inclusive Ontario.”
Pasma, a public policy researcher, activist, and mom, is running for the second time. Coenraad is a public health services professional, and president of OPSEU Local 475, representing workers at 18 Hospital labs across Eastern Ontario. She also ran in the last election.
To watch a recording of the webinar, visit here https://youtu.be/7fryISGnBUY